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So far, that's the best description of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, and we offer two explorations of that theme for you here. The first is a piece by veteran journalist Amber Phillips filed today, Sept. 23, in "The Fix," a regular feature section in the Washington Post. The second reaches much back much farther — to 1968, 1965, and 1938.

Tea Party and Donald Trump

Trump's Tale: Life Imitating Art Imitating Life—Larry Wines

This morning, Phillips asks in the Post if Donald Trump is the "Real-life manifestation of Stephen Colbert’s alter ego?" referring of course to the character Colbert played on his Comedy Central "Colbert Report." Her online piece features two video links from Tuesday's "Late Night" on CBS, of Trump with Colbert, that entertainingly but purposefully make her point.

Here are some key lines from Phillips' premise:

" ...much like Colbert's obliviously conservative former alter ego, Trump either doesn't seem to notice or doesn't seem to care... Nor did Trump seem to mind when Colbert devised an entire bit comparing Trump's comments to those made by his former super-conservative Comedy Central alter ego."

Phillips closes her piece with

"Maybe the question now is whether Donald Trump's in on the joke too. Or whether he cares at all that there is a joke."

Woo, boy. All that, while an appropriate observation, doesn't go far enough. Around here, we're more concerned about a trend-obsessed, notoriously impulsive, embarrassingly unsophisticated, downright gullible American public, and whether it continues to embrace the snake oil salesman's lines and thereby becomes the butt of a joke of cosmic proportions.

Of course, that concern has myriad aspects. Like the inscrutable irony that The Donald's central support base derives from the Teabag movement, which, if you remember, arrived complete with its "Don't Tread on Me" flags and tri-corner American Revolution hats, as an expression of outrage over 2008-2009 federal bailouts of Wall Street pirates. That was before it was somehow co-opted, partly by the Koch Brothers and their ilk, partly by birthers looking for an excuse for their racism.

As a movement that began in outrage over the manipulating rich, how can Teabaggers be oblivious to putting a piratical billionaire in charge of everything, with his worse-than-vague, indeed wholly unexplained, pledges of restoring the middle class?

We should take a moment to deal with the indignation that always comes from Teabaggers when that reference is used. Fact is, they are not a Tea "Party," since they have never actually formed and filed as a political party or registered a single voter or candidate to an actual "Tea Party" in any state. Thus, their original self-identification should remain valid as their operative title.

A more salient point is, they were co-opted and led away from their initially consistent and defining path of rage against the Wall Street machine and handouts to the banksters. That suddenly left their original issue to the Occupy movement, as professional operatives galvanized Teabaggers as shouting, no-voices-but-theirs opposition to Obamacare. That scared the bejesus out of old-time economic conservative Republicans, but they weren't about to ignore the chance to recruit allies. Which brings us to now, wherein traditional Republicans cannot control their Teabaggers. Those described as Trump's "nativist" base are feeling their oats, more concerned about the declining proportions of white voters — and therefore their ability to maintain control — as Latino, African-American, and other segments of the population reach statistical dominance.

How else do you explain why Teabaggers, once outraged over the rich running roughshod, are now enthusiastic about a candidate who embodies the antithesis of that? As a movement that began in outrage over the manipulating rich, how can they be oblivious to putting a piratical billionaire in charge of everything, with his worse-than-vague, indeed wholly unexplained, pledges of restoring the middle class? The same middle class that has been ravaged by the ever-accelerating wealth disparity caused by piratical billionaires who take all the profits generated by increased productivity of American workers who no longer have vacations, with each worker spending ever-longer hours at his/her multiple workplaces for no increases in pay, victimized and threatened by dislocated jobs shipped to cheap overseas labor markets.

Some of us are baffled and alarmed by the sudden rise of the "nativist" movement in American politics, in and of itself. It's not just the villification of immigrants. It's the very real possibility that all of us could be living with an acceleration of wealth disparity with its oligarchs buying companies and imposing 5,000% increases in those predecessors' prescription drug prices. And living with rents that now capture well over 2/3 of most worker's incomes. And credit card interest well over 28%, and everything so expensive that it requires credit and time-payments. And no means of affording college. And leasing rather than buying a car. And, in general, owning a decreasing share of the once universal, no longer obtainable American Dream.

There is a fundamental disconnect, a failure to communicate. There seems a national learning disability that enabling Trump's own exploitive rich class is a sure and certain outcome of Trump's incoherent policies. There is a profound lack of recognition, or perhaps a simple lack of caring, that Trump's entire candidacy is driven by an ego that's "Just 'uge!" And how his vision of "Making America Great Again" is tantamount to presenting our derrière to the world for four excruciatingly long years. Asses skyward, both as an expression of how we view the world, and to surely to get that figurative part of our national anatomy kicked up around our shoulderblades.

Certainly, there are abundant parallels to the Know-Nothings of the 1830s. For the moment, that can wait.

Our second theme today is the most recent time America elected a president who had the much-cited persona of, and it was widely quoted at the time, "a used car salesman," and who arrogantly proclaimed a solution to the greatest problem of the age while presenting neither plan nor policy. That was 1968, when Republican candidate Richard Nixon had a much vaunted "secret plan to end the war in Vietnam." And with it, it reminds us how that American electorate of 1968 had received ample warning — three years earlier — against falling for anything like it.

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Reading the piece in the Post got us thinking about a lot of history's teachable moments, as you can see. In fact, as we began to write the point about 1968, we saw the larger connection with the Sixties. And that came as something of an epiphany, which seems an especially appropriate thing with the Pope on our shores.

The warning that went unheeded in 1968 that we find relevant today? It comes from an encounter with an iconic song Bob Dylan wrote in 1965. Today, those lyrics seem to juxtapose back and forth between what would be the inevitable perspective of a President Trump and the stunned realization of the people, after they awaken too late from electing him. In 1965, Bob Dylan wrote:

"Once upon a time you dressed so fine
You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you?
People'd call, say, "Beware doll, you're bound to fall."
You thought they were all kiddin' you
You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hangin' out
Now you don't talk so loud
Now you don't seem so proud
About having to be scrounging for your next meal.

"How does it feel, with no direction home... a complete unknown?"

"You've gone to the finest school all right, Miss Lonely
But you know you only used to get juiced in it
And nobody's ever taught you how to live out on the street
And now you're gonna have to get used to it
You said you'd never compromise
With the mystery tramp, but now you realize
He's not selling any alibis
As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes
And say do you want to make a deal?

"You never turned around to see the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns
When they all come down and did tricks for you
You never understood that it ain't no good
You shouldn't let other people get your kicks for you
You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat
Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat
Ain't it hard when you discover that
He really wasn't where it's at
After he took from you everything he could steal.

"Princess on the steeple and all the pretty people
They're all drinkin', thinkin' that they got it made
Exchanging all precious gifts
But you'd better take your diamond ring, you'd better pawn it babe
You used to be so amused
At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
Go to him now, he calls you, you can't refuse
When you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.

"How does it feel? How does it feel? To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown..."

Those are excerpted lyrics from Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone," released in 1965 on the album, "Highway 61 Revisited."

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And of course, the Highway 61 Dylan was revisiting is the Mississippi crossroads where bluesman Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the devil in return for fame and simple solutions to his problems.

Robert Johnson is as much legend as fact. Born in 1911, he died very young, at age 27. The bluesman was probably poisoned with strychnine by a jealous husband because Johnson tried, unsuccessfully, to rekindle an old romance with the man's wife. Because, just after that, he was drinking at a juke joint with fellow blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson. His more cautious friend implored him not to drink from an open whiskey bottle on the table, but like a birther confronted with Barack Obama's State of Hawaii birth certificate, Johnson paid him no mind. Whereupon Robert Johnson suffered terrible convulsions and died a few days later, on August 16, 1938.

Intransigent obstinacy by someone whose ego causes them to reject wisdom. A populace that rejects the inconvenient truths of likely impacts of what they refuse to think-through. A politician who personifies the used car salesman and has an unspecified secret plan to fix everything. A rambling folk song that has remained popular for fifty years. The voice of history resonates, if we listen.

Increasingly, this ridiculously early election cycle is being described as the place where the road is taking an unanticipated route change, away from the likely and knowledgable candidates who we are deciding are a too-comfortably ensconsed political class. Things are taking an unknown route from the crossroads, in favor of inexperienced, untested outsiders who somehow become celebrities, a political troupe of Kartrashians who are devoid of accomplishments to warrant acclaim. The examples of Robert Johnson and Richard Nixon and the song by Bob Dylan all have messages for us: Best be careful with a slick dealmaker if you go down to the crossroads.


Larry Wines