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Donald Trump Is What Happens When America Can't Handle Change

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 4/03/2016 Howard Fineman
ATHENA IMAGE © Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press ATHENA IMAGE

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Memo to the world: Donald Trump isn't finished with America yet. In fact, he's just getting started.

Whether he wins the Republican presidential nomination or not, whether he wins the White House or not, he has been, and will remain, the eye of the hurricane that is the 2016 U.S. election.

Trump will endure because his rise is not just the result of his own ruthless salesmanship. He is the product of deeply disruptive forces in American public life today: the volume of crude self-aggrandizement and trash talking, the fear of terrorist attacks and undocumented immigrants, the extreme partisanship, the unsettling demographic shifts, the ratings-obsessed media, the blurred lines between reality and reality TV, the need for instantaneous explanations, and the agony of a middle class squeezed by a world economy.

America usually thrives on change, but once in a generation we're overwhelmed by the pace of it -- and our politics go haywire.

We haven't been this unsettled since the Sixties (actually 1963 to 1975), when the nation was torn by assassination, war, race, corruption and generational change. In presidential politics, the year 1964 produced conservative GOP nominee Barry Goldwater, who horrified the party's establishment; 1968 produced George Wallace, the race-baiting Alabamian who terrorized both parties; and 1972 featured Richard Nixon, who left town two years later after being caught trying to shred the Constitution.

This year, the strain of change has given us a foul-mouthed, proudly insensitive, narcissistic real estate developer with a penchant for flimsy deals, ever malleable views, a shaky relationship with the concept of truth and no experience in government whatsoever.

Would you let a man fly your plane who'd never been a pilot? Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough

Departing from his usual careful silence about current politics, historian David McCullough, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of John Adams and Harry Truman, told The Huffington Post that a Trump presidency would be an unmitigated disaster for the country.

"Would you let a man fly your plane who'd never been a pilot?" McCullough asked. "Of course you wouldn't. And that's Trump."

Others expressed more practical political concerns. Carlos Gutierrez, a Cuban-born Republican who served as secretary of commerce under George W. Bush, told HuffPost that Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric could doom the GOP in 2016 by suppressing support in the Hispanic community.

"We need a lot more Hispanic votes than Trump currently can get," said Gutierrez, whose former boss won 40 percent of the Latino vote in 2004. Still, he noted that Trump is ahead in the Florida primary polls, and the home-state senator bidding for the nomination, Marco Rubio, might not be able to stop him there. "It's going to be tough," Gutierrez said.

Thus far, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who dropped out of the race last month, hasn't endorsed anyone. The 2016 contest left raw feelings between him and Rubio, and it's not clear how much help a Bush endorsement would be.

While there is no such thing as a strong, let alone unified, Republican establishment anymore, various factions agree that Trump is a menace who must be stopped. The worried include Wall Street bankers, interventionist "neocons," and many state governors and senators -- not to mention his remaining rivals for the GOP nomination: Rubio, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio.

The coalition, such as it is, rolled out Mitt Romneyon Thursday to attack Trump. But the former Massachusetts governor wasn't exactly the most convincing prosecutor. He had proudly touted an endorsement from Trump in 2012, the presidential race Romney lost that year was one most Republicans think he should have won, and Trump just won the GOP primary in Massachusetts.

For years, the GOP has mostly postured on social issues for their conservative base rather than seriously address the plight of middle-class voters losing jobs to overseas competition. Trump claims that he is running to sweep away clueless establishment politicians who have no sense of the lives of average Americans. There's no better foil for him than Romney. 

The anti-Trump coalition has a plan of sorts. As players of the inside game, they seek to deny Trump the 1,237 delegates he needs to win the nomination on the first ballot at the Republican convention in July. That would create the first truly contested GOP convention since the Ronald Reagan-Gerald Ford battle of 1976.

The strategy depends on first preventing Trump from triumphing in three winner-take-all primaries on March 15 -- in Florida, Ohio and Illinois. The anti-Trump hope is that Rubio manages to win Florida and that Kasich wins Ohio and perhaps Illinois. "Independent" PACs financed by Wall Street and others are paying for massive ad campaigns attacking Trump in those states.

But even if they slow him down, they aren't going to eliminate him. Trump will continue to amass delegates and garner endorsements from scattered Republicans and leaders of various types across the U.S.

If he doesn't get his way, Trump can always threaten to walk out of the GOP convention and take his millions of fed-up, anti-everything voters with him. While the mechanics of running as an independent may be daunting, Trump's ability to command the airwaves cannot be dismissed.

More fundamentally, he will keep tapping into voters' discontent and fear with his simplistic vow to "Make America Great Again" by putting the name Trump on the White House.

McCullough, with his deep understanding of U.S. history, sees Trump as a symbol of the shortcomings of an otherwise vibrant culture, still characterized by medical advances, racial progress, innovation and laudable higher education.

"In our society today, the attention and often the reward goes to the loud, the arrogant, the obnoxious," he said. The very idea of modesty -- the kind that McCullough chronicled in his book about the Wright brothers, who remade the world but never bragged about it -- has all but vanished from America.

Instead, we have a reality TV star named The Donald. 

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