One year to the day until the polls open, opinions are deeply divided on the question of whether Donald Trump has delivered on his four-word campaign catchphrase.
But one political point that insiders on both sides of the aisle can agree on: Something these last three years has made America hate — very, very much, as the President might put it — be it a discussion about immigration or impeachment, Ukraine or the path of a hurricane.
Just when 80-year-old Pat Buchanan thought he’d seen it all — having served three GOP presidents starting with Richard Nixon, and been on the payrolls of three cable networks going back to his CNN ‘Crossfire’ days — this happens.
“America’s divide in the 1960s was more volatile and violent,” Buchanan says. “America went through, from 1965 to 1974, a cultural, social, moral and political revolution marked by mass demonstrations, wholesale civil disobedience, violent protests, campus seizures and urban riots from Harlem in 1964 and Watts in 1965 to a hundred cities, including a burning capital of Washington, D.C., after the death of Dr. King.
“Today, that revolution has consolidated itself in the hearts and minds of half the country. We are far more deeply and permanently divided, and there is no going back. Half the country has been converted to a new way of thinking and believing.
“Today’s division partakes more of a bitter national divorce, a separation, a broken family, than the violent faceoffs of half a century ago. We can’t go home again.”
Buchanan is among 44 insiders from both sides of the aisle — presidential cabinet members and military commanders, Congressional leaders and cable news regulars — for insights on some of the talking points we’ll be hearing plenty about over the next 365 days.
Here’s more in the first installment of our occasional ‘Two Sides’ series.
1. Finish this sentence: The 2020 election will be the most consequential since ...
— 1955 University of Illinois grad and Bancroft Prize-winning presidential historian ROBERT DALLEK says: “FDR replaced Hoover in 1932 or Nixon replaced LBJ in 1969. The current administration has been at odds with much of what historians consider traditional presidential behavior. As the impeachment proceedings move along, we are likely to see even more inappropriate behavior.
“As in 1968 and again in 1974, when the country wanted an end to tumultuous politics, 2020 seems likely be a reach for a calming voice and a more sedate administration.”
— Pulitzer Prize-winning Champaign native GEORGE WILL says: “1980, when the Republican Party, moving on from (Barry) Goldwater’s 1964 transformation of it into a conservative party, prepared to deliver conservative governance. The 2020 election will decide whether the GOP will return to conservatism or will continue to adhere to the opposite of conservatism — populism.”
2. What’s the one thing that so many on the left get so wrong about Trump’s supporters?
— GOP strategist RICH GALEN, former press secretary to VP Dan Quayle, says: “He says what people say at BBQs on weekends, and at the Keurig machine during the week: ‘Hell, if I ran this country I’d ...’
“Trump not only says it, but his supporters know there’s a pretty high probability he’ll actually do it.”
— National Review Editor RICH LOWRY says: “That their hysterical opposition drives Republicans toward Trump, out of sympathy and disgust with the unhinged arguments and tactics used against him.”
— NEWT GINGRICH, Speaker of the House from 1995-99, says: “Most of them are motivated by a passionate love of country and a deep sense that things have gone wrong and will get worse without very strong tough leadership.”
— Best-selling author and Wall Street Journal columnist/editorial board member KIM STRASSEL says: “Having spoken with a lot of Trump supporters, the one thing so many on the left don’t get about them is that most aren’t blind fans. They apply to this presidency the same critical judgment they’ve applied to past presidencies. They approve of some things, dislike others.
“The bigger question — as it is in any election — is do they overall prefer Trump’s policy agenda and/or unconventional approach to what’s on offer from liberal Democrats? And for millions upon millions Americans, that answer remains ‘yes.’”
— GOP communications consultant KIM ALFANO says: “I think a Trump supporter is, in the mind of most liberals, a caricature of a real person — like Trump himself: racists, uneducated, usually rural or poorer.
“This is true for maybe a tiny fraction. The rest of that 40 percent support is from average suburbanites, middle class and blue-collar workers, educated lawyers, doctors, professors and professionals who may really not like the person of Donald Trump at all — they may also condemn the bullying, erratic behavior, circus-like performances — but do like how the economy is going.
“They like that they know exactly what they get with Trump — a bombastic blowhard show, no sweet-talk bait-and-switch, no hope and change for no jobs and no change. He is the anti-slick, anti-spin leader who in their minds has delivered conservative judges, a growing economy and jobs.
“If you ask Reagan’s question to most — ‘Are you better off now than you were four years ago?’ — they can pretty much say ‘yes.’
“The left’s condescending belief that a Trump supporter is a dumb hick who needs to be scolded, and their misunderstanding that the world wants a nanny state where we are all forced to pay and take care of everyone else equally, will be their undoing again.”
3. How unhealthy is the divide between the left and right, and has it been deeper in your lifetime?
— Two-term former GOP Sen. BILL FRIST, Senate Majority leader from 2003-07, says: “Senators from each party vote today with their respective R or D leadership more than at any time in history — progressively more since the time of my mentor Senator Howard Baker’s leadership in the early 1980s, through my time as leader, until the high of today.
“That means more division and less crossing the aisle, less conversation, less opportunity to negotiate, less compromise and more legislative stagnation.
“The answer, I believe, is simple, and it will come not from within. It will come from electing a President who consistently and genuinely hosts the Congressional leadership from both parties to breakfast once a week at the White House.”
— Chicago civil rights activist and one-time Illini football recruit JESSE JACKSON says: “At the University of Illinois in 1959, there wasn’t one black in the entire athletic department. There were two on the basketball team — Mannie Jackson and Govoner Vaughn — and they were the first.
“Before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, it was a time of shameless, barbaric segregation.
"While Trump has been the most racist resident since Andrew Johnson, Americans have more tools now to fight back with. Blacks can vote. Eighteen-year-olds can vote. Students in Champaign-Urbana can vote on campus. There are bilingual ballots.
“Trump is making moves to reverse the clock — like using the word ‘lynching’ loosely — but most Americans are dismissing him, not the progress we’ve made. There’s a tug-of-war for the soul of America but we’re not going to lose this war.”
— ARNE DUNCAN, former Chicago schools superintendent and U.S. Secretary of Education, says: “Democracy only works if people are willing to compromise. If they won’t, democracy frays.”
— USA Today D.C. Bureau Chief SUSAN PAGE says: “This isn’t the most divisive time for our country in history — witness the Civil War — but it is the most divided, the angriest time since I began covering national politics in 1980.
“In the four decades since then, we have faced plenty of challenges. ... But as a journalist, I’ve never covered another time when faith in fundamental institutions seemed so fragile, and the founders’ construct of checks and balances more tested.
“The election next November may settle some of the big questions we’re facing now. What are the restraints on a president’s powers? What is the proper role of congressional oversight? Whom do American voters see as speaking for them?”
— Former South Carolina Gov. MARK SANFORD, who plans to challenge Trump for the 2020 GOP nomination, says: “Politics are as divided and tribal as I have ever seen it. It’s bad in Washington but this cancer has spread, and at home I have heard more than a few stories about politics dividing and separating families and friends.
“Whatever happened to the idea of compromise? Or the idea that while we might hold strongly to an idea, someone with a differing perspective was not some how our enemy? We are in dangerous waters now, and it’s imperative we all take a step back from the ledge.”
4. What’s the national security or international issue that everyone running for president needs to be asked about between now and next Nov. 3?
— Former Secretary of the Navy RAY MABUS says: “Escalating nationalism and trade conflicts. A miscalculation in any of these by a good many countries could lead to a devastating conflict. The World War I scenario.”
— Ret. four-star Army GEN. WESLEY CLARK says: “The story is, where is American leadership? The world is asking. We are not leading NATO. Eastern Europe is afraid. We’ve pulled out of Syria, and turned it over to Russia. There is no U.S. leadership for Africa; in Asia, we pulled out of TPP, initiated a trade dispute with China, and have failed to halt the North Korean nuclear program.
“Why are we turning over Europe, the Mideast and Africa to Russia? Where is the American leadership? Where is our support who share our values of democracy, freedom, and human and civil rights?”
— WILLIAM COHEN, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Defense, says: “I think the most troublesome threat would be the continuation of attacks by Iran — or its proxy, Yemen — against Saudi Arabia. At some point, the attacks, if they take out oil production or water lines, would require the president to respond militarily. If so, the impact upon the global economy could be severe.”
— CARRIE CORDERO, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, says: “Western democracies are struggling to explain why the post-World War II order and traditional western alliances are worth preserving and nurturing. A stronger case needs to be made to citizens who have local concerns top of mind for why America’s role in the world matters, and should continue to be one that speaks for and models a commitment to the rule of law, championing of human rights, freedom of the press, democratic governance and accountability for public officials.”
— Ret. four-star Army Gen. STANLEY McCHRYSTAL, who commanded U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan in 2009-10, says: “If I can raise any single issue, it is clearly climate change.
“If we don’t act now, it may be too late. In reality, it may already be too late. We should imagine what our grandchildren will think.”
— D.C. policy analyst and activist WARDAH KHALID says: “One issue I am hopeful candidates will address is white supremacy and white nationalism, which has endangered Americans at home and abroad through its codification within our immigration and national security policies and become part of the national narrative through the divisive rhetoric spewed from our media, politicians and the White House.
“In the past few years, we have seen a sharp uptick in the number of hate crimes against the black, Muslim, Jewish and LGBTQ communities, as well as increasing calls for police reform due to violence toward the black community, which is no doubt related to this troubling trend.
“Furthermore, our involvement in endless wars abroad have tied us to human rights abuses against civilians whose lives don’t seem to hold equal value to the lives of Americans or those of European descent.
“I’m interested to know whether candidates understand the intersection of these issues and how they will work to create an America that actually exemplifies the values it claims to hold of equality, liberty, justice and welcome for all communities, including communities of color.”
— 18-year former Democratic Sen. TOM DASCHLE, Senate Majority leader from 2003-05, says: “My biggest fear is that the country may not be properly led when the first major crisis arises. We can be grateful that the United States has avoided a major national crisis over the past three years. But one is certain to come. It may involve national security, our national economy, a pandemic or a natural disaster.
“That will require national leadership, resources and bipartisan cooperation. None of that exists today.”
5. Finish this sentence: President Trump doesn’t get enough credit for ...
— Civil rights activist and Atlanta evangelist ALVEDA KING, niece of Martin Luther King Jr., says: “Having traded his successful billionaire lifestyle for a time of humiliation, ridicule and slander, so that by leading the battle against religious tyranny, a flailing job market, abortion and injustice in the criminal justice system, he could bring hope and security, as well as help, to rescue a broken and hurting America. God bless you, President Trump.”
— Fox News host TUCKER CARLSON says: “Calling out the Chinese government on its trade war against the United States. China entered the WTO in 2001, and as a direct result of that, this country has lost tens of thousands of factories and many millions of jobs. It has been a disaster that’s left huge swaths of our country a wasteland. Yet until Trump became president, both parties resolutely ignored what was happening. Alone among major political figures, Trump sounded the alarm.”
— CHARLIE BLACK, chief strategist for John McCain´s 2008 presidential campaign, says: “Deregulation. Cutting federal regulation of business, which has helped spur economic growth and job creation, especially among small businesses.”
— 1982 UI grad and former Trump adviser STEVE MOORE says: “The left and media portray him as caring about the rich and powerful. In reality, every policy is about helping the middle class, especially blue-collar workers and small businesses.
“He’s the blue-collar president and it’s working. Middle class incomes are up $5,000 since he took office.”
6. Just how big are the stakes in 2020?
— Emergency physician, visiting George Washington University professor and former Planned Parenthood President DR. LEANA WEN says: “Here’s what a second Trump term would look like for health care:
“The Affordable Care Act will be further dismantled.
“Many millions of people will lose access to preventive and primary care, increasing the eventual ER and hospitalization costs and leading to outbreaks of infectious illnesses.
“Specific populations will be affected the most, including immigrants, minorities, low-income families and those in rural and urban underserved communities.
“Women’s health, which is already in a state of emergency with rising maternal mortality rates, will be further politicized and harmed.
“Health outcomes will worsen, and disparities will widen.
“These effects will have consequences for generations to come.”
— 1985 UI grad, AMERICAblog founder/editor and Democratic political consultant JOHN ARAVOSIS says: “Not to be melodramatic, but we’re on the verge of becoming all those other countries we routinely criticize for not quite being all the democracy we are. It’s not simply that Trump is an embarrassing buffoon. The non-stop lies, and growing revelations about official corruption, should give everyone pause. But they don’t.
“Far too many Republicans seem fine with someone who doesn’t believe in our values or laws, and doesn’t even like our country very much, so long as he’s not a Democrat.
“The 2020 election isn’t simply a referendum on Trump, it’s a referendum on us. And whether GOP voters still believe in faith, freedom and the rule of law. Because at this point, it looks like all these years they were simply paying lip service.
“Prove me wrong in November.”
— Illinois Gov. J.B. PRITZKER says: “President Trump has thoroughly disregarded the rule of law — putting foreign dictators over the American people and using the federal government to enrich himself. He made a lot of promises during his campaign and didn’t deliver on those promises, so it’s no surprise that people have felt that he’s not on their side.
“I believe the Democratic nominee — whoever he or she may be — will be victorious in 2020 and that then we can begin returning our country to a sense of normalcy.”
— Retired Army Col. LARRY WILKERSON, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, says: “The title of my course syllabus at William and Mary is ‘National Security Decision-Making in an Empire in Decline.’ So, you know right away that I don’t ascribe our current plight to Donald Trump alone; he is simply the manifestation of the decline.
“That we see, or at least I see, no Democrat who is contesting Trump capable of reversing the decline, is stark testimony to our dismal political condition. That Americans continue to tolerate Trump, or a significant portion of them do, and his minions demonstrates the state of the demos. And let me say, a Democrat from the current crop — (Tulsi) Gabbard excepted — might restore a patina of respectability, but the national security state would keep plunging right along into crisis after crisis until it is spent. Its national security elite are, in a phrase, all imperialists.
“Cynical? You betcha. And I have grandchildren, so you know the depth of my despair.”
7. In a sentence or three, what’s your level of confidence in the systems in place to prevent any sort of election meddling in 2020?
— Harvard fellow and security technologist BRUCE SCHNEIER says: “That doesn’t even need a sentence. Zero.”
— ANN RAVEL, Barack Obama-appointed former chair of the Federal Election Commission, says: “Because so many states have not updated their voting machines to allow for paper trails and audits, there will be ample opportunity for hacking of the voting machines in states that could potentially make a difference in the outcome of the election.
“As concerning, is the failure of the Senate to even consider the Honest Ads Act — or HR 1, The For the People Act — which could at least provide some transparency of who is paying for ads and electioneering on internet platforms. Because the source of political propaganda will be undisclosed, the ability to manipulate and suppress the vote will be more likely in 2020.
“As the director of the FBI said, ‘2016 was just a dress rehearsal for 2020.’”
— BRAD SMITH, Bill Clinton-appointed former FEC chair, says: “‘Any sort’ is pretty broad, if you mean zero tolerance. We’ve always had efforts to influence our elections, and the USSR was particularly active during the Cold War. We have systems to limit it, and it’s never really been a factor.
“So, will there be efforts that have some tiny effect here or there — like always? Yes. But my confidence level is extremely high that such foreign meddling will not be a factor in the 2020 elections.”
8. If the economy is robust come Election Day, who deserves the bulk of the credit and where would the president rank on the list?
— ALICIA MUNNELL, a member of Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, says: “The major reason for the current recovery is that the Great Recession was so severe that it left a lot of room for growth.
“President Obama deserves credit for stimulus policies that avoided a full-scale depression. In retrospect, these policies could have been somewhat more aggressive. The Federal Reserve has assisted the recovery by keeping interest rates at very low levels.
“President Trump’s impact is mixed. He temporarily super-charged the economy through an unnecessary tax cut. On the other hand, his tariff policies have created uncertainty that has dampened business investment in the U.S. and has had a chilling effect on trade worldwide.”
— HARVEY ROSEN, who chaired George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers, says: “In general, for both economic and political reasons, there is not much that any president can do to affect the economy. But on the margin, the president’s actions can matter.
“My guess is that, on the margin, the president’s tax reform and deregulatory efforts have helped the economy, but his policies on trade have hurt the economy. So, my guess is it’s a wash.
“There’s an important caveat: One does not expect the effects of tax and deregulatory policies to be evident in the short run. In a few years, researchers will be able to assess better whether these policies have had a substantial long-run impact on the economy.”
— Nobel Prize-winning economist AL ROTH, who taught at the UI from 1974-82, says: “The U.S. economy is big — there are over 300 million Americans, roughly half of us are in the labor force, and we have a gross domestic product of over $20 trillion. We also have substantial international trade.
“Government spending is about $4 trillion. But a lot of government spending — payroll, Medicare, Social Security — doesn’t respond much to particular presidential decisions.
“On the other hand, presidents can influence the private economy through tax rates and some aspects of the investment environment. So, presidents have more short-term influence on the economy than perhaps any other individual, but much less influence than is exerted by large groups of individuals and companies.”
“In the short term, most of what goes on in the economy can be attributed to the efforts and actions of companies, workers and investors in the U.S. and in our trading partners.”