A Trumpian microcosm

Many years ago, I met a former mayor (selectman) of a small New England township whose brief political career had amazing similarities to that of the man who would become president in 2017.  His story is in many ways a microcosm of the present.  I shall partly fictionalize the account for obvious reasons, but the relevant facts remain, as best as I can remember them.

Mister Smith (as I shall call him) owned a small business.  He was concerned that his business, and others in the township, were being stifled due to a number of local political factors, including cronyism, incompetence, and even some outright corruption.

Smith was able to get some of his fellow businessmen to raise a little money (a pittance by normal standards) for his run at the top office in the township.  Then, to the shock and dismay of the establishment, he won the election.  Nobody saw it coming, except, of course, for the voters, who not only liked Smith's message, but liked his personality – that of a humble (okay, perhaps not so much like Trump in that regard), honest, and sincere political outsider who vowed to clean up the mess.  Smith and the voters looked forward to what would finally be an administration that would work for the people.

Alas, there was no storybook ending.  As Smith recounted to me, from day one, everything he did as town selectman was opposed by the others in the local government.  It seems that in New England, there were still old laws on the books from as far back as colonial days, some of them even authored under British governors.  However arcane, the establishmentarians knew those laws and threw up challenges to every proposal Smith made.

Worse, the lesser officials had cordial relations with the "Town Herald" (or whatever was the name of the local newspaper) and were able to twist every story to their advantage.  Even worse, some of the stories were what today we would call "fake news."  The final atrociousness involved making sure that potholes in the street were not fixed and storefront sidewalks fell into disrepair.

As planned by his enemies, Smith decided not to run for re-election.  After his term ended, the township presumably returned to its normal, bleak conditions.  Smith moved away to work for a corporation, where I met him.

Decades later, his story is one of several similar accounts I remember from people who had ventured into politics and then discovered the treachery and dysfunction of real-life governments.

Smith himself, afterward, remained optimistic that the problems can be overcome, but he acknowledged that doing so requires quite a bit more than good intentions and enthusiasm.

On the optimistic side, Trump is not exactly the stereotypical neophyte when it comes to matters of "the swamp."  True, he was by no means seasoned in the art of political intrigue, but neither did he enter the fray naïvely.  He is a fast learner, and unlike Smith, he is not as vulnerable as Smith was to the fear of personal poverty.  So Trump has a great deal going for him.

Even so, Smith's experience is instructive to an understanding of what Trump (and we, his supporters) have stepped into.  While Smith got bruised in the sandbox, Trump's enemies are polished battlefield professionals, skilled in the dangerous arts of political assassination (so to speak), and utterly without qualm or conscience.  In the end, because Democrats understand that they are losing in an existential struggle, they will stop at nothing – even if it turns out that only physical force is available to them.

There are many things we may dislike about Trump's policy proposals.  There is nothing we would have found acceptable had Hillary Clinton been elected instead.  Let's not forget that.

Many years ago, I met a former mayor (selectman) of a small New England township whose brief political career had amazing similarities to that of the man who would become president in 2017.  His story is in many ways a microcosm of the present.  I shall partly fictionalize the account for obvious reasons, but the relevant facts remain, as best as I can remember them.

Mister Smith (as I shall call him) owned a small business.  He was concerned that his business, and others in the township, were being stifled due to a number of local political factors, including cronyism, incompetence, and even some outright corruption.

Smith was able to get some of his fellow businessmen to raise a little money (a pittance by normal standards) for his run at the top office in the township.  Then, to the shock and dismay of the establishment, he won the election.  Nobody saw it coming, except, of course, for the voters, who not only liked Smith's message, but liked his personality – that of a humble (okay, perhaps not so much like Trump in that regard), honest, and sincere political outsider who vowed to clean up the mess.  Smith and the voters looked forward to what would finally be an administration that would work for the people.

Alas, there was no storybook ending.  As Smith recounted to me, from day one, everything he did as town selectman was opposed by the others in the local government.  It seems that in New England, there were still old laws on the books from as far back as colonial days, some of them even authored under British governors.  However arcane, the establishmentarians knew those laws and threw up challenges to every proposal Smith made.

Worse, the lesser officials had cordial relations with the "Town Herald" (or whatever was the name of the local newspaper) and were able to twist every story to their advantage.  Even worse, some of the stories were what today we would call "fake news."  The final atrociousness involved making sure that potholes in the street were not fixed and storefront sidewalks fell into disrepair.

As planned by his enemies, Smith decided not to run for re-election.  After his term ended, the township presumably returned to its normal, bleak conditions.  Smith moved away to work for a corporation, where I met him.

Decades later, his story is one of several similar accounts I remember from people who had ventured into politics and then discovered the treachery and dysfunction of real-life governments.

Smith himself, afterward, remained optimistic that the problems can be overcome, but he acknowledged that doing so requires quite a bit more than good intentions and enthusiasm.

On the optimistic side, Trump is not exactly the stereotypical neophyte when it comes to matters of "the swamp."  True, he was by no means seasoned in the art of political intrigue, but neither did he enter the fray naïvely.  He is a fast learner, and unlike Smith, he is not as vulnerable as Smith was to the fear of personal poverty.  So Trump has a great deal going for him.

Even so, Smith's experience is instructive to an understanding of what Trump (and we, his supporters) have stepped into.  While Smith got bruised in the sandbox, Trump's enemies are polished battlefield professionals, skilled in the dangerous arts of political assassination (so to speak), and utterly without qualm or conscience.  In the end, because Democrats understand that they are losing in an existential struggle, they will stop at nothing – even if it turns out that only physical force is available to them.

There are many things we may dislike about Trump's policy proposals.  There is nothing we would have found acceptable had Hillary Clinton been elected instead.  Let's not forget that.