It was a sight you really had to see to believe, and then you pinched yourself just to be sure that it wasn’t some political hallucination that had temporarily robbed you of consciousness. There stood the four Republican candidates on stage in Detroit, as hundreds of millions of people watched around the world, and suddenly lead candidate Donald Trump began to talk about the size of his male genitals and to refer to fellow candidate Marco Rubio as “Little Marco”. Just when the media and indeed the general public didn’t think that it could go any lower, we were subjected to a schoolyard brawl overflowing with testosterone, where a bully confronted his adversaries and plotted to take over the entire school. No one believed any longer that this kind of remarks could hurt Mr. Trump because over the past few months he has defied that prediction so many times that political pundits are in a state of shocked resignation, and can only say that Mr. Trump has entirely redefined the race to the Presidency and that none of the traditional rules apply to him. Fellow Republican candidates continue to warn voters not to succumb to his divisive message, not to degrade the Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln and of Ronald Regan, and voters continue to massively turn out to support him. The Republican establishment, now realizing that Mr. Trump will not self-destruct or implode, and in fact, appears well on the road to take the Republican nomination, is now letting out the big dogs, like failed 2012 Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, to warn American voters of the disaster that awaits them if they continue on this course. Meanwhile, overt racism, sexism, and in fact any “ism” that can be imagined has a new home…even the Klu Klux Clan and the Neo Nazi movement in America have found a new hero in the reality show television star and real estate magnate who wants to “make America great again”, tapping into apparent anger and disgust at the Washington establishment that has ignited a large percentage of the American populace. Quietly disparaging Americans of a milder ilk have begun to visit websites on how to migrate to Cape Breton, just in case the unimaginable happens, which is no longer unimaginable, and “the Donald” becomes the next leader of the free world. Many cling to the hope that good sense will ultimately prevail and Mr. Trump will finally begin to lose to another candidate, and that even if he does get the nod from the GOP that Hillary would defeat him roundly in national debates.
Much is made by the American Republican establishment of the fact that Mr. Trump does not espouse their values, the values of one of their most revered political figures who some jokingly refer to as “Saint Reagan”. In fact, it must be pointed out that President Reagan’s most famous speech, the one that they teach in schools even when the bullies are looking on from the back of the classroom, is the speech he delivered in West Berlin on June 12th, 1987 entitled “A Time for Choosing”. This address is considered a seminal moment in the history of the 20th century, and it of course contained the now-famous proclamation “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”. It was about uniting people, bringing people long divided together as one…Hillary Clinton, had she been there, would have said that it was about making Berlin “whole” again. And it was about bringing down a wall, not building a new one as Mr. Trump continues to advocate doing along the Mexican border. One year after Berlin, when President Reagan stopped by the Empire Club of Canada with his good friend Brian Mulroney to talk about the new free trade deal, his speech was once again about building stronger relationships between peoples and going forward with confidence, not fear. Here is a short extract from that June 21st, 1988 speech at the Empire Club:
“And so today, mankind, standing on the shore of a new continent, a new age of invention, adventure, and growth, holds its breath, and for one lingering moment wonders – go forward or go back. Let us choose life. Let us choose hope. Let us turn to the horizon and greet the morning and continue the adventure that our forefathers started so many years ago when, with faith and freedom, they landed on this great, strange, continent and began to build a newer world.”
And there you have it. President Reagan, one of the most admired political figures within the history of the Grand Old Party, wanted to tear down walls and see the free flow of peoples and traded goods. Presidential candidate Trump wants to put walls up, prevent certain peoples from freely circulating, and revisit trade and commercial deals that he believes have greatly harmed the people of the United States. It may be the same party, but in 28 years we have seen the world and the GOP change so dramatically that the political discourse appears to have done a full 360-degree rotation and is now all about isolationism, protectionism, and keeping the world at bay. One can only wonder how President Reagan would react to these new changes of direction were he still around to watch them today. One thing that everyone agrees on…the tone has gotten ugly and divisive, and to put it in more prosaic language, “This ain’t the Republican Party of your grandfather”. If we continue in this direction, the new Berlin Wall will be from Texas to California and be visible from outer space, and one day may attract a visiting world leader to demand: “Mr. Trump, tear down this wall!”.