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Living Life Well: 10/01/2020

The Crucible of This October

When William Casey was Ronald Reagan’s campaign manager, back in 1980, he coined the term “October Surprise” – accusing Jimmy Carter of manipulating the hostage situation in Iran at the very last minute, to secure his re-election as president. In fact, that is precisely what Reagan’s team was doing at the time, preventing the release of 52 American hostages being held in Iran until after Reagan himself became president. I had voted for Carter and – dismayed – I remember these things happening.

I also remember Richard Nixon’s manipulations of the Vietnam peace talks eight years earlier, which had dragged on largely ignored throughout his first four years as president. Then, just 12 days before the election, it was announced that “peace is at hand” and he was handily re-elected. Soon after, however, Nixon was forced to resign when burglars working for him were caught breaking into the Democratic Party offices at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. It’s interesting that the suffix “-gate” has been used ever since to indicate sinister political conspiracies and deceptions – usually by Republicans.

I remember we had called Nixon “Tricky Dick” back then, and for good reason. In 1968, as he was running for his first term as president, Nixon made a deal with Senator Strom Thurmond to bring the southern Democrats (known as Dixiecrats) into the Republican party to vote for him, promising that his administration would not advance the desegregation agenda begun by President Johnson. It worked, abruptly shifting the center of gravity of the party of Eisenhower from its moderate stance to its position today.

I’ve been thinking about Donald Trump lately as a synthesis of Nixon’s clandestine style of governing and Reagan’s popularity as a manipulative “Great Communicator.” Nixon once met Trump at Yankee Stadium, and told Roger Stone – at that time one of his chief advisors – “Well, I met your man. I’ve got to tell you, he’s got it. He could really go all the way.” Stone famously has Nixon’s face tattooed on his back, and figures significantly in Trump’s administration; it was he that brought his business partner Paul Manafort onto Nixon’s team, and then later onto Trump’s.

These three presidents systematically engineered a return to the concentration of wealth and power among captains of industry, a concentration of wealth that had brought about the Great Depression; and the “trickle-down” theory of Reaganomics led inevitably to the frank profiteering of the current administration. According to Forbes, Trump himself personally pocketed 1.9 billion dollars in the first three years of his presidency. Economists recognize the Thirties as the beginning of what is called the Great Compression, when income distribution between the rich and poor became much smaller, and the Eighties as the beginning of the Great Divergence, in which wealth again began to gather toward the top one percent. We are there now – today.

I say all this to underscore the larger forces at work in this election, and to warn against becoming distracted and confused by the fog of war during the coming weeks. There is a concerted attempt by the Conservative Movement (well worth Googling) to eradicate what Roosevelt had established with his New Deal four score and more years ago – as he brought national attention to the necessities of public infrastructure such as bridges and highways, basic social safety nets such as Medicare and Social Security, and a regulated economy that would ensure fiscal stability in more places than Wall Street.

Make no mistake. Trump has eviscerated our traditional democratic institutions in order to “drain the swamp,” by which he meant to shrink our government’s ability to regulate our society. Those who plan to pull the plug on these programs have no horses in the race, because they live in a rarified world of wealth and power – and not among us. They know they are a minority, but no matter – they do not believe in majority rule, but rather in a smaller government run by an elected elite. They gerrymander precincts to marginalize opposition, and suppress voting in so many ways.

So the time has come once again for the traditional October Surprise. But – we’ve been surprised so many times these past four years that we’ve grown tired of being surprised and, by now, we can no longer be really surprised. We must instead be prepared – ignoring nothing, yet never becoming overwhelmed. The media is filling to the brim with ad hominem attacks and invectives that contribute nothing to the discussion except static. Be informed and be angered, yes, and be sad – but don’t be confused or frightened; that’s what they want. Be deliberate as you read, and thoughtful as you listen. Understand the sleight-of-hand that illusionists use to keep you from noticing what they are meanwhile doing – right before your very eyes.

We are now in the crucible of October – will we be ground down, or become galvanized? I’m optimistic. More people are paying attention to the Elephant in the room, and more people than ever are talking and listening, thinking and acting. The voting turnout will be the largest ever, and the most informed. A long look at our history will help us to know we are a nation of resilience and resolve, and that we have always met and eventually overcome such crises as this one we have today. Remember, all we really have to do is vote, and vote intelligently – and insist that our vote be counted. Be well, be safe, act carefully, and watch.

Jim Shere is a local writer with a private practice as a counselor in Glen Ellen. You are invited to explore his website at, or email him at

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