Amnesia At the Ballot Box

On his 1970 single, All Things Must Pass, George Harrison croons, “Sunlight doesn’t last all morning/ A cloudburst doesn’t last all day.”  His message is obvious: both the good and the bad have a shelf life.  Two days ago, an odious cloudburst hit his expiration date: Namely, Donald Trump.

Finally, Donald Trump has lost this dumpster fire of an election and on January 20, Hillary Clinton will be sworn in as president.

Or, so we thought.

I believe I’m correct in saying that all of us want to learn a lesson from Trump so we are never put in a similar situation again, but the American electorate has never excelled at learning lessons from unfortunate individuals like Trump and there is no indication that this trend will reverse itself.  If anything, we’re already seeing it again.   

The obvious example of a failure like Trump is Adolf Hitler.  The similarities are undeniable.  Both Trump and Hitler spoke to a demographic of people who believed the government had failed them and left them behind, both of them were charismatic speakers that energized their supporters at raucous rallies, and both of them used deceitful rhetoric that played upon the populace’s racial fears and biases.   

Trump is also reminiscent of presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.  Like Trump, Goldwater was endorsed by the KKK.  He advocated for an aggressive military strategy to check the growth of communism reminiscent of Trump’s “bomb the hell out of them” line referencing ISIS.  Goldwater was similarly cavalier about the use of nuclear weapons, saying, “Let’s lob one into the men’s room of the Kremlin.”

Goldwater’s support from racist groups and refusal to moderate his policies made him a divisive figure in the GOP and alienated many moderate Republicans.  Consequently, elected Republicans distanced themselves from Goldwater.  His catastrophic defeat at the hands of Lyndon B. Johnson affected races all the way down the ballot, culminating in the losses of numerous congressmen who endorsed Goldwater.  Substitute Goldwater for Trump and Hillary for Johnson and you have a perfect summary of the 2016 election.

But what’s even worse is we’ve seen Trump’s dangerous and deplorable ideas not only in dictators of the past, not only in pathetic presidential candidates, but also in the modern, and incredibly popular, presidency of Ronald Reagan.  Reagan’s refusal to acknowledge, let alone engage with, the AIDS crisis of the 1980s is akin to Trump’s refusal to admit Syrian refugees. Both men denied critical help because the affected groups were different from themselves.

And less than one day after Trump’s victory, we have already failed to learn from him.  David Duke, former leader of the KKK, a convicted felon, and a man infamously retweeted by Trump, ran for a vacant Senate seat in Louisiana.  He declared his candidacy in July and stated that he was directly inspired by Trump.   

These repeated failures beg the question, “Why?”  Why are we so bad at learning from our mistakes?  To being with, we forget the past.  I doubt that many members of the public (outside of the University, perhaps) beyond political science students and history buffs knew who Barry Goldwater was before reading this article.

Our historical amnesia is borne out of an unwillingness to discuss tragedy.  We rarely talk about the rise of Hitler or Reagan’s mishandling of the AIDS crisis because it is tragic,because it is lamentable, and because it is abhorrent.  This out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach to tragedy is both the reason why Trump rose and why he won the election.

Not because we haven’t seen it before, but because we’ve forgotten that it happened.   


Anthony Del Rosso is a first-year who flirted with the old lady handing out “I Voted” stickers last Tuesday just to get a second one for his laptop.