Columnist Joe Gannon: Must defeat America’s dystopian experiment


Published: 04-07-2017 7:53 PM

Captain Chaos and Bomb Chucker Bannon continue to offer such a dizzyingly daily cornucopia of new outrages and foot-in-mouth gaffes that you could be forgiven for not being able to look away from your screen.

But I found myself recently trying to look away and backwards to answer the question, “How did we get here from there?”

And the answer is, as The Three Stooges used to say, “Step by step, and inch by inch.”

I believe it began, as so much did over the past generation, with Ronald Reagan when he declared in his first inaugural address that “government is not the solution, government is the problem.” And if you want to make government the problem, then government must be seen to govern poorly, or not all.

Four generations later – from Reagan, through Newt Gingrich, George W. Bush and the Tea Party – we now have Donald Trump saying he can govern with no government at all.

But Trump is not a late-generation mutation, he is the inevitable evolutionary offspring of declaring war on government – the very mechanism by which civilization orders itself. But it was always only a phony war, and so each generation had to “hystericize” our politics to justify their war on government.

During the Reagan presidency, the tactic of depriving government in order to tame it first began, as if government was a wild mustang that had to be starved of food and water before being broken. So excessive spending on the military and tax cuts for the rich (known then as “supply-side economics”) depleted government revenue, forcing the cutting of what was once vital government spending on people, their jobs, infrastructure, education, pensions and welfare.

Newt Gingrich and his “Contract with America” was the next generation in 1994 when the GOP took back the House of Representatives. But Gingrich also famously installed the next level of hysteria into our politics by declaring Bill and Hillary Clinton as bona fide existential threats to America simply because they were Baby Boomers. It was he, as speaker of the House, who first laid out the tactic of treating a sitting president who had been elected and re-elected as Public Enemy Number 1 who could not be cooperated with under any circumstances lest the Republic perish.

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The debasement of our public discourse hit a new low as our new normal during the ‘90s under Gingrich when the charge of murder against a sitting president and his first lady was first birthed and widely circulated when a Clinton aide, Vince Foster, committed suicide. That moment was the beginning of the end of political discourse in this country and its replacement by hysterical conspiracies and what we now call “fake news” — but the faking of real news began 20 years ago or more.

In other words, the ‘90s was the moment when a common reality based on observation began to be replaced by one based entirely on ideology.

(That Bill Clinton gave Gingrich and the GOP all the scandal they needed is another column on Democrats.)

George W. Bush led the next generation — if not as president, then as a candidate — when his Rasputin, Karl Rove, first put forward as official doctrine the notion that the United States can make its own reality separate from what he derisively called the “reality-based community.” It is worth the space to remind ourselves of Rove’s declaration of war on reality:

“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality— judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Does that sound like anyone we know today?

But it was also under W. that we saw fake-news-as-reality when the Bush campaign of 2004 got the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” to smear John Kerry because he was a decorated combat veteran but Bush — not a draft dodger like Trump – had avoided combat by hiding out in the National Guard. The smearing they gave Kerry was as thorough and deadly and effective as any campaign by any trolls we’ve seen since, and was the herald of the Birther Movement used to smear President Obama.

The next generation was the Tea Party, which took political hysteria to a new level on the momentum of its 2010 Congressional sweep. Its contribution to our devolution was to brand a much-needed Big Government reform as the socialist/fascist takeover of our country by a Kenyan-born Muslim who exchanged “terrorist” fist bumps with his first lady. Any wonder why their first order of business was the absolute refusal to acknowledged a twice-elected president as the legitimate head of state? The Freedom Caucus that so recently spanked Trump on health care has seized the GOP and used it to prove that government is the problem by making government the problem by governing poorly.

And now the latest generation is Donald Trump who wishes to prove that government is such a problem that he can govern without it at all, but rather through decree and tweet while he dismantles the “permanent state.” The first four generations have deliberately hollowed out government and Trump means to demolish what is left, like the Taliban blowing up the giant Buddha statues.

So, Dysfunctional Donald is not some odd mutant that has arisen unforeseen like a new strain of virus. He is, by my count, the great-great-grandson of Ronald Reagan, descended from the father who first declared government was the problem, and sharing the DNA of all his ancestors. Trump is not a new breed, he is the product, root and branch, of America’s near 40-year dystopian experiment.

And it is that experiment which must be defeated — root and branch — come the midterms and 2020 presidential election. Remember that, please.

Joe Gannon, author and teacher, can be reached at, or Joe Gannon, author on Facebook.