It looks like that the primary season is finally about over with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as the presumptive nominees of the Republican and the Democratic parties. It is what it is, but in listening to some of Trump’s and Bernie Sanders supporters I feel as if I am in some sort of logic free zone. The German philosopher Arthur Schopenauer called it Wolkenenkuckkuckscheim or “cloud cuckoo land.” It was a term to describe people who think that things completely impossible might happen, rather than understanding how things really are.
In early 1861, William Tecumseh Sherman was serving as the first superintendent of the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning and Military Academy, the present LSU. As Southern States began to secede from the Union, Sherman, who was well liked in Louisiana never hesitated to state his belief in the Union. He tried to warn his Southern friends of the folly of secession and war. Though he loved his position and the people he worked with in Louisiana, Sherman resigned and went North. There he found that the politicians and people were completely unprepared for war, and just as unrealistic of what the war would cost as their now estranged Southern brothers.
Sherman was a realist. He was one of the few people in his day to actually understand the link between military strategy, political policy, economic necessity, and geographic reality. But his counsel was completely ignored in the South as well as in the North. It was only in late 1862 that Sherman and his superior, Ulysses S. Grant began to be listened to by Union leaders. His biographer, the British military theorist, B.H. Liddell-Hart referred to Sherman in 1861 as “a realist in Wonderland.”
I always seek to be a realist. Yes I have strong views, and I subscribe to a more liberal or progressive ideology, but at the same time that is tempered by my experience as a military officer and education as a historian. I am not an ideologue or revolutionary. Nor am I someone who ignores history, especially history of countries going through great times of national stress, such as the United States in the late 1850s and Weimar Germany.
When I listen to some of Sanders’s most devoted and self-identified “revolutionary” followers, I am reminded of the leaders of the Communist Party of Germany between 1928 and January 1933, men who worked with the young Nazi Party to tear down the Majority Socialists to destroy the Weimar Republic. The Communists called the Majority Socialists traitors, and Facists equating them with the German Right wing hoping that they would collapse the Socialists and the Republic.
When I listen to some of Trump’s supporters in the leadership of the Republican Party, I am reminded of the mainline old German conservatives who latched on to Hitler to destroy the Republic thinking that they could control him or that he would moderate in time. Both the German Communists and German conservatives badly misplayed their hand. Both the Communists and the German conservatives hated the Republic, albeit for different reasons, but they underestimated the forces seething in Germany, as well as the psychological and political brilliance of Adolf Hitler during that critical time frame. They remind me of the Sanders supporters
I am also reminded of the Southern fire breathers of 1860 and 1861 who brought about secession and civil war, who continued the war holding onto slavery until the bitter end in 1865. Likewise there were Northerners who thought more conciliation and compromise would bring the seceding states back into the Union early in the war, while many of them came to their senses, one group, the Union Copperheads were in favor of a negotiated settlement as late as 1864 and 1865 that would have dissolved the Union, and allowed for the continuance of slavery. All of these groups and their leaders lived in their own make believe wonderland where reality need not bother to knock.
The fact is that no matter how you spin the results that Sanders lost the a democratic primaries by over 3.7 million votes, close to 400 pledged delegates and over 900 total delegates. Yet there are still some people, including to some reports, even Sanders himself, who refuse to believe that the campaign is over. Somehow, they believe that trying to get some 400 plus Super delegates to switch from Clinton to him; thereby undercutting the results of the vote is a good idea. Of course if they continue down this path the result will be as it is, Clinton will still win. Worse for them, the if Sanders and his supporters continue down this path, they will end up marginalizing themselves and preventing the Democratic Party from embracing a more progressive platform. If they don’t recognize this reality and deal with it they will not be in a position to help bring the Democratic Party to more progressive positions on issues that they so deeply care about. That would be a tragedy. Personally I think that had Sanders and his supporters backed off of their fratricidal war on the Democratic Party a few weeks ago, even if Sanders remained active in the race, that they would be better off today. They would not have forfeited the good will of their real political allies. I think that fighting things out to the bitter end in order to eke out a few more delegates was counterproductive to them and their movement.
Likewise, after months of underestimating Donald Trump and having their asses handed to them, some Republicans are finally beginning to realize that Trump is indeed really is th narcissistic, racist, unstable bully that he is, and now they are stuck with him. Too late some are suggesting that the GOP party leadership try to find a way to dump Trump before the GOP convention, or even try to change the convention rules to keep Trump from becoming the nominee. Of course neither Trump nor his passionate supporters will allow that to happen without blowing up the GOP in the process. As far as the GOP leadership goes, I am sorry to say that they created the environment that allowed the Trump Frankenstein to emerge, and now,they have to deal with it. If they keep him they will lose and maybe destroy the party in the process, if they try to keep him from getting the nomination they will certainly destroy the GOP.
I hate to say this because I have dear friends, friends who will remain my friends no matter what, who are passionate supporters of Trump or Sanders. But there are times when I feel very much like William Tecumseh Sherman in 1861, who was scorned in the North and South because he indeed was a realist in wonderland. It was only in 1864 and 1865 that people in the a north and the South understood just how correct that Sherman was. I can only hope that my friends on all sides of this debate will try to be realists and not live in the cloud cuckoo land that will harm all of us.
But, nobody likes a realist. Oh well, such is life.
Update: it appears after his meeting with President Obama that Bernie is going to unite with Hillary to defeat Trump. I know that will upset some of his supporters who seem to hate her as much as the GOP, but this is where change starts. Good on him for stating this now.