Yes, I know, trump is a buffoon. He's an egomaniacal blowhard who routinely says bizarrely ridiculous things. And he talks like a 10-year-old playground bully. I know, his idea of highlighting the differences between himself and rival candidates is to say "he's a total loser" and "I'm very smart!" And of course, it's hard not to laugh every time this self-parody of a conceited dolt opens his weird fish-lipped mouth and spouts utter nonsense. And it's all the easier to laugh knowing that he has absolutely no chance of winning this election.
But I'm not laughing anymore, and I'll tell you why.
Recently, while flipping through the channels, I saw a couple minutes of an All in the Family episode from the 1970's. And someone asked Archie Bunker whether he had voted for Ford. Archie replies, "no, I wrote in Ronald Reagan." This gets a huge laugh. Huge. Because in the 1970's, Reagan was considered such a loony right-wing know-nothing figure that the idea of voting for him to be President seemed absurd.
Well, fast-forward a few years, and there's Reagan in the Oval Office.
The limits of what is considered reasonable in American politics, what some call the "Overton Window," a phrase I enjoy because it sounds like a lost Robert Ludlum novel, is constantly, relentlessly, being dragged to the right.
Remember Pat Buchannan in 1992 shouting "lock and Load!" and "Take back your culture?" Remember how the Republicans were so embarrassed by him that they banned him from the '96 convention? And the best line, as expected, came from Molly Ivins who said that the speech "probably sounded better in the original German." Remember how everyone thought Buchannan was a dangerous lunatic demagogue?
Then remember how just a few years ago, the "liberal" MSNBC started inviting Buchannan onto its airwaves as if he was going to provide a reasoned counterpoint to it's left-leaning hosts? Remember Rachel Maddow calling him "Uncle Pat?" Like, sure he's eccentric and says outrageous things, but deep down, he's just a lovable old curmudgeon. Remember that? Remember how racist he had to get to finally be dismissed from their network?
Remember how up until just a few years ago, it wasn't a common sight to see prominent politicians waving around dangerous weaponry like a bunch of goddamm Ted Nugents?
For that matter, speaking of Nugent, remember when it was considered beyond the pale to threaten the life of the President? Remember when that would get you a visit from some pissed-off Secret Service guys, not an invite to the State of the Union Address?
Or a jam-session with a Presidential candidate?
Buchannan was an outlier in 1992. Trump is basically doing Pat's schtick with a little "hey. look how awesome I am" thrown in for good measure and he's leading the Republican field. And the window is moving rightward a hell of a lot faster than it was back then.
Back in the 1990's, Social Security was still considered the "3rd rail of politics," no one would dare touch it. Now the discussion has moved to how much should we cut it, or should we get rid of it altogether? And if it wasn't for Republicans' absolute petulant, infantile refusal to compromise a single inch, it would have been cut as part of the "Grand Bargain" that the supposedly lefty-liberal Barack Obama had proposed.
Also, in the 1990's, we had an assault weapons ban. Conservative hero Ronald Reagan gave us that, along with the Brady Bill. Anyone suggesting that maybe we might want to re-instate Ronald Reagan's gun legislation these days is tarred as a "left-wing radical" or something. The idea that basic, sensible gun control would ever be considered an extremist left position would have been laughable a generation ago. As laughable as the idea of a President Trump is today. But I'm not laughing. Not anymore.