I came to world awareness by the fluorescent glow of a “Sylvania Silver Screen,” at the tender age of twelve, as the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded before my very eyes. Never before were children subject to the real-time spectacle of adults playing dangerous war games that tempted Armageddon while they sat powerless in their living rooms.
I was absolutely terrified and vividly remember the nightmare I had one night while convinced I wouldn’t live to see thirteen.
In the dream, I found myself cowering beneath the bay window in our living room, attempting to hide from the sight of Satan and his minions looming large in a battle orange sky of smoke and hellfire through which they sailed triumphant in a “brand new swept-wing Dodge.”
Credit Catholic school and Madison Avenue for that lurid flight of fancy, but it was one of those dreams that used to stay with me for days and made me afraid of going to sleep at night.
Fifty-five years later, on the eve of another historic moment, I feel drawn to that memory like never before.
It is perhaps an appropriate juxtaposition, because as we learned much later, the events we witnessed on TV brought us closer to nuclear oblivion than ever before or since. Only the restraint exercised by President Kennedy at the critical moment prevented an exchange of nuclear warheads that would have most certainly made my worst nightmare come true. Imagine how Donald Trump might behave under similar circumstances.
This weekend was our last before the final chapter of an election that has seen bigotry, misogyny, boldface lies, saber rattling, threats of revenge and incitement to violence characterize the campaign of the Republican nominee; a man with absolutely no policy experience, no record of public service, no curiosity to learn the basics of our governance, and a personal history of cheating, meanness, childishness and incivility.
Thus described, Donald Trump sounds like he could have only reached this apex in a fevered adolescent dream such as I had so many years ago. Yet, here we are in the grips of a madness that appears to have ensnared upwards of half the nation.
If our democracy survives the next four years, it’s not sufficient to breathe a sigh of relief and go on as we were. The Trump response, which has brought us so dangerously close to the precipice this time, is the proverbial canary in a coal mine.
The practice of representative democracy that has worked for us reasonably well throughout the twentieth century is beginning to wear down the fabric of our functional federation in the twenty-first. Gerrymandering has further undermined the “representative” nature of that relationship and heightened the sense of disenfranchisement among significant populations.
Resolved long ago into a two-party system, there was an unspoken agreement that partisan politics must nevertheless adhere to certain rules of pragmatism in order to allow government to function. As the population grew and diversified and economic power became further consolidated in a ruling elite, that unspoken agreement was no longer acceptable to a growing sector of the population whose values and priorities could not be easily be resolved into two competing but cooperative interest groups.
What the Republican party has been experiencing in recent election cycles amounts to a hostile takeover by a coalition of extreme right wing factions and so-called Christian “conservatives.” That take over seems almost guaranteed to formally bifurcate the party following this election.
Hostile even to the rule of constitutional law (apart from the second amendment), the Republican base has come to reward bad governing behavior that does nothing more than prevent business from being conducted in a responsible manner. They have broken the contract with “we the people” to represent the interests of the majority who simply want their government to function smoothly.
It is no accident that the Libertarians have become more and more of a factor in every election cycle.
So far Democrats have managed to contain their friable factions, but many are far from satisfied with the nomination process and the role that corporate wealth has been allowed to play in party priorities.
Democrats, being fundamentally more inclusive and forward thinking than Republicans, seem to have pulled off one more unity drive successfully in 2016; but many in the party’s establishment are blaming Bernie and his supporters for their troubles rather than accepting that his strength is a sign that Democrats are in their own early stages of sclerotic deterioration, relying too heavily on political retreads like the Clintons and assuming that everyone will just fall in line “for the good of the party.”
Personally, I think we will see the two party system weaken more and more in future election cycles as the internet shapes new alternatives into viable “third party” options. I hope that the attraction of the Alt Right to working class white voters will be diminished as saner alternatives allow them to feel more civilly empowered.
Coalitions may be the wave of the future, giving more individuals reason to feel better represented, and quite possibly bridging the two-party gulf that has held twenty-first century American progress in handcuffs.
One can only hope so.
***Meanwhile, get out there and vote for Hillary, for crying out loud! This is not a drill!!