As you read this, renegade Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is in the process of being contained in the north. And what is happening in Alaska is happening all across the country.
The old Republican Party is coalescing around the new point man. This is how the status quo in America protects itself.
Look at the names on the newly formed Trump Alaska 2016: Jim Crawford, a former Republican Party of Alaska chairman; Mead Treadwell, a one-time Alaska gubernatorial hopeful who decided to make Party-nice and run for lieutenant governor rather than challenge a fellow Republican in a primary; Rick Mystrom, a moderate former Anchorage mayor; and the Rev. Jerry Prevo, gate-keeper to the religious right who this time brought along a new member of his large Baptist congregation, Gabrielle “Elle” Rubenstein.
Talk about the status quo protecting itself. Rubenstein is the daughter of Carlyle Group founder David Rubenstein, now one of the richest men in the world, and Alice Rogoff-Rubenstein, the publisher of the Alaska Dispatch News.
Mom and dad Rubenstein are buds with President Barack Obama. The president has had them over to dinner. And Rogoff returned the favor by inviting the supreme commander to her Anchorage home to dine while he was on his Alaska global-warming tour last year. Rubenstein was not there; he still lives on the East Coast.
Rogoff’s spokes-newspaper characterized the dinner – Obama’s only real sit down with Alaskans while he was in the state – as something of a meeting of old friends.
“Rogoff, who has been acquainted with the president for several years, described it as a private dinner featuring an Alaskan Grown menu. She did not disclose who attended the dinner or how many guests were invited,” her newspaper reported.
“It was a chance for the President to have a conversation with a diverse group of Alaskans,” Rogoff herself was quoted as saying. In truth, it wasn’t a very diverse group. A more accurate description would have been “a small group of the politically connected.”
A well-buffered system
Not that there is anything wrong with that or with any of this, including the containment of Trump.
On some levels it is good. The impediments to a demagogue like Adolph Hitler or Josef Stalin maneuvering into power in the U.S. political system are huge, though one should never forget Hitler’s reign started with his election as leader of the Nazi party in 1932.
Germany was at the time a small country with a weak enough political system that it could be overpowered by Hitler and a relative few henchmen. People who fear Trump because of some of his outrageous statements need not worry much about that sort of thing happening here.
Trump won’t suddenly be able to keep all Muslims out of the country or otherwise impose rules by dictatorial fiat if elected president. The system is pretty well protected Constitutionally.
But beyond the law, the U.S. is so big and so diverse, a politician has to reach far beyond his inner circle to find allies in outlying areas to win election. Each time that happens, relationships are formed. Almost every relationship serves to moderate behavior in some way. The system is extremely well buffered against change.
Remember what Democrat Barack Obama ran on when he entered the presidential race in 2007?
Two terms on, what big changes has Obama wrought? Well, there is the mess of the Affordable Care Act, which any middle class citizen forced to buy health insure will find the Unaffordable Care Act. An attempt to force the existing health insurance structure to provide insurance to everyone while still making money, it’s hard to understand how the act came to be called the affordable anything.
“…The bargain struck to get the bill to a point where lobbyists for the hospital, insurance, and pharmaceutical industries to sign on, or at least not fight it, did not adequately address the issue of overall medical costs,” as Helaine Olen observed at Slate.com last year.
“And that’s where the consumer comes in. Someone is ‘it,’ the party paying the bill. And that ‘it’ is increasingly you, whether you receive insurance on the exchanges or from an employer.”
Elsewhere, there has been so little of the change Obama promised that he has almost as many critics on the far left as on the right. Obama himself alluded to this in a commencement speech at Howard University earlier this month.
Incremental equals slow, very slow
Obama made the pitch that “Political change is necessarily incremental. Not only is incremental progress working, but there is no other alternative,” as Jonathon Chait later reported in New York Magazine. “Obama cited the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the Emancipation Proclamation as imperfect political compromises. ‘They did not make up for centuries of slavery or Jim Crow or eliminate racism or provide for 40 acres and a mule,’ but they made the world better. The belief that compromise is immoral leads to distrust of the political mechanisms that actually can produce positive change, making those systems less effective as people lose hope in them.”
That’s one way of looking at it. The other way is simpler:
Political change is incremental because the U.S. ship of state is a hard-to-turn supertanker loaded with competing interests that try, in large part, to make sure nothing ever changes from what it is in this moment.
Should Trump get elected, he will find himself facing the same problem Obama has faced and before him President George W. Bush and before him President Bill Clinton and on back to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who managed to bring about massive changes (thought it still wasn’t easy) because he took over a country in economic ruin.
There is no sign of economic ruin on the horizon. Lacking that, those who want to elect Trump to run government like his hit TV show “The Apprentice” will find themselves disappointed if he is elected, and everyone in the anti-Trump camp will get to breathe a sigh of relief.
Because that’s the way things work in America. The status quo, as Trump might say, is “incredible,” both for better and worse. Alaskans embracing Trump thinking he will open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling or otherwise make things better for the oil industry in Alaska might keep in mind that the organizations opposed to such activities have been around a long time now.
They, too, have infiltrated the status quo and become part of it. They, too, can make change extremely difficult. Remember the words of former Alaska Gov. and failed Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin:
Her 2010 question was directed at Obama, but it could be addressed to every president in the last 40 years. It’s easy to talk about changing the system. It’s really hard to make it happen.