WASHINGTON -- Historians have observed that when countries are going through unusual or traumatic times, they tend to choose out-of-the-ordinary leaders, thinking that they can better see the country through. But those historians never knew about Donald Trump.
Indeed, these are times that try the souls of traditional historians, for all those "facts" they deal with don't seem to add up anymore. How can it be that a nation that for generations found its political and economic leadership in the Eastern Establishment -- men such as the Roosevelts, the Rockefellers, the Morgans, the Carnegies, and at the tail end of its run, the Kennedys -- now looks to the Trumps of New York, the Obamas of Honolulu, Chicago and Washington, and the Pauls of Texas?
So many Americans are against just about all of our leadership that the biggest fights are when one party's candidate sets out to destroy that same party's other candidates. One can no longer talk about "classes of leadership" -- they are all individuals, and scrappy ones at that.
Billionaire real estate developer and reality-TV show star Donald Trump gave life to one intra-party Republican skirmish recently when he decided to fire back at Karl Rove, eminence grise for President George W. Bush, when poor Rove dared to say that Trump's White House bid was a "joke." To which Trump responded that Rove "should be ashamed of himself" for pushing an agenda that paved the way for the Obama presidency.
"Honestly," Trump said on the conservative "America's Morning News" radio show, "Karl Rove ought to go back and start thinking about other things because what he did is he gave us, indirectly through President Bush, he gave us Barack Obama."
The Donald's most lasting part of his campaign so far has been his insistence that President Obama has not proved to the American people that he was "born in the U.S.A." Thus, the main point of his candidacy has been to give himself yet another nickname -- Trump can now be known as "birther-in-chief"!
The fact is that this political chestnut, long disproven by everyone from the governor of Hawaii, to too many journalists to mention, to the president's family and friends, left even many Republicans shaking their heads.
But Donald Trump sailed blissfully on, so buoyed by his ballasts of hot air that one almost expected him to float off into the sunset all on his own. But before he left, he filled the Trumpsters around him with the rest of his campaign promises:
He would levy taxes on Chinese imports, thus forcing China to stop manipulating its currency. He might seize Middle East oil fields, if the notion struck him on a good day. He'd repeal the Obama health care law, and who cares if the young, or the old, or the in-between had to make it on their own? Not The Trump!
Donald Trump was suddenly all over the place, vying surprisingly for the presidency and willing to use every cent he had to get it. He was serious, no question about it, but even his fellow Republicans saw him as comic relief, good for a quick laugh but not exactly what the country needs now.
President Obama, meanwhile, was also "out there," telling the American people that the Republicans would (if they could) solve the deficit/debt problems on the people's backs. Early poll numbers tended to show that Americans want reductions in both the budget deficit and our long-term debt; yet none of the candidates, including the president, has effectively addressed this "little problem" that could sink the United States of America.
Even after this week's Standard & Poor's rating agency announced it was cutting its outlook on U.S. sovereign debt -- for the first time in history -- neither the president nor the leading candidates showed any impassioned feelings or plans about this potential disaster.
President Obama did seem to realize that the American people desperately want him to speak and to act forcefully. He blamed George W. Bush for failing to pay for tax cuts, two wars and costly drug benefits for the elderly -- yet even as he promised to take on pharmaceutical companies that charge Americans 30 percent more for their prescription drugs than they do in Canada, the public acted not with confidence but with uncertainty.
Polls showed that majorities of Americans simply could not understand why our president, and candidates jockeying for the presidency, having a precise knowledge of what the problems are, just cannot seem to rally the country to deal with them.
Donald Trump came out of right-center, veering ever more to the far right and contradicting many of his former statements (he was earlier pro-choice and for universal health care), and Barack Obama stepped up once again to the podium making perfect sense on just about everything he said, but despite his rhetorical skills, not having learned how to inspire the people to act upon his words.
You want to ask me? I'd say that it wouldn't be bad at all to have some part of the Eastern Establishment back in power. I'd say that we're not doing so well leaving our politics up to anyone who steps up to the dais on any day, at any hour, with whatever message.
Yes, when countries confront trouble, they look to the unusual candidate, to someone whom they hope can give them fresh ideas. Maybe it's time to ask how well THAT has worked.