No transforming option for president

Voters face imperfect choices, including one far outside mainstream

IN JANUARY 2015, the two of us took pen in hand and collaborated on an article for CommonWealth titled “Looking for the Man or Woman on a Horse: Can the 2016 presidential race produce a transforming leader?”

Among other things we wrote, “After what appears to be a decade or more of drift and questionable decisions, especially regarding the tragedy of waging war without any understanding of either the short-term costs or the long-term consequences, the American people are looking for the man or woman on the horse, a bold transforming leader who will not be a prisoner to pollsters and political consultants.  We need a transforming leader who can inspire young people to enter public service as did both John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.” In our article, we referenced Theodore Roosevelt and others who had occupied the Oval Office and brought about great change in our nation. We focused on important acts of leadership in the 20th century and quoted prominent historians and political scientists.

It’s a good thing that neither this Republican nor this Democrat gamble on either sports or politics.

Who could have predicted that in this presidential election a person with no political experience—the first since Dwight D. Eisenhower (who had a mighty good track record of managing people in World War II)—would emerge as one of our party nominees?  Neither of us believe that Donald J. Trump is the man on the horse, nor do we believe that Hilary Clinton is the woman on the horse.

What Donald Trump represents is something which is non-ideological; he is neither liberal nor conservative and defies most traditional political characterizations. He represents the politics of authoritarianism, which from time to time has reared its head in our nation and elsewhere. Authoritarianism is nothing new to the American conservative moment, but rather a retread of an agrarian push for an American monarchy in the early 20th century. As the Southern Agrarians sought an all-powerful ruler in response to anxieties of Adam Smith’s capitalistic industrial revolution, so does Trump present himself as the one man who can assuage fears of NAFTA’s globalist rendition of capitalism.

Where Trump’s rhetoric veers off of this previously trodden path of panacea and promises is when he singles out groups of people as responsible for the nation’s ills and promotes violence and extremism to deal with these ills. Neither of us believes it’s healthy for the nation. The simplistic message of “trust me, I will keep you safe,” is not very different than that presented by Mussolini, Hitler, Juan Peron and others who are best labeled as authoritarians. Perhaps that is why Donald Trump has spoken glowingly of Saddam Hussein and Vladimir Putin.

Matthew MacWilliams studies authoritarianism–not actual dictators, but rather he looks at the psychological profile of individual voters that is characterized by a desire for order and a fear of outsiders. (This includes character assassination, such as of the judge presiding over a Trump civil lawsuit who was born in Indiana but whose parents were immigrants from Mexico.) People who feel threatened look for strong leaders who promise to take whatever action necessary to protect them from outsiders and prevent the changes they fear.  Such was the case with Mussolini. Such was the case in Nazi Germany. Hermann Goering, in an interview with Gustave Gilbert on April 18, 1946 stated: “The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country”

Meet the Author

Meet the Author

The voters will decide whether to take the safer route and continue politics as usual, as bumbling as it has been, or roll the dice on Donald J. Trump, who will be a very different kind of president than we have had, perhaps at any time in our nation’s history.

Lawrence S. DiCara, a lifelong Democrat, is a partner at Nixon Peabody and former president of the Boston City Council.  Patrick Reynolds, a Republican, is chairman of the Board of Selectmen in North Attleboro and a student at Providence College.  They are both graduates—more than 40 years apart—of Massachusetts Boys State, a week-long summer citizenship sponsored by the American Legion.