In Richard Condon’s 1959 political thriller, The Manchurian Candidate, the son of a prominent political family is brainwashed by the Communists into being a secret assassin to further their massive conspiracy.
The 1962 movie, with Laurence Harvey, Frank Sinatra, and Angela Lansbury in the lead roles, played right into America’s fevered anti-Communist Zeitgeist. Then, the Communists were atheists intent on dominating the world. American foreign policy was designed to use anti-Communist fears and propaganda to promote America’s military-industrial complex.
In the 1950s and ’60s, Democrats often tried to portray themselves as more hawkishly anti-Communist than their Republican counterparts so as to avoid being characterized as “soft on Communism.” The harsh rhetoric was triggered by right-wingers in both parties, and anyone in American political life who favored talk over bullets was deemed an anti-American pansy. In short, a blustering macho approach to foreign policy was essential to surviving in our political arenas.
In the decades since the book and the movie came out, America went through its own social, political, and cultural sea-changes. The civil rights, anti-war, and feminist movements produced an array of ideological shifts that fundamentally altered our perceptions of ourselves and the world around us. But certain things remained the same.
After the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, we no longer dealt with the Soviet Union nor with Communism as the dominant theme of post-Soviet life. But instead of our visceral aversion to Communism, we maintained our chauvinist posture by asserting staunch doubts about the Russians. Despite Russia’s efforts to evolve as a society and to make progress in the face of bitter antagonism by the West, America and NATO countries refused to work with their former allies, then adversaries. Of key significance was the continuous anti-Russian orthodoxy on the part of America’s so-called liberals.
Today, after 25 years of living with Newt Gingrich’s Contract With (On?) America, our hatred of all things progressive has gotten worse. Indeed, with the institutionalization of incarceration of black and brown people, turning the prison system into a multi-billion dollar industry, with wages flat for the last 40 years, with the cost of living going right through the roof and the quality of life continuing its nosedive, with the students of the last 40 years being systematically gouged by our bloated, for-profit education system, with the availability of medical care becoming increasingly scarce, with taxes being decreased for the uber-wealthy and raised for the rest of us, we wonder why we are declining in our standard of living while many other countries are improving.
So many people in America cannot understand how their lives got to this point of quiet desperation. It’s human to want to place blame, but we have escalated it into an art form here in the U.S. So in 2016 we elected someone I’ll call “the Manhattan Candidate,” someone not afraid to throw a live hand grenade into the body politic and create political and cultural carnage.
The son of a wheeler-dealer real estate tycoon, Donald Trump learned early in his life that everything was transactional. Everything had the makings of a deal. Principles? Schminciples. The only thing that counted was self-aggrandizement and personal ego gain. With Trump, it was always “win-lose,” never “win-win.” His zero-sum game was how he learned to cheat his tenants, his business partners, his suppliers, his wives. Anyone who wasn’t Trump was a potential threat to his ego-drive. He always had to win, no matter what.
And so, when he had the opportunity in 2015 to cultivate Russian assistance to get his Trump Hotel project launched, he had his underlings start the ball rolling.
Trump, however, did not understand the Russian mentality. He thought they were a bunch of ignorant rubes and could easily be duped with a few easily-broken promises and a handful of magic beans here and there. What he did not realize is that the Russians had been playing their game for a thousand years, and they knew how to win. You either give them what they want or you wound up with nothing (or worse). They had a way, in their business dealings, especially with naïve outsiders, of obtaining kompromat or compromising information that could be used to force you to make major concessions.
Despite all the talk about Trump and the alleged tape with Russian prostitutes urinating on his bed, which I don’t think happened, the real story is that Trump became financially beholden to Russian oligarchs. The oligarchs were simply Russian mafia members who used brutal violence and murder to obtain billions of dollars and massive sub rosa power. They promised him all kinds of help — -not for the presidency, but for his hotel project. They hired the individuals and the firms to perform massive trolling on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media services, and Trump finally got the presidency in 2016, much to his surprise and shock.
Even more shocking was his complete inability to diminish his ego needs and to do things for the sake of America. This, however, is absolutely typical of a narcissist such as Trump. In the final analysis, Trump represents America’s sickness. Trump, on the micro level, represents who we have been, on the macro level, for the last several hundred years. The difference between Trump — -a member of the nouveau riche, and never really accepted by the Old Money in New York — -and America’s policy makers is that the latter group always felt a need to justify slavery of blacks, genocide of American Indians, treatment of women as mindless chattels, and imperialism in foreign policy. Trump, on the other hand, felt no need for hang-wringing apologias for our brutal domestic and foreign policies. He felt that the barest justification — -“If it’s good for America [read: Donald J. Trump], it’s good enough for me!” — -was sufficient, especially if it could be fit into the 280 character limit of Twitter.
With America’s lack of critical-thinking capability, the dearth of good media to point out our flaws, and the lack of spine on the part of our Congressional leadership, our president has been given the green light to bring chaos and destruction to our political system. Trump is, on several levels, an anarchist, eschewing the forms and formalities of good government consistent with our Constitution. His disdain for the Constitution, for the requirements of civil discourse, for mutual respect and dignity, and for America’s unique leadership role, has caused other countries — -Russia and China come to mind — -to take new and more powerful defensive measures to protect themselves from our massive power.
Russia, in particular, had a huge problem when the Soviet Union was dissolved and the Cold War ended. Its economy, in ruins, was taken over by brutal oligarchs who ran off with much of the national patrimony. It is not surprising that Britain has no extradition treaty with Russia, and to note that the sharp rise in real estate prices and the cost of living in London, particularly, is the direct result of the most predatory oligarchs moving themselves and their many billions of dollars to London.
Likewise, American power was being trumpeted around the world in the early 1990s. “We’re the only Superpower on Earth!” ran the headlines. Consistent with our self-proclaimed supremacy, our military was — -and is — -a threat to Russia, and China, and Iran, and North Korea. We pushed ahead with our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and justified everything in the name of “Democracy.”
What American foreign policy-makers did not understand is that the Russians and the Chinese take the long view of foreign relations. We think in months and years; they think in decades and centuries. While Americans’ power was a real threat, those in charge had surprisingly simplistic views of how it should be used. The Russians and the Chinese completely understood The Art of War, by Sun Tzu, and recognized the wisdom in the simple principle: Divide and Conquer.
So, by bringing an anarchist into power in the United States as its president, Russia and China were able to start the process of dividing America once again, essentially starting the American Civil War redux. Divide and conquer.
Some would say that Trump’s election was a surprise, completely overlooking the addictive nature of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. The millions and millions of divisive messages run through the social media completely set the stage for a rogue candidate with a massive ego and monumental indifference to the niceties of Constitutional government. The frustrated American voters, those with low information levels, bought into the concept of Trump as their savior and thus put him into office. Divide and conquer.
Today, our government is approaching its one month anniversary of being shut down. We have allowed Trump and his Senatorial consul, Mitch McConnell, to circumvent the normal process of governance. McConnell has used the specious argument that he “didn’t want to waste time with a bill that the President wouldn’t approve.” Of course, there’s the concept of a veto, but then that would require leadership and picking a fight with Trump, something McConnell did not want to do.
Accordingly, Trump has been given what he thinks is carte blanche to misgovern. His Tweets suggest an increasingly-disturbed personality, one whose instincts swerve from bad to worse, bad to worse, with greater frequency these days. Personal responsibility for the country’s worsening condition is something with which Trump could not cope, but that’s not a consideration for him or anyone else at this time. Perhaps, if Special Counsel Robert Mueller ever completes and makes his report, then we’ll be able to get some clarity as to the degree of Trump’s malfeasance. With that clarity, one hopes there will be leaders who will do the right thing and rid us of this noxious pestilence infesting the White House.
Until that day comes, however, we are forced to travel with “the Manhattan Candidate” as he stumbles forward to the abyss.