Melanie Sturm: 2016’s going to be a nightmare
March 26, 2016
"Our long national nightmare is over," President Gerald Ford declared at his swearing-in, marking the end of the most dangerous constitutional crisis since the Civil War — Watergate.
After becoming the only U.S. president to ever resign, Richard Nixon revealed in an interview his mistaken belief that, "When the president does it, that means it isn't illegal."
Thankfully, our constitutional system and watchdog media proved Nixon wrong, having investigated, judged and expelled the rogue president for abuses of power and obstruction of justice. Even Nixon's fellow Republicans didn't think again before putting country and the rule of law before party.
"Our Constitution works," Ford reassured. "Our great republic is a government of laws and not men. Here, the people rule."
Unfortunately, absent this consensus, 2016's menacing clouds forecast another nightmare.
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Today's revolt against Washington signals voters' belief that the people no longer rule. Worse, many citizens feel betrayed and villainized by a ruling class (elected and bureaucratic officials and their corporate and media cronies) which has presided over the greatest scandal — an explosion of government, an avalanche of debt and the imperiling of our children's future.
As government has grown, so have its anti-competitive powers, forcing those who work hard and play by the rules to subsidize elites who don't. Incentivized to invest in political influence, not innovation, big business reaps trillions in spending, tax and regulatory favors, resulting in a heavily indebted citizenry and a warped and stagnant economy.
Consider these corporate welfare policies, sold to the public as economic saviors: bailouts, farm and energy subsidies, cash-for-clunkers, export-import bank loan guarantees, Dodd-Frank's "Wall Street reform" and Obamacare.
Not surprisingly, five of the nation's seven wealthiest counties surround Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, with the economy growing at half its 100-year historic average and small business failures exceeding starts, working Americans suffer stagnant wages, job uncertainty, rising health-care costs and reduced living standards.
Yet, neither party's front-runner is proposing to dismantle the cronyist system that's the source of this despair. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have harvested fortunes from it — she, from selling influence and he, from investing in lucrative political favors.
Most troubling, majorities of Americans hold "stubbornly low opinions of the leading figures in the Democratic and Republican parties," reported Michael Barbaro in the New York Times.
The first words voters associate with Clinton are "dishonest" and "liar," while a large plurality of Republicans would consider a third-party if Trump is the nominee. Hence, campaign aids predict, "a Clinton-Trump contest would be an ugly and unrelenting slugfest," Barbaro wrote.
If that isn't nightmarish, consider the fallout if FBI Chief James Comey recommends Clinton be prosecuted for Espionage Act violations related to her private email server, which he's reportedly close to doing.
Of Clinton's Nixon-like lapses, Watergate sleuth Bob Woodward said recently, "It shows that she … feels immune, that she lives in a bubble and no one's ever going to find this out."
Is Ford still right? Are we still a nation of laws, not men? If not, is another constitutional crisis looming?
That the presidential frontrunners are famously flawed confirms the advantage of brand ID and the adage, "Any publicity is good publicity." Do supporters of campaign finance limitations realize they're helping transform our political system into a reality show in which self-funding honchos and celebrities are the survivors?
Though Trump has "one of the smallest campaign budgets," the New York Times reported he's "earned close to $2 billion worth of media attention, about twice the all-in price of the most expensive presidential campaigns in history." Wall-to-wall Trump coverage "may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS," acknowledged CEO Les Moonves.
Despite Trump's free media bonanza and "believe me" appeals, he's yet to persuade Republican majorities, who share his supporters' political, cultural and economic anxieties but not their confidence in Trump.
"Not-Trump" voters — the one's he'll ultimately need to win the nomination and unite the party — find Trump incoherent and inconsistent, worry that his "cures" will intensify the disease and reject his campaign-by-insult tactics.
Yet, just as the field winnowed to finally allow substantive discussion between candidates, Trump refuses to debate, suggesting he's entitled to the nomination, even if he doesn't attain the delegate majority threshold met by all Republican nominees since 1856.
Consider that, except for this nomination rule, there'd be no President Abraham Lincoln. He won the Republican nomination on the third ballot, despite entering the 1860 convention behind front-runner William Seward.
Foreshadowing a nightmare from a similarly contested convention that enforces the rules, Trump warned, "'cause we're way ahead of everybody, I don't think you can say we don't get it automatically. I think you'd have riots."
Think Again — to avoid political nightmares and riots, shouldn't we insist on remaining a nation of laws, not men, by upholding the principles that brought Nixon to justice and Lincoln to the presidency?
Melanie Sturm lives in Aspen. She reminds readers to Think Again. You might change your mind. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.