Experience - Society

How Did It Happen? – Pt. 1

How did an imbecile like Trump become President?

Featured image courtesy of The Daily Beast.

The more things seem unrelated the more tightly coupled they are.

Preface

I posted a simple pictorial on this some time ago. It appears Faux News has taken down the banner I linked to for the first image since then. While that post got a lot of criticism, it really is the thumbnail sketch of how we got a fake President.

This time it will be a long post and I will try to explain things in more detail. There is some thing you have to understand before we start though.

People like this are my neighbors

Hopefully you read that caption. While I don’t know this person specifically, the bulk of the people I went to school with, many of whom still live in the area, are this guy. They talk like this openly at the gas station and grain elevator. This image would be one of the smaller flags found on combines in fields this harvest.

One close friend from high school who moved away to a different Red Neck part of the country has told me repeatedly on the phone that masks don’t work and that the pandemic is fake. It’s just a scam for drug companies to make more money. That was roughly a month ago, just before my father passed away. He wasn’t kidding. He really believes that. We’ve known each other since we were little kids. We have been life long friends and can readily tell when one of us is just spewing shit to get a rise out of the other.

He is not unique. Many of the people I went to school with say that. Even more seem to believe it without uttering it. They confirm their belief by refusing to wear masks and repeating the mantra that “they’re just taking away our rights one by one.”

That’s where I live. In the middle of this.

I’m not some New York media worker nor am I one of these soulless creatures cranking out propaganda for a “think tank” or Breitbart. I’m someone who grew up in the middle of Red Neck U.S.A. I travel around the country doing my geek work and keep coming home to both decompress and help on the farm. I had a front row seat.

I know Trump doesn’t read books and may have never read a book in his life. I also know that many/most Trump supporters tend to only read Tweet length writing so I will try to limit the supplemental reading, opting to link mostly to video or podcast information you can consume without reading. This post will be quite long.

Our journey starts in the 1970s

Yeah. You have to start clear back here. Depending on where you lived and what you did minimum wage was $2.50 – $3.50/hr. A brand new, fully loaded Caprice Classic cost roughly $4000.

1970 Caprice Classic from Pintrest

The 400 on the front fender is because the 400 cubic inch engine was really popular, especially with the automatic 3-speed transmission. With cruise control they could achieve 18-20 MPG on the Interstate. The twenty gallon gas tank was common on most popular vehicles of the era and families took road-trip vacations during the summer.

This is where our culture absorbed the “400 mile range” idea that decimates electric vehicle sales today. We don’t “know” we have the bias, but we grew up owning cars and planning trips around a 400 mile per tank reality. If you want to change what goes in the tank, fine; you just have to make it go 400 miles per fill up and have it fill in the time it takes us to use the bathroom then eat that burger and fries before taking off again.

No, we haven’t gone down a rabbit hole. During the 1970s and into the 1980s America was still an automotive culture. The summer road trip had been a time honored tradition since the 1950s. When gasoline was “expensive” it was fifty cents per gallon. A $10 bill would always fill your tank. A minimum wage worker had to work four hours or less to fill their tank.

Kent State

Camelot had ended with the Kennedy assassination. LBJ had gotten us into Vietnam. Protests and riots against the war had accelerated. Mayor Richard J. Daley had reportedly given a “shoot to kill” order to police when it came to protesters at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. We elected Richard Nixon as President. Unrest escalated.

On May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard opened fire on students protesting at Kent State giving this country the Kent State Massacre. Some time later Neil Young wrote a song about it.

Four Dead in Ohio

Nixon

Americans, perhaps humans in general, but Americans in particular, have become a “One and Done” society. When a new diabetes drug comes onto the market it doesn’t have to prove it can stop blindness, kidney failure, heart problems or any of the other things that makes diabetes so bad. All it has to do is submit a study that says it lowers your A1C. As far as I know it doesn’t even have to check to see if it makes any of those other problems worse. It just has to lower your A1C.

We have the same “One and Done” view of Nixon. He got impeached and resigned in disgrace. That’s all anyone seems to remember. It was most of what I remembered until I wrote a blog post on him. That and the fact he was the reason I decided to be a Republican at a very young age. The Republican party had enough integrity to throw their own President out of office over what, in today’s world, seems like little more than a Jay Walking offense. The Democrats didn’t have integrity later on with Clinton and the Republicans lost all present and future claim to integrity during the Trump impeachment.

Here is the Nixon legacy we should remember.

  • Created the EPA
  • Ended the Draft
  • Signed the National Cancer Act on the 23rd of December 1971 – you either know someone who was able to battle cancer because of this act or you will if you live long enough
  • First President to fight for Guaranteed Health Care. Yeah, a Republican wanted to create Bernie’s Medicare for All
  • Fought for a Guaranteed Income. He lost, but a Republican President pushed for the Yang Gang UBI in the 1970s
  • Lowered the voting age with the 26th Amendment so the boys being sent to Vietnam could at least vote before they died over there
  • First example of Affirmative Action in U.S. history with the Philadelphia Plan
  • Title IX gender equality
  • Desegregation

During the 1970s the Republican party was something to be proud of. One could hold their head high and say “I’m a Republican.” The Republican party looked out for the working class. It really tried to improve the lives of the average Joe and Jane.

Despite all of his personal faults, Richard Nixon was incredibly astute when it came to listening to the common man. Many of his achievements and public failed attempts to create lasting policy really honked off some big backers. The voting public put Tricky Dick back in office because he actually sat down at the kitchen table and listened. A trait that is sadly lacking in today’s politicians. They get fed things to do by “focus groups” that only focus on the major donors.

Democrats during this time were busy sitting down at steak and lobster banquets, spooning expensive caviar onto crackers and knocking back $90/shot Cognac. This lead to many lobbyist rules being imposed. I don’t remember the wording, but one of the seemingly shocking ones was

Members could not sit down if food or drink were served at a lobbyist gathering.

It’s really hard to eat steak and lobster standing up without a place to put your plate. That was the thinking behind the rule.

1974

On August 8, 1974 Richard M. Nixon resigned from office. We got Gerald Ford, a President nobody voted for, on August 9th. I’m not certain, but I think he is the only President in American history that nobody voted for. He hadn’t been part of a Presidential ticket. He pardoned Nixon on September 8th, 1974.

1974 is the pivotal year. Minimum wage didn’t really go up but the price of gas sure did. It was now over $4/gallon and there was odd/even gas rationing going on. The 30-year fixed mortgage shot up to almost 10%. To say there was unrest would be a major understatement.

A $3.50/hr minimum wage worker now had to work almost 23 hours to fill their twenty gallon gas tank. When you are a minimum wage worker, you don’t budget money, you budget hours. Four hours to fill my tank. Ten hours for food and clothing. Twenty hours to pay my rent. That last six hours, if I get to work it, is my “fun money.” Gasoline was now eating a large chunk of food and rent money.

Everybody assumed he picked Ford because Ford agreed to pardon him once the dust settled. Few understood why Ford went through with it. Most people left that as one of life’s mysteries and moved on. Then some of us watched Oliver Stone’s JFK.

I and many others were a bit too young when all of this went down. Didn’t figure out the reason Ford was on the short list until I watched this movie. Ford had been part of the Warren Commission.

Carter

On January 20, 1977 the nicest guy to ever occupy the White House took office. His name was Jimmy Carter. The Nixon pardon and the fact nobody voted Ford into the White House the first time were two major anchors around his neck. The gas rationing and other OPEC related issues didn’t help.

Jimmy Carter, however, was not a good President. He was the nicest guy we could have ever elected and as a nation we just wanted someone honest. That was the single largest criteria. A peanut farmer from Georgia with a beer guzzling brother locked up the farm vote as soon as he announced. His deeply religious nature got him bible thumpers far and wide. (The fact his religion wasn’t a front to hide wild drug and sex orgies as it is for so many didn’t hurt either.)

Russian Grain Embargo

He was the kind of guy most of America wanted to believe could be President. A truly decent human being. He had old fashioned beliefs and sadly, medieval ideas when it came to public policy. His idea about how to slay the Russian monster was to institute the “Russian Grain Embargo.”

I call it medieval because during medieval times armies would lay siege to a castle by surrounding it and trying to starve the people inside out. This would force those behind big safe walls to come fight in the open where the attacking army had a chance. It doesn’t work during modern times when cargo ships are plentiful and they can just haul grain from a different country to Russia.

A Minneapolis-Moline tractor

The policy decimated agriculture. It helped bring about the failure of International Harvester and lead to massive manufacturing layoffs at both agriculture and automotive manufacturers. As thousands got laid off at agriculture manufacturers (John Deere, Minneapolis Moline, etc.) they stopped buying new vehicles. Farmers stopped buying pickup trucks and trucks to haul grain with.

Dad’s Car

Millenials who have no desire to own a car just can’t begin to understand how central automobiles were to American culture. So were factory jobs. From the 1950s through the early 1970s a boy could graduate high school on Friday and if he had filled out an application a few weeks before start a factory job on Monday. He could earn enough to own a home and raise a family.

The intersection of this culture was a phrase and cultural trait of manhood – Dad’s car. Unlike today’s $50,000+ pickup trucks, dad drove a $500 beater if he drove a car. His housewife had “the good car” to drive the family around in. Dad’s working at the same factory or mill would take turns driving or let those who didn’t have a dad’s car chip in some gas money to ride along.

Christine (1983)

You really need to watch part of the 1983 movie Christine to understand this bit if you didn’t live through it. There were lots of service places where you could rent a bay with a lift and some higher end tools to work on your car. I believe Pepp Boys started out this way. The dad’s riding in the Dad Car did the work on the Dad Car.

They would get a transmission or even an engine from a bone yard to keep it going. Until the frame rotted through or the body rotted off, the Dad Car was kept operational. Not pretty. Some would say not even fully functional given all of the things that wouldn’t work on one, but it would start every morning and get them to work. Unless it was pouring rain and there were people who walked to work, you didn’t have to worry about anyone stealing a Dad Car.

Dad Car culture started in the 1950s when the mantra of manhood was “My wife doesn’t have to work.” A man worked to feed and support his family. He took pride in having a reliable daily driver nobody would steal.

MBAs

The real threat to the American way of life came about because we didn’t abolish MBA programs nor did the government attach a civic duty/patriot charter to each and every publicly traded corporation. Factories were being systematically closed with the work moving to Mexico and Canada since the 1960s. Big names like Roper and A.O. Smith pulled out of American cities to dive across a border. Major manufacturing cities like Kankakee, Illinois lost every major manufacturer in what felt like less than a year. The pace seemed to accelerate during the Carter presidency. The Mitt Romneys and Bain Capitals of the world were having a high old time shipping American jobs out of the country.

Iran and Israel

President Carter also got a monkey wrench from left field known as the Iran Hostage Crisis. College students stormed the U.S. Embassy and took the people there hostage. It started out as some college “Hey look at what we did” stunt. There were reports of jokes and laughs being exchanged by both hostage takers and hostages during the first hours. Nobody in the Embassy or being interviewed by news media expected the stunt to last the night. Then the leader of Iran (Khomeini) reached out to the students and told them to “stay the course.”

College students occupying an official building, staging a sit-in, forming a human chain, etc. were not uncommon things around the world. It’s pretty much why embassy security didn’t mow the students down. When you visit the Wikipedia page for the Iran Hostage Crisis you will see 8 servicemen and 1 Iranian civilian were killed during a failed attempt to rescue the hostages. That failed attempt was just before the election. It failed before it got off the ground. There is much speculation that had it succeeded, President Carter could have ridden the enthusiasm it created to a second term. Well, until you consider who he was running against.

President Carter wasn’t without his achievements. He brokered a peace deal between Israel and Egypt. He got the SALT II treaty done and a few other things.

The Shah

A good and decent man simply couldn’t sweep up all of the feces that came before. Previous administrations had also propped up the Shah of Iran who turned out to be a corrupt pile of shit dictator. You would think America would learn, but we tend to elect leaders with more ego than brains. Each and every time they try to play King Maker in that region they always install a piece of shit. In 1979 the Shah fled Iran and ultimately came to America to get his cancer treated. Didn’t go well.

The leader American installed after the Shah was Khomeini. You will note who told the students to stay the course with the hostage taking. I’m sure there were many many career diplomats involved in the decision so it is not fair to say he did it to himself. The problem is those career diplomats historically suck when it comes to middle east decisions.

Charlie Wilson’s War

You kind of need to watch Charlie Wilson’s War at this point. We, as a country, don’t find much out about this until terrorists crash planes into the Twin Towers on 9/11. Russia was the boogeyman. Given the Cuban Missile Crisis and the nuclear arms race, that wasn’t a misguided belief. The trouble is politicians suffer from a terminal case of “One and Done.” We created Osama bin Laden at this point. It just took a long time to realize that.

Tear Down This Wall

You cannot begin to imagine just how huge the pressure was from both the American people and even foreign governments to “Nuke Iran.” Somewhere you might be able to dig up the Anwar el-Sadat interview of the time. It wasn’t much of an interview. Sweat rolling off him. Gesticulating wildly. I seem to remember there was even spit flying out of his mouth. He couldn’t sit down and I seem to remember him shouting the entire sub three minute interview. I don’t remember understanding a single word he said. I and most of America came away with the distinct impression he wanted America to bless his invading and conquering Iran.

Hey, slipping listening devices and cameras into an embassy is good clean fun. Invading an embassy and taking hostages was universally believed to be an act of war because an embassy was viewed as foreign soil. There were a lot of players who wanted a chance to burn powder and stack bodies in Iran. There still are even today.

Americans just wanted to feel good again. They wanted to be able to not only afford a tank of gas, but to buy a full tank when they wanted. They wanted to earn enough money to once again pursue the American dream. For all of the hatred and dissing of factory jobs, they let a working man enjoy raising a family if that was what they wanted to do.

Movies

Ronald Reagan was a Hollywood movie star and a Republican. There were many jokes about him being senile and not being qualified, but he had the one qualification that really mattered. He made Americans feel good. Some people offered up Bedtime for Bonzo. Others favored “win one for the gipper.”

The list of war and shoot-em-up Westerns IMDB has as his credits is impressive. What wasn’t widely known in America at the time became obvious during an interview with a survivor of the Iran Hostage Crisis. Only his Westerns and war movies were ever exported.

Iran wanted to stick it to the President who helped Israel out of a war thus helping ensure Israel’s survival. They also knew he wasn’t the kind of President that would kill a lot of people. All they knew about Reagan was the shoot-em-ups and war movies.

This interview is important, I just couldn’t find it quickly. The hostage survivor being interviewed said their captors came to him and asked what Ronald Reagan winning the election meant. He said it took a while for me to understand what/why they were asking, then it dawned on me all they knew were his action movies. I said one word “boom” and indicated a mushroom cloud with my hands.

I didn’t put all of that in quotes because I that’s the way I remember it. I don’t have a link to get it exact. I also seem to remember him saying he spread word to the other hostages and they asked the hostage keepers to help make out wills or something like that because Reagan was going to nuke the country out of existence.

Our hostages were released on January 20, 1981 when President Reagan was sworn in. Iran was never going to release the hostages with President Carter in office. They couldn’t cough them up fast enough when they thought there was a President taking office that actually would nuke them.

Ronald Reagan had a 489-49 Electoral College landslide. When I say most Americans wanted to feel good about America and themselves again, I meant it. That wasn’t just my personal opinion.

Made in U.S.A.

President Reagan told America that we were going to allow labor intensive low skill manufacturing to move overseas. America was going to manufacturer the high quality complex stuff. Things like socks and underwear would be made in the lowest wage country but things like automobiles, agriculture equipment, and nuclear reactors would be made in the U.S.A. These were higher margin products and the factories would pay a higher wage.

To help enforce this the Federal Trade Commission was tasked with controlling the “Made in U.S.A.” labeling requirements. If an automobile didn’t qualify it was classified as an import and you had to pay an import tax of some kind. The exact details of all this are fuzzy in my mind. There is a 40-page document that I don’t feel like reading that spells things out.

Suffice it to say that because of this “burdensome regulation” Toyota shipped its first American built car in 1986. Mercedes-Benz announced a factory in 1993 that produced its first vehicle in 1997. Others have also opened factories here. Toyota keeps investing in America. It now exports vehicles from American factories to 19 other countries. Why? They found out they could get all of the steel, aluminum, and glass they wanted in America.

Map of Japan from Operationworld.org

At some point an island nation has to ship all of that stuff in.

Of all the Presidents America has had, only Ronald Reagan knew how to defeat Russia. You get a communist country to play the capitalist game of “Who can spend the most money.” Honestly, that is all he did. Well, that and a really great speech.

continued in Pt. 2.

Roland Hughes is the president of Logikal Solutions, a business applications consulting firm specializing in OpenVMS platforms and Qt on Linux. Hughes serves as a lead consultant with over two decades of experience using computers and operating systems. With a degree in Computer Information Systems, the author's experience is focused on systems across a variety of diverse industries including heavy equipment manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, stock exchanges, tax accounting, and hardware value-added resellers, to name a few. Working throughout these industries has strengthened the author's unique skill set and given him a broad perspective on the role and value of technology in industry.