It’s official: We live in the scariest democracy in the world. Last night, after being pummeled by Donald Trump in Indiana despite his recent #HailCarly pass, Ted Cruz dropped out of the Republican presidential nominating game. And this evening—after frenzied declarations to the contrary earlier today on Twitter—John Kasich threw in the towel, leaving Trump as the presumptive, de facto, or all-but-assured nominee, depending on who you ask.
The mood among the media elite just after the Kasich announcement was leaked expressed itself as a collective tone of voice best described as “if there were any way for me not to be journalistically objective right now, you BET I’d tell you how I’m feeling.” Most news outlets greeted the development with the same sort of weary resignation that has characterized so many of the stories about the campaign in recent days. No one was brave enough to say “I told you so” except John Hockenberry, who managed to express the “this can’t be happening” mood perfectly by awarding Ira Flatow of Science Friday an award for being the only one of his colleagues to have recognized early on that Trump would stay in until the convention—no, to infinity, and beyond!
The coming weeks will presumably bring public fumbling by the Clinton campaign, as it tries to figure out which of Trump’s lobbied insults to answer, and private desperation among the Republican elite, as it quickly convenes back room meetings to find someone, ANYONE, to step up to the plate of what it fervently hopes will become a contested convention. Meanwhile, Trump’s supporters—and there are many, despite what the intellectual elite would have had you believe just a few short months ago—continue to sing his praises, calling him “the only man who can save this country.” This reminds me vividly of Michael Douglas telling Gwyneth Paltrow’s lover in A Perfect Murder, “You steal the crown jewel of a man’s soul and your only excuse is some candy-ass Hallmark card sentiment? Even if that were true, buddy, that’s not good enough!”—the crown jewel, in this case, being any claim to fame America might have had until today to be the world’s standard-bearer for democracy.
It wasn’t always this way, of course. Until recently—very recently, in fact—the United States represented the last best hope of many people around the globe for decency, clear thinking, and goodness in the political arena. Even slips like Nixon’s six years in the White House (yes, he opened China, but let’s not forget that he was still a crook) were forgiven the nation that had given the world so much in the personages and policies of Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Carter, Clinton, and even Bush 41. It was only during Bush 43’s first term that the murmurs of dissatisfaction with the country that had saved the world less than fifty years earlier began to crescendo. In the past eight years, despite the emphasis in the White House once again squarely on “negotiation first,” the murmurs have grown even louder, thanks largely to the legacy of 43’s many failed wars or “actions.” Today, they are a full-throated roar. And no wonder.
The disgust overseas greeting this latest development in the 2016 presidential stakes is eclipsed only by the incredulity here at home among much of the political elite that this is Actually Happening. But why are we so surprised, when the sotto voce preparations among our allies for the worst over the past months were answered here by a stubborn refusal among almost 100% of the intelligentsia to take the unfolding events seriously? As though if we just continued to ignore reality it would Just. Go. Away? Today, it’s become painfully obvious that the only person who benefited from that strategy was, yes, Donald J. Trump. While the people who could have mounted an all-out campaign against his all-out assault on democracy were fiddling, CNN burned, and ABC, and NBC, and Megyn Kelly on Fox News, and 26 states. And now, the man who HuffPo called the “800 pound orange gorilla” is on his way to a showdown with the most reviled woman in American politics (except, maybe, for #HailCarly). I don’t know about you, but I’m investigating overseas contracts—and in my spare time, maybe I’ll start a movement to change the words of the song that has become the official anthem of the seventh inning stretch.