Sometimes there are moments in politics that are significant not because they are witnessed by millions but because they are highly symbolic and in their own way provide a portentous suggestion that unseen forces are fashioning history before your eyes. In elections that are grounded in talking points and negative ads, it is heartening to see the unexpected and sometimes unexplainable events of a campaign demand attention.
One such instance occurred on Oct. 18 when a Clinton campaign bus expelled its toilet waste on a road in Gwinnett County, GA. The Democrats responded as they usually do when accused of violating the law: by saying that it wasn’t their bus or their problem. But they later admitted the truth. No one was ever charged or convicted for dumping the raw sewage on a public road. But what can you expect when the justice department won’t even prosecute voting fraud because they know if benefits Democratic candidates.
So the incident remains a symbol but a vital one and pregnant with visceral imagery. Here was a literal manifestation of the kind of hostile actions and contemptuous attitude that both President Barack Obama and his anointed successor Hillary Clinton have demonstrated toward a large swathe of Americans – but none so much as rural Southerners. The bus was disgorging its crap in a curiously poetic reflection of public policy.
There was another instance on Oct. 27 when the Democrat’s vice presidential candidate, the luckless Sen. Tim Kaine, was speaking at a Virginia campaign stop. As he struggled to stay on message, he was literally fighting to be heard over the whistle of a passing train, which became louder as Kaine continued to speak.It was as if the Trump train, a metaphor for the change that the Republicans have attempted to invest in their nominee Donald Trump, had literally appeared like some avenging angel to drown out the Democrats. In this telling moment, the train’s whistle seemed to be overpowering both the voice and talking points of Clinton’s always-annoying running mate.
The metaphor of the trump train is important because it recalls the whistle-stop campaign of President Harry Truman in 1948. That was an election that none of the national media, the polls or the opinion makers thought he could win. His own Democratic Party was divided by commie-sympathizers like Henry Wallace on the left and segregationists led by Strom Thurmond on the right. Truman couldn’t win. The Republicans had a candidate in Thomas Dewey who looked like an ideal selection on paper: governor of New York, city prosecutor, the guy who successfully convicted mobster Lucky Luciano. But Truman persevered and just seemed to keep believing in his own destiny.
Truman famously said, “You can’t get rich in politics unless you’re a crook.” He would have spotted the Clintons from a country mile, a couple who have successfully embodied that statement. He might have added, “or unless you’re running a phony foundation.” Incredibly, a sizable portion of Americans just aren’t letting the grievous anomalies surrounding Hillary and Bill’s fundraising activities influence their decision to support this infamous couple.
What has characterized this campaign more than anything else is its lingering air of unreality. I would be the first to acknowledge that Trump has squandered valuable time in his search for votes. Sure, there have been too many extended stops to deal with personal business, an excess of private squabbles, a plethora of references to Miss Universe and just too many distractions. With a candidate as weak as Hillary Clinton, we should not be anticipating a photo finish on Tuesday evening but a rout.
Nonetheless, we might still devoutly wish that voters remember that if Trump took the Democrat’s bait far too often, it’s only because as savage as a career in New York City’s business world can be, it didn’t adequately prepared him for the blood sport of politics. To paraphrase an old gag from the Get Smart sitcom, in business he was trained to be ruthless, cruel and unforgiving, but not so much to be a politician.
But he’s persevered – like Truman. Given the fact that he had not just the Democratic Party on his tail but a majority of the national media, I can’t think of too many people who could have better adapted or more swiftly to a campaign in the lion’s den than Trump. He’s going full throttle in the last days of that campaign too, as the whistle stop campaign chugs along.
We hear that train a comin’. Won’t be long now.
Follow David on Twitter at @DavidKrayden