As reports and documentation of election interference, tax evasion, illegal payoffs, security breaches, mishandling of sensitive documents, misdemeanors, and felonies emerge weekly, if not daily, the former President’s popularity and lock on the Republican candidacy for the Presidency in 2024 continue unabated. If anything, these potentially criminal acts have only added to his popularity. Democrats announce every incriminating revelation with enthusiasm, confident that this latest finding of mischief or malfeasance will disillusion the tens of millions of voters who are more invested in the former President than any of his wives were. As successive polls of prospective voters are released, Democratic strategists are shocked to find that the more than 70 million Americans who voted for the former President in 2020 are ready to return him to the Oval Office, even as he promises to reinstall the grifters that surrounded him from 2016 to 2020.
This eagerness to resurrect a troubling administration is easily understood. The former President ignored the rules, and his ‘base’ loved it. He was as indifferent to the rule of law as President Andrew Jackson, the President who told the Supreme Court he would force Native Americans off their lands regardless of how the court ruled. The former President reviewed top secret documents with visiting dignitaries and total strangers at Mar-a-Lago. He gave no explanations for these lapses in national security, just as President Warren Harding made no excuses for liquor being delivered to the White House at the height of Prohibition. He asked the Internal Revenue Service to audit his political enemies, even if there was no evidence that these opponents had evaded paying their taxes. This ‘weaponizing’ for personal gain various branches of the Federal Government had long been deemed illegal since it was adopted by President Richard Nixon. The former President’s own chief of staff advised him that this and other initiatives were blatantly illegal, but the former President ignored his counsel.
This disregard for propriety and precedent, as well as the installation of highly malleable Justices on the Supreme Court and the pursuit of more than 60 challenges to the legitimacy of the 2020 election, excited the tens of millions who longed for return to a mythical, simpler time. That was a time when Americans did not fight over civil rights or discuss sexual preferences, a time when anyone willing to work hard could achieve the ‘American dream,’ a time when real Americans worked out their disputes without running to a court to settle disagreements, a time when minorities were content with the bits and pieces of society that ‘trickled down’ to them. It was a time that never existed but was longed for, nonetheless.
The majority of Democrats still support the current President, a man who has spent virtually his entire adult life in politics and who has all the insight and energy one would expect of a professional politician in his eighties. The current administration has revived a moribund economy, helped reduce unemployment to historic lows, managed to work with a profoundly adversarial Congress, steered clear of entanglements in unpopular wars, supported civil rights for Americans of all stripes, struggled with the influx of illegal immigrants escaping the chaos generated by America’s insatiable appetite for illegal drugs, etc. In a word, he is boring.
He does not coin clever nicknames for his political opponents. He does not advocate beating up hecklers at political rallies. He does not leave America’s military leaders worrying about a capricious launch of nuclear weapons. He is old and dull and predictable. The people who voted for him in 2020 and those who will vote for him in 2024 find him uninspiring and unexciting. Life with the former president had the thrill of walking through a mine field. Life with the current President is like taking an afternoon nap.
That many Americans prefer charming scoundrels rather than dour professionals in political office was established long before the 2016 Presidential election. Massachusetts gave us the legendary James Michael Curley, state legislator, councilman, alderman, U.S. representative, four-term Boston mayor, governor of Massachusetts, and political charmer from the early twentieth century. This delightful rogue was jailed early in his career for impersonating another applicant at a civil service examination and jailed later in his career for mail fraud. Even spending 5 months in Federal prison while he was still serving as the mayor of Boston had little impact on his political standing. New York had its own beloved bad boy in Mayor James John Walker, better known as Beau James. He headed a colorful but remarkably corrupt administration in the roaring 20s. He avoided indictment and incarceration for soliciting bribes by resigning office and moving to Europe with his mistress, a Ziegfield show girl, named Betty Compton.
The list of American political success stories for men and women with criminal and salacious activities as obvious and unapologetic as those documented for Mayor Curley and Mayor Walker is lengthy. The voters supporting these candidates held them in high regard in large part because these men and women exhibited disdain for authority. They derided the ‘Establishment’ and worked to convince their constituents that they were ‘outsiders.’ These candidates accused their opponents of the activities in which they themselves were routinely involved. They reported conspiracies everywhere except amongst their friends and benefactors.
The same people who demand an explanation and documentation of every charge on their cable bills require no proof for claims made by politicians and media spokespeople who echo their suspicions. They embrace the claim that hundreds of voting machines were corrupted in precincts where their beloved candidate lost. They accept as undeniable that the march of thousands of migrants northward, away from the chaos and corruption of Latin America, is being orchestrated by a 92 year old, Hungarian-American billionaire. They insist that more guns make us safer, that global warming is a hoax, that fossil fuel companies are our friends, that the separation of church and state is not demanded by the Constitution, and that politicians should decide what our children are taught, what medications doctors should prescribe, and what medical procedures doctors should perform.
Electing people with winning personalities is not improving the prospects for our country. It is equivalent to choosing the surgeon needed to do your heart transplant or to remove your brain tumor on the basis of his or her congeniality. The people we elect to the Presidency and Congress must be intelligent, well-informed, unbiased, and otherwise competent. After all, they are not just deciding what our future will look like: they are deciding if we have a future at all.
Dr. Lechtenberg is an Easton resident who graduated from Tufts University and Tufts Medical School in Massachusetts and subsequently trained at The Mount Sinai Hospital and Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan. He worked as a neurologist at several New York Hospitals, including Kings County and The Long Island College Hospital, while maintaining a private practice, teaching at SUNY Downstate Medical School, and publishing 15 books on a variety of medical topics. He worked in drug development in the USA, as well as in England, Germany, and France.