It was Karl Marx who said, “History repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce.” As far as I’m concerned, this year’s election certainly proves Marx to have been correct.
Let’s go back to 1988. George H. W. Bush runs against Mike Dukakis, the latter starting off with a huge lead. Bush is a nice guy but he’s no Ronald Reagan, even though that’s who he pretends to be.
So what does Bush do? He demonizes the opposition by running an entire campaign around a decision by Dukakis to grant a furlough to a lifetime felon named Willie Horton who left the penitentiary in Massachusetts and celebrated his release by committing armed robbery, kidnapping and rape.
The Bush campaign began running an ad which had Bush saying he supported the death penalty followed by a picture of Willie Horton and a voice-over which said that the bad guy was released from jail because of a furlough program devised by then-Governor Dukakis who also had refused to sign a death penalty bill.
Bush’s numbers began climbing from being 17 points behind in August to a victory in which he got 53% of the popular votes and carried 40 states. You can read a good column about this race written by Adam Nagourney in The (failing) New York Times.
The 1988 Presidential campaign is considered the first national election campaign that was basically won by using attack ads. Which is exactly what Trump did in 2016 against Hillary. His entire campaign was just a series of personal swipes against her, including but not limited to the so-called ‘corruption’ of her husband’s foundation, the emails, the death of Vince Foster and everything else.
Trump also got some last-minute help from James Comey, whose announcement about more emails re-invigorated the issue that dogged her entire campaign.
Clinton spent the entire campaign reading from various briefing books that contained voluminous research on all sorts of policy things. Nobody cared at all. The 2016 campaign was devoid of even the slightest bit of debate about policies, it was simply a question of who could make more noise.
So what Marx said about history first repeating itself as tragedy is a good way to understand what happened in 2016. We ended up with a President who not only didn’t get a majority of the popular vote, but received the lowest number of electoral votes since the 1960 election which produced the ill-fated Presidency of JFK.
What did Trump do after he started lying about the size of his inaugural crowd? He spent the next three years holding more than 90 mega-campaign rallies until the virus shut down his road show back in March. And at every rally he went on and on about how he was leading a growing ‘movement’ to bring America ‘back again.’
Here’s a guy who, thanks to Ross Perot, gets elected with the smallest percentage of popular votes since Clinton’s first campaign in 1992. And he’s leading this big, new political movement? Covid or no Covid, Trump was a sitting duck.
What do you do when you really can’t get past the fact that not only did the pandemic occur on your watch but it’s getting worse every day? You do what George Bush did back in 1988 – you demonize the other side.
This time history’s repeating itself not with tragedy but with farce. And the reason this campaign’s a farce is what I heard both Trump and Rush Limbaugh say yesterday, namely, that Joe is a ‘tool’ of the ‘international Communist movement.’ Is there anyone alive except me who even remembers when there was a Communist movement anywhere at all?
We’ve known the importance of social distancing to control pandemics since Boccaccio wrote The Decameron in 1348. But when the President of the United States wraps an entire campaign narrative around the idea that we don’t need to do anything about the pandemic because we’ve already ‘turned the corner’ without a vaccine, we’re not engaged in a political campaign.
We’re engaged in a farce.
VOTE EARLY, VOTE OFTEN!