It predates my writing career, but back during the 2004 Presidential campaign much hay was made over Democrat John Kerry’s attempts to be on both sides of various issues, including voting for something before he was against it. If you ask me, though, Kerry was by no means alone in terms of trying to cover all the bases and be all things to all people – the truth is that the further you go in politics, the more likely it is you will run across situations where your current action may well contradict something you did 10 years ago.
People are allowed to change their minds on issues, and I can use myself as an example: for a time I held the orthodox libertarian view that term limits artificially restrict voter choice and should be eliminated. While that makes a lot of sense on a philosophical level, in practice voter choices are more limited by the amount of money that naturally accrues to incumbents and by rules about ballot access that tend to favor the two major parties, enabling them to get their message out more effectively (and in turn more likely to succeed.) In keeping with the idea espoused by our Founding Fathers that representatives were only supposed to stand for election and do that public service for a term or two before returning to private life, I now feel that making it more difficult for people to make a career out of elected politics through term limits would bring us closer to the original intention. (Nor should we forget that only the House was supposed to be elected by the people directly – Senators were appointed through the respective state legislatures until the 17th Amendment was adopted in 1913.*) There is a compelling argument to be made, though, which contends that if term limits were adopted then control of the government would be placed in the hands of the unelected bureaucrats that write the rules and regulations. But I also believe that if elected officials are relieved of the constant fundraising to stay in office they may come up with more bold ideas and real solutions to problems – not lip-service intended to keep government bureaucrats in place perpetually.
I could probably spend a couple thousand words pursuing that digression, but my real intention in putting pixels to screen today was to discuss the immigration “flip-flop” of Donald Trump in relation to other issues. I put the phrase in quotes because to me it was already baked into his campaign, and those who truly believed he would be a hardliner on immigration were being played for suckers. Early on I knew about the “big, beautiful door” and “touchback” amnesty so what was one of his strongest points when I analyzed all of the GOP Presidential hopefuls almost a year ago became more and more watered down as time went on.
The difference to me between a “flip-flop” and a legitimate change of heart, though, comes down to whether the words remain consistent and are followed by appropriate actions. Obviously as a challenger in a political campaign Donald Trump doesn’t have a record of votes to compare nor has he had to address the myriad issues that someone in political office is confronted with on a daily basis. As a case in point for the latter: a week or so ago I put up a Facebook post asking why utility trucks such as those operated by Delmarva Power have to go through truck scales (as I had observed that day) with my thought being: what if they were going to repair a major power outage? I can almost guarantee you that no other constituent had that thought in mind in the year or two my local Delegates have been in office, but to me the question was worth asking for the reason stated.
Let me use Trump as an example in two areas: immigration and abortion. As I see it, the recent statements from Trump on the prospect of amnesty represent a flip-flop of a rhetorical kind, although some may consider it the usual running to the center a Republican candidate is supposed to do after he or she runs right for the primary. It’s more magnified for Trump, however, because of the ferocity of his initial statements such as “(Mexico is) sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” In the weeks immediately after Trump’s announcement, the murder of Kate Steinle by an illegal immigrant who had been repeatedly deported yet kept returning into the United States buttressed Trump’s point. So the rhetoric remained hardline, thus, there is a certain element of Trump’s support base that probably feels completely sold out but will revert to reassuring themselves “he’s not Hillary” rather than admit buyer’s remorse from being sold a bill of goods.
It should be noted this Trump pivot, which may or may not bolster his standing among Hispanic voters, also comes at a time when he is also making a parallel push for black voters on a more legitimate question: what have the Democrats done for you lately – or for that matter since the Great Society era and civil rights struggles a half-century ago? Obviously he’s not going to the Obama/Clinton position of just letting any immigrant in, but this more recent concession is quite a different tone than the initial Trump “build a wall and make Mexico pay for it” stance. Those who wanted a “pause” to immigration are surely disgusted with the turn of events over the last week or so, but there are enough Trump skeptics out there who can say nativists were warned regarding Trump and immigration.
Yet on abortion I think Donald Trump had a more legitimate change of heart toward being pro-life, a move he claims came from a personal experience. Of course, those who are farther along on the pro-life spectrum still question Trump’s bonafides based on his support for Planned Parenthood, but that is not the be-all and end-all of the movement – Planned Parenthood is more of a symptom of the disease than the disease itself. Certainly Donald Trump is not one who has led a monogamous lifestyle – and only God knows if any of his trysts have led to pregnancies eventually terminated – but small victories are still small victories nonetheless. Over the course of the campaign Trump has not shifted a great deal on the issue, with the horserace watchers more focused on the aspect of which evangelical leaders are backing Trump despite his faults and which ones are simply sitting this election out or voting for a more strictly values-based candidate, either on the ballot or as a write-in, as I may.
But there remains a trust issue with Trump that makes writing pieces like this necessary. (Not being able to trust Hillary Clinton any farther than they could throw her was already factored in for millions of voters, simply based on the litany of scandal and questionable decisions she’s made over a quarter-century.) I’ve argued before that 2016 is the election of the flawed individual, but perhaps character doesn’t count in America anymore. While the Clintons, Al Gore, John Kerry, and Barack Obama have major character flaws, only Kerry lost the popular vote on Election Day – and conspiracy theorists still blame Diebold for that 2004 loss. So perhaps Republicans now believe that “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” and selected their own person of questionable character just to pick up that long-desired W on Election Day.
And if you discount character, you quickly understand why there are people who walk among us that would say or do whatever is necessary, flipping and flopping on their beliefs and values, to get what they want – anything from the modest “15 minutes of fame” to the most powerful political office in the country. Upon that realization, it’s just a short step to pondering about the fate of this very republic we live in. America will survive, but with the leadership we seem to be attracting who will want to live there?
Women and men of values, character, and principle, please make yourself known. Your nation needs you, now more than ever.
*Ironically, Delaware and Maryland did not ratify the 17th Amendment until 2010 and 2012, respectively. In Maryland, only eight members of the House of Delegates properly voted against ratification – and one of the eight switched his vote to be against it only after it passed.