Op-Ed

After decades of anti-government rhetoric, we reap what we sow

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Like it or not, we are all Trump voters now.

President Donald Trump is the end result of over 30 years of politicians — liberal and conservative, urban and rural, Northern and Southern — saying that government is “the problem,” D.C. is a “swamp,” and Washington is “broken.”

In 1980, Ronald Reagan won by telling the American people that “government is not the solution, government is the problem.” Complaining about government has been a staple of conservative politics since at least the 1930s, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt pushed the federal government to enact a variety of welfare programs and economic regulations to try to end the deprivations of the Great Depression.

Reagan brought a more intense disdain for government into national politics. He used to get a laugh by saying that the “most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” Since then, conservative hostility towards government has only increased.

Conservatives like to say that liberals want government to solve every problem, but remember that in the 1960s it was liberals who were protesting. That was over the Vietnam War, and military adventures around the world. In those bygone days conservatives called liberals unpatriotic for criticizing the government.

Now virtually every politician runs “against Washington.” Politicians as diverse as the progressives Sen. Cory Booker and conservative senatorial candidate Roy Moore use almost the same campaign rhetoric.

Both said that “Washington is broken,” both claimed to be “outsiders,” and both claim that once elected they would “fix” Washington. Obviously they disagree fundamentally on the solution to the problem, but their contempt is manifest.

Most politicians know this is just campaign rhetoric. They know that the institutions of American government are fundamentally sound, and so once they are elected they become part of the system. They draft legislation, serve on committees, and caucus with their colleagues. They become creatures of Washington.

The public views this with incredulity. It convinces them that all politicians are little more than self-serving liars. And they believe that the current system is so corrupting that even the most stalwart critic is helpless.

Then Trump comes along and promises to “drain the swamp.” Trump is, legitimately, an outsider, beholden to no one but himself. He’s not a politician. He has no specific allies in Washington. And while he ran as a Republican, he frequently, and viciously, criticizes many of them.

Trump did not, and does not, talk like a politician. The strange or uninformed things he says are seen by many as proof of his distance from Washington. He did not, and does not, act like a politician, and the millions of people who disdain politics and politicians love it.

Trump embodies everything politicians — left and right — have been saying they wanted for more than 30 years. Trump has shown no respect for the norms of government or the niceties of politics. He has open disdain for all of the institutions of government. He has condemned the courts, mocked the military, ridiculed the intelligence services, and belittled everyone in government from his own attorney general on down.

But here’s the thing: Virtually every American politician has said those same things at one time or another. Liberals and conservatives berate the Supreme Court, though over different decisions. Democrats and Republicans complain about military operations or intelligence analysis, though different ones. The only difference is that, as president, Trump governs the way other politicians campaign.

Trump promised to trash a broken system, and to his credit he has done exactly that. After all, if something’s broken, don’t you throw it in the trash and start over again? And Washington is broken, right? Trump is just doing what we — Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives — have been asking politicians to do for more than 30 years.

It’s what we all wanted. So why is everyone so upset?

Michael Coblenz, a patent attorney in Lexington, can be reached at mike.coblenz@gmail.com.

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