This 2020 cautionary tale

As bad as things have been for us, brothers and sisters, they could have been much, much worse. For example, we got fairly lucky with coronavirus. Imagine if the virus had been highly contagious (instead of marginally contagious) with a month long (instead of ten day) incubation period and an 80% (instead of one to four percent) mortality rate. Civilization, as we have come to understand the word, would have disappeared. All semblances of normal life as we know it would be gone.

Similarly, imagine if Donald Trump had been smart, subtle and ambitious. We’ve seen how much chaos a bumbling, lazy fool can foment. Think of what he could have achieved at the expense of a few beads of sweat.

Most of us know the quote — and its various incarnations — from the Spanish philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It is used so often it has practically become a cliche. But like many cliches it has the interesting property of also being true. And Let’s face it, the saying is usually employed as an I-told-you-so in the aftermath of some catastrophe that we should have avoided, and rarely at a time when it could serve a useful purpose. Now is such a time when it can be employed to our advantage. We can learn from history. We can prevent, or at least render unlikely, another Donald Trump.

For one thing, we must. Somewhere in America there is at least one evil, young genius studying the Donald Trump playbook and thinking to himself or herself, hmmm, I could have done much better. Odds are there are many such people out there. And if you think you know who it is chances are you’ve got the wrong person. America’s next Hitler is going to come straight out of left field and corrupt and destroy us before we even know what hit us.

There are several things we can do to stop it happening again. I have identified five things right away. You can probably think of more. But the first thing that needs doing is money absolutely must disappear from politics. A system that now requires hundreds of millions and (very soon now) billions of dollars to elect a US President is corrupt by definition and begging for abuse. If all valid presidential candidates (and all other political candidates for that matter) are given free equal time by the federal government and campaign contributions become unlawful by federal statute then it will be very difficult if not impossible for corporate special interests to own a candidate. Corrupt people with Machiavellian traits who lust after power would suddenly become far less interested in running for President if money ceased to be a factor.

Another thing that can be done is to raise the bar for candidate qualifications. As things stand right now there is practically no sane impediment to candidacy. One requirement might be that all candidates disclose tax returns for previous multiples of years. Another could be to require the candidate to undergo stringent psychological tests in order to weed out certain pathologies — like malignant narcissism.

Another thing that can be done is to bar candidates with known reputations for cheating people. I mean why not? This is the most important job on earth. We should be able to screen serious candidates. No small company offering a middle management job would be out of line to make such a requirement for employment. Why not the American people when contemplating an applicant for the most consequential job of all?

Finally, the Republican Party has got to go. Nowhere does the Constitution make provision for a two party system. Indeed, Alexander Hamilton sternly warned against it in Federalist 65. Republicans have become a party of braying hypocrites, liars, sexual predators and thieves. They have been preying on democracy with unabashed, self-serving zeal for decades. Time for them to leave.

I realize these are tall orders. But democracy comes with a hefty price tag. So does survival. We will not survive global warming if another Trump comes along and delays or interferes with progress against it. Let’s learn from history and make damned sure we take the necessary steps to ensure that we never, ever repeat it. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.

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