By Bernard Weiner
Co-Editor, The Crisis Papers
October 10, 2017
(Boston, October 5, 2035) The Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Alexandra
Corker’s much-awaited "The Restoration Years: America in the
Post-Trump Era" jumped to the top of the best-seller lists almost
immediately. The Harvard professor and I spoke in her Cambridge home
about the revelations in that volume.
BW: Why don't we start with the title of the book? Why "Restoration”?
Donald Trump, as many may remember, was, in historical terms, a kind of
usurper of the crown. Not only was he installed into power by fraudulent
means, but he was, how shall we say, a bit over his head in the job. He
knew nothing, he didn't want to know anything, he ignored those who did
know something. In short, he surrounded himself mainly with incompetents
and mean-spirited plutocrats like himself, and tried to keep his
administration's outrageous behaviors totally secret from any meaningful
The reason why Trump was adjudged widely as "the worst president ever,"
even during his tenure, was a direct result of his unnecessary wars and
chaos, bungling on a monstrous scale, elevating racist and misogynist
arguments into the political mainstream as if they were normal
discourse, the mangling of the Constitution, ideological extremism, and
out-and-out corruption and larceny. In other words, he and his cronies
laid waste to the institutions of our democratic republic.
When he was finally gone, nothing less than a thoroughgoing cleansing of
the foul-smelling stable was in order. That was "The Restoration" era,
years of undoing the great damage his administration had foisted on the
country. Restoring our country's commitment to Constitutional rule and
to sanity and realism in our foreign policy -- that was the Herculean
job of his successors.
THE GOOD, BAD & UGLY
BW: That sounds so harsh. Don't you have anything good to say about
the man and his administration?
One shouldn't ignore the possibility that Trump sincerely believed
himself to be, or at least convinced himself that he was, operating for
the "good of the country." But even if one accepts that possibility,
rather than out-and-out moral corruption and hunger for power, Trump’s
definitions of "good" and "country" flowed so narrowly out of such a
circumscribed class-stratum, education, and limited experiences, that
they bore little relevance to how almost everyone else interpreted those
terms. Of course, one must also add a warped narcissistic pathology that
made intelligent leadership difficult, if not impossible, for him.
So the short answer to your question is no. History and his own
contemporaries judged him to be so reckless and incompetent with the
power at his command that he brought the United States into severe
disrepute around the globe. He nearly wrecked the economy in the
process, laying humongous debts on succeeding generations. Even his own
party's leaders and members of Congress deserted him towards the end,
feeling he did great damage to the country's vital interests. History
has rendered its judgment: His administration was an ugly stain on our
country's garment of decency.
BW: I seem to recall that even in his worst times at the end, he
still maintained the support of about one out of four citizens in
Yes, there was a die-hard faction of the population, mainly centered
around religious fundamentalists in the South and Rust Belt, and
ill-informed blue-collar workers in the Midwest, who stuck with him,
since they believed he had been anointed by God to lead this country
into righteous rule. But that means that 75% had lost faith in him and
just wanted him to depart the scene as quickly and quietly as possible.
They felt similarly about his Vice President, Mike Pence, a weak,
In other words, much of the citizenry longed for a Restoration of the
rule of law and calm, orderly, competent, open government, operating not
from the extremes but from the middle outwards, on some issues more to
the right, some more to the left.
One would have thought that the country had learned its history lesson
from the lawless behavior of Richard Nixon and then George W. Bush, but
it would take the Trump catastrophe to convince Americans never to
permit a president to amass so much power and control.
Still, even with those Restoration laws in place, here we are many years
later after a disgraced Trump left office and we still have to remind
ourselves that there always are demagogues who try to cut corners with
the Constitution and the rule of law, and who try to frighten the
population into reckless policies and dangerous wars of choice. The
moral lesson is that the fight to preserve democracy inside America has
to be waged every day, every generation, lest the forces of
authoritarian self-righteousness once again rise to power.
And, since even the best-intentioned politicians find themselves abusing
the power they possess -- as Lord Acton said: "Power tends to corrupt
and absolute power corrupts absolutely" -- we must be alert to the
necessity of cleaning out our political parties at regular intervals.
When appropriate, we also must be open to the founding of new alliances
and parties, as happened in the final period of the Trump Administration
when liberals and progressives from the Democratic and Green Parties,
and traditional conservatives and business executives and military brass
from the Republican Party, united to set the Restoration in motion and
to return to the checks-and-balances system of government established by
our founders that had worked so well for several hundred years.
PEEKING BEHIND POWER'S CURTAIN
BW: How do you explain why true conservatives and corporate leaders
and military officers deserted their leader in such great numbers?
The historical record shows that there were practical reasons for doing
so: While the wealthy and many huge companies reaped windfall profits
from Trump policies, the overall economy really couldn't return to real
health with the debt-anchors dragging it down as a result of the
trillions of dollars spent not only on climate change-engendered natural
catastrophes but also on unnecessary wars of choice. The U.S. military
was stretched so thin fighting all these wars of imperial aggression
against native guerrillas that our military leaders rebelled in order to
protect their troops and their services from more such adventuring
abroad. The pre-eminent position that America had enjoyed for so long on
the world stage began to deteriorate rapidly, with its negative impact
on our exports, the health of the dollar, our economic stability, our
lack of respect abroad, and the concomitant rise of other major
countries such as China and India and the South Asia/Russia Alliance in
But the Restoration also can be explained this way: The powers that be
in American society, those corporate and political forces that truly
control the economy and parties, usually carry out their agendas so
effectively because their goals and strategies are essentially hidden.
But Trump and Pence and their cronies, with their bumbling policies and
their arrogant in-your-face tactics, tore away the veils and revealed
all too clearly the faces of those powers-that-be and what was really
going on: corporate theft on a massive scale, rapacious imperialism
abroad, barely disguised racism, manipulation of the mass-media in
hiding the truth, the ignoring of the rule of law and the Constitution,
etc. Therefore, it was to the advantage of the elites to dump this
incompetent, reckless crew and replace them with the usual type of
smarter, more malleable leaders.
OPPOSING POLITICAL THUGGERY
BW: Can you help us understand why it took so long for that momentum
to build in the body politic?
Part can be understood by the laws of inertia and entropy, part to how
skillfully the Trump Administration and the corporate mass-media that
supported them bamboozled the public, part to how the citizenry accepted
this misinformation for a long, long time, out of fear and confusion.
But deeper than that, I think a key factor was that the opposition was
incapable of dealing with the kind of smash-mouth tactics practiced by
the Trump Administration and their authoritarian-politics “experts.”
Throughout most of American political life, the various parties had
fought each other long and hard but generally with a certain respect for
the other side, and with a tendency to meet somewhere in the middle in
order to get things done. But the far-right Trumpians — and their
establishment-Republican enablers — decided to play a different kind of
politics, aimed at the utter destruction and marginalization of their
opponents in order to establish permanent one-party rule from an
extremist ideological position.
It was a kind of political thuggery that was more reminiscent of
Stalinist Russia and Hitler's Germany. The Constitution was mangled;
laws passed by the legislature were ignored; effective oversight of the
leader was non-existent; voting rolls and elections were manipulated. In
short, ideology, tribalism, authoritarianism, and Trump’s greed-obsessed
self-promotion ruled all. In effect, our democratic presidency had
become a kind of feudal monarchy, and for a country that had established
itself in opposition to a tyrannical king, this contradiction in
American political life could not last forever.
Most Americans, coming from a long tradition of more genteel political
battles, for the longest time didn't know how to confront this
mendacious, authoritarian juggernaut that was rolling across the
Constitution and distorting so many of our governmental institutions.
Though the progressive blogosphere had agitated against the Trump
administration early on, it took a long while before the general public
caught on (aided by the constant revelations of new and more
reprehensible scandals in key newspapers and websites) and the
opposition built to critical mass. These oppositional alliances led to
the demise of not only the Trump Administration but to the rapid decline
of the ideological fanaticism and racist factions behind it.
The important thing I want to emphasize is that the United States under
Trump/Pence came mighty close to a totalitarian, fascist society. Had
the Democrats, and estranged Republicans and independents buoyed by
public outrage, not stood up to the Trump Administration and confronted
them time after time directly and with courage, there might well not
have been a Restoration period in American history. Withdrawing funding
for the Iraq and Afghan Wars, and the initiation of impeachment
proceedings, appear to have been key precipitating factors that fomented
the essential momentum for the swift exit of Trump and Pence from the
scene. Without those moves, American democracy might well have been
strangled, and even more destructive wars abroad might have been
"HARD IMPERIALISM" DAYS ARE OVER
BW: Finally, Professor Corker, could you sum up what your historical
research reveals for our own time?
The forces of worldwide change were manifesting themselves before Trump
and Pence, to be sure, but their Administration hastened the slide of
American power and dominance in the world by their lack of creativity in
dealing with these changes. They relied on the long-discredited and
ineffective "hard imperialism" that did little but reveal their
technological might's inherent weakness in dealing with the many
low-tech nationalist rebellions, and the scary reality of cyber warfare.
Thankfully, Restoration leaders toiled intelligently and mightily to
undo much of the great damage done abroad, and to right the ship of
state domestically as well, returning to the type of Constitutional rule
that shone as a beacon and model for many societies abroad. It took many
years to undo most of the damage done to our political system, but most
citizens would agree that it has been well worth the difficult effort
and has diluted the impact of worldwide terrorism.
But even in our more enlightened times, there still are, there always
are, those forces frightened by major change and determined to try to
control society through more draconian, authoritarian, racist measures.
They exist in all three major parties. We all must resist that
backward-looking movement with all our might, lest we return someday to
a situation as bad or even worse than what history has revealed about
the administration of Donald J. Trump.
Copyright 2017, by Bernard Weiner
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., a
playwright/poet, has taught government & international relations at universities
in California and Washington, worked as a writer/editor at the San Francisco
Chronicle for two decades, and since 2002 has served as co-editor of The Crisis