Central character in my saga is Jim Cobb who serves as staff officer, regimental commander, and Mosby Ranger during his career with the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. He leaves Union prison with soldiers of his former regiment. They steal a Union Army payroll and move to Texas to begin a new life.
A dominant theme of my saga is Jim Cobb’s mostly losing struggle with populism which his father, John Cobb, fought in North Carolina.
Populism is as old as humanity and has universal appeal. People want to believe what they are willing to believe and follow leaders who ‘share their values’. Ancient Greeks had a word for those who pander to the crowd – demagogue. In recent years, America’s leading demagogue was Rush Limbaugh who launched his show on October 14, 1984. The FCC repealed its fairness doctrine—which had required stations provide free air time for responses to any controversial opinions that were broadcast—on August 5, 1987. Limbaugh could broadcast editorial commentary without having to present opposing views. He could legally tell them what they wanted to hear. Before he died this year, Limbaugh had the largest audience, 43.2 million listeners, of any radio or television show. Limbaugh’s cumulative income exceeded over $100 million, a fact not lost on Sean Hannity and other right wing commentators.
A recent addition to American demagoguery is Fox News. In 1996, Roger Ailes sold Rupert Murdoch on the concept of a new American broadcast network targeted to disaffected on the right. Fox News quickly became the most viewed television network using a simple tactic. Daily news articles came to Roger Ailes office where he, like Rush Limbaugh, interpreted and slanted news presented by Fox News commentators. After Ailes was ousted on July 17, 2016, Fox started trending toward a normal news network. Fox telecast the live Capitol police testimony during House of Representative hearings. Fox viewers reacted as they typically do when confronted with evidence that conflicts with their belief Donald Trump was the best US President. They turned off their television sets.
Texas has a history of populist leaders that include Ma and Pa Ferguson; colorful, lovable, incompetent “Pass the Biscuits Pappy” W Lee O’Daniel; and, in recent years, less lovable and colorful incompetent Rick Perry. Texas voters loved them because they had the ‘common touch’. Competence and accomplishment in office had nothing to do with their election to office.
As a self-appointed historian, I see current events as extensions and aberrations of history. When I was younger, I hoped greater education and exposure to news would diminish populism. Voters would consider their position on issues objectively and factually and vote according to their considerations. Instead, populism is stronger than ever.
Specifically, the Tea Party has poisoned American politics. Tea Party highjacked the Republican Party in 2010 and expel any who oppose them including former Republican leaders like Congresswoman Liz Cheney and Arizona Senator Jeff Flake. Any Republican elected official must tow the Tea Party line or face a Tea Party opponent in primary who will defeat them and cleanse their party of RINOs – Republicans in Name Only.
Tea Party loudly proclaims themselves to be ‘conservatives’. They are not. On the political scale, Liberals and Conservatives, hold central positions – liberals on the political left and conservatives on the right. Liberals and Conservatives have different political views but maintain mutual respect, argue their positions based on fact and reason, and compromise. Not the Tea Party who are reactionaries. And, like other extremists, their actions and thoughts are dominated by emotion. There is no reasoning or compromise with the Tea Party. Witness lock step Republican Party Trump support and opposition to anything proposed by the Democratic Party.
Donald Trump is a recent aberration. Like most Americans, I was caught off guard by his sudden domination of the Republican Party. Earlier, Trump was an immoral New York playboy with multiple trophy wives and affairs. He frittered away his inheritance but kept his name before the public as a sports team owner and television personality. Then Trump found a way to be US President.
In the last years of the Obama Administration, Trump used public ads asserting Obama was foreign born to test Right Wing support. He got favorable response from wingnuts who believe Obama is Muslim and their acceptance of Trump as one of them. Trump then chummed right wing talk shows – Limbaugh, Hannity, .. – and learned their listeners were upset with immigration, gun control, NAFTA, Obama, jobs lost to foreigners, Hillary, climate control, …. Trump had his platform and ticket to the White House. Get the disgruntled behind him and tell them what they want to hear.
That Trump won the 2020 Presidential election was shocking. As stupid and incompetent as he showed as US President, Trump outmaneuvered Hillary Clinton and won a narrow Electoral College vote. Even close Trump Presidency insiders – Rex Tillerson, John Bolton, General John Kelly – admitted publicly that Trump was incompetent and unfit to be US President. Then there was the January 6, 2021 Trump led insurrection and another Democratic impeachment vote coming. But, popular thinking is, facts and prior performance be damned, Donald Trump will be the 2024 Republican Party Presidential Party.
I understand some of what causes Tea Party to consider themselves to be a besieged minority – a constant theme of the Limbaugh and other right wing talk shows and the Tea Party. American society is changing rapidly. Every state in our union is growing because of Hispanics who make up the overwhelming majority of population growth. Millennials ‘shack up’ and care little about marriage. Queers, lesbians, transgenders, and other sexual deviants have rights and are outspoken. Since Vietnam, the United States has been caught in expensive winless wars and conflicts. Black lives matter more than Tea Party lives. Technology changes everything – automobiles, entertainment, medical care, social media,… Life was simpler when we grew up in the 1950s and early 1960s.
I am part of the dying breed of Tory Democrats. My political leanings are conservative. I like balanced budgets, strong national defense, and limited government. But, my overarching concern is not that government be larger or smaller, but that government, at all levels, be effective and efficient.
I worry about our economic struggle with China. We all understand that Communist China is brutal, repressive, and undemocratic, nothing we want to emulate. What is little understood is that China uses a meritocracy system to select its leaders. Relatively few Chinese are Communist Party members, but those selected are sent out to community and provincial work. The best rise to top posts in the Red Chinese government having shown administrative skill and accomplishments. Chinese meritocratic selection process is in stark contrast to how American leaders are selected – witness Donald Trump elected US President. Historically, what the Chinese are doing parallels the Turkish Empire which, during its ascendancy, had separate military and civil meritocratic based services.
As long as populism dominates the American political system, we will not compete well with Red China long term.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tim Murray is the CEO of New Horizons Entertainment, a new paradigm in film making and CFO of Aleutian Air, a Seattle based regional airline serving the Pacific Northwest. He is a graduate of Denison High School (Denison, Texas), Rice University (BA and BSME), Caltech (MSAM), and UCLA (MBA). Tim is writing a historic fiction trilogy titled Memoirs of a Texan: War, Redemption, and Empire. It is the story of James Cobb, an idealistic North Carolina farmer’s son who attends VMI and is caught up in the Civil War.
I wrote a 5 book historic fiction, Memoirs of a Texan and hope readers will visit my website: www.memoirsofatexan.com.