Posted by: ericgrimsrud | April 9, 2020

Will pandering again trump straight-talk in 2020

Over the last half century, we have witnessed the triumph of pandering over straight-talk in many of our presidential elections. One of the clearest examples of this was provided in 1979 when the presidential incumbent, Jimmy Carter, was running against Ronald Reagan. During the Middle Eastern oil embargo of that era, the USA was struggling to meet its energy demands when President Carter gave his famous “malaise speech” in which he provided an unusually frank and somber assessment of the problem.

While that speech squarely addressed the energy crisis of that time, it went beyond by addressing some faults he perceived in the character of the American public. It showcased Carter, the former Baptist preacher, as the nation’s “minister-in-chief”, beginning with some self-flagellation as he recounted criticism of his leadership, and then addressed what he believed to be a growing loss of confidence by the public in its nation’s leaders and institutions.

I thought both then and now that Carter’s message was appropriate for that point in time and the speech did immediately generate some positive reactions. Its longer-term effect, however, worked against President Carter. Soon, Ronald Reagan, with his sunny disposition and meaningless references to our “Shining City on a Hill”, was successful at portraying Carter as the nation’s “scolder-in-chief” who was too willing to blame Americans for the nation’s ills.

Although polling suggested that many Americans’ views on energy conservation were closer to Carter’s than to Reagan’s, that did not prevent Reagan from winning that election (with the help of Reagan’s traitorous interactions with Iran concerning the US hostages being held in Tehran).

So, off we went again down the merry road of fossil fuel consumption. Upon arriving at the White House, Reagan removed Carter’s symbolic solar panels from its roof and encouraged Americans to buy more gas-guzzling vehicles, which we did. The rest is history – a couple of lost decades during which our efficiency of energy use could have been greatly improved.

Mindful of the purported lesson of Carter’s “malaise” speech, no successful national candidate has ever again made the mistake of speaking so candidly, and in such critical tones, to the American people. Instead, candidates on the hustle are much more likely to take a page from the Reagan playbook by emphasizing the indomitable American spirit, can-do work ethic, etc., while ignoring the tough bits related to reality.

While there are many other examples of successful pandering, the most blatant of these, I suspect, has been provided by our current President, Donald Trump. His use of it – mixed in with generous doses of ignorance, deception, falsehoods, and “alternate facts” apparently appeals to his so-called “base”. Trump has become the ultimate creation of our gullible, pander-loving, Reagan-trained citizenry and there is no one to blame but ourselves for being duped again by a master glad-hander who can help us believe that there is “no problem” when, in fact, we are now on the verge of a virus catastrophe that must be addressed along with the much greater problem of global warming.

Given that one of the greatest American panderers of all times is likely to be the Republican candidate in the presidential election of 2020, we should be very concerned about our future. Sorry about that, but that is what the historic American model suggests – pandering usually beats straight talk. In that case, God help our democracy because our only hope of saving our environment then will be to adopt a different model of governance, such as that of communist China, where their leaders don’t have to accommodate a scientifically inept public in their decisions.


Responses

  1. Spot on, Eric! Many don’t remember – or never knew – how much Carter (& Mondale) understood the problem at the time, and both are still disparaged for being “too serious”, “too honest”! So, it was off to the races with ‘trickle-down Ronnie” and the government-that-works bashing we’ve been getting ever since . . . right up to “drain-the-swamp”. So the “swamp” has become a “sewer” and almost half the country has been conned into thinking it smells like a rose!

  2. Federal spending has become meaningless; therefore, President Trump could surprise everyone before the election and announce his “Medicare for All” agenda. Upstage Obamacare. Bring the young Bernie followers into the Republican camp. I like my Medicare. Others might, as well. Minnesota’s energy mix is close to 50% carbon-free. Trump is more comfortable putting things on the governors. He is not a leader, but a national health care program might change my perception. We need to see health care and climate change to be in the same basket.


Leave a Reply to Dave Grimsrud Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: