OpEd Printed in the Capital 2/6/17
Much has been written recently that helps explain the Trump phenomenon. Four pieces have strongly influenced my current thinking about the future: "The Loudest Voice in the Room," by Gabriel Sherman, "Thank You for Being Late" by Thomas Friedman, a New York Times op-ed column by David Brooks and a Politico article by Francis Fukuyama.
First, Sherman helped me understand how one man could build a 24/7 propaganda machine that has divided a nation. This extremely effective machine is called Fox News. It has psychologically conditioned millions of citizens by a constant drumbeat for over 20 years.
Many of its dedicated acolytes have developed an instinctual reaction to code words such as "climate change," "Obamacare" and "The Wall." As if they were making a Pavlovian response, many intelligent citizens now turn off any rational, fact-based discussion of these important issues based on 140-character prompts. George Orwell would be impressed with the success of Roger Ailes.
Second, Friedman looks to a future where talent, education and hard work will be rewarded in an increasingly competitive international world of shrinking resources and changing climate. There has never been a time in human history in which our entire social and technical environment has changed so rapidly.
Those who get their understanding of these very complex issues by 140-character tweets will be uninformed and uneducated. The future will belong to those who can develop the critical thinking skills needed to deal with complexity and constant change. There is no option of going back to the "good old days" when America was supposedly "great."
Third, Brooks, a conservative writer for The New York Times, wrote about the women's march on Washington in protest of the Trump administration. He points out that the participants have good reasons to march, but that identity politics does not produce change. The energy of any movement needs organization and structure to turn emotion into political results.
The Republican Party, with the help of Fox News, embraced the tea party movement, and changed into the new Republican Party of Trump, winning many elections on a populist platform. The Democratic Party must learn how to attract the women and the energy of a millennial generation if it wants to succeed. This will require that party to also change.
Finally, the recent article by Fukuyama in Politico gives me hope. He points out that the Trump administration is trying to send us down many dark roads but that the Founding Fathers feared such a potential future. We will now see if the checks and balances designed into our Constitution and our laws will actually work as desired.
We have never had a president who has so tested our institutional norms. Fortunately, he has selected some Cabinet members to lead key departments such as State, Defense and Homeland Security who appear to be qualified and may not be yes men.
Trump has been the head of a successful business run largely by himself and members of his family. He does not, however, have enough family members for the thousands of top-level executive positions that he now must fill very rapidly. He will have to rely on a Republican and bureaucratic bench of experienced people who do not owe him personal allegiance.
They will oversee a professional workforce that have its own ideas about what legally can and should be done. Most federal court appointments will not have influence on any actions until years after the Trump administration is past.
We are a republic of 50 states that have a great deal of autonomy in determining how we are governed. Let us pay attention to our city, county and state elections. This is the best hope for our survival for at least the next four years.
George Donohue is professor emeritus of systems engineering at George Mason University and the president of the South County Democratic Club. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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