In 1984, Ronald Reagan unleashed one of the most devastating commercials in American campaign history. It helped him swamp Democrat Walter Mondale in a landslide, 525 electoral votes to 13.
That ad, like that very age 36 years ago, is touchingly different from virtually every political spot for every office beyond dog-catcher today. What made it so effective is that it didn’t foretell nuclear doom, as Lyndon Johnson’s “Daisy Ad” did against Barry Goldwater in 1964, or engage in race-baiting as George Bush’s “Willie Horton” spot did against Mike Dukakis in 1988, or exploit the fear of the old, as Donald Trump’s “Defunding” spot did last month.
What made “Morning in America” so effective wasn’t that it was nasty, but that it was nice.
It sold optimism, not division, a dream, not doom.
Given last night’s results, which someone described as waiting for a biopsy, I’m not sure nice works anymore, at least in America.
But there was still some good news on the civility front:
- Armed thugs didn’t turn up en masse to intimidate voters.
- Hackers didn’t compromise the election returns. At least that we know of.
- Far from violence in the streets, outside The White House last night, hundreds of Democrats and Republicans gathered for… “an overwhelmingly jovial festive demonstration” for their respective candidates.
- While storefronts in big cities were boarded up against looters, no looting happened. (It seems that even the Four Seasons brought in extra security – in Toronto.)
- Far more Americans voted in this election – 160 million or 67% – than in any in the last century.
Still, “Biden 227, Trump 213” was not what so many of us were hoping for, especially nice Canadians.
I’ve taken to joking with my American friends on Zoom that if Trump wins, they should always know that we have a spare bed in the basement. We’d all laugh. So much, in fact, that I would say this to other Americans, total strangers who I was meeting on Zoom for the first time. We’d still all laugh.
Over the next few days, many people the world over will indulge in a survival strategy called massive rationalization. That is to say, maybe a second Trump White House won’t be that bad actually. His bark is much worse than his bite, and …[insert faint hope clause here.]
But it’s important to be clear-eyed about what happened last night, and what America will most certainly be in for in the next four years. To clear your eyes, take a look at James Corden’s 3-minute review of what Donald Trump has done in his past four years in office.
And please, let’s never forget that Trump “has famously survived one impeachment, two divorces, six bankruptcies, twenty-six accusations of sexual misconduct, and an estimated four thousand lawsuits.”
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The final words of Ronald Reagan’s Morning in America are: “Our country’s prouder and stronger and better. Why would we ever want to return to where we were.”
This summer, a group of disaffected Republicans produced a spot called “Mourning in America.”
It ends with these words: “Under the leadership of Donald Trump, our country’s weaker and sicker and poorer. And now Americans are asking, if we have another four years like this, will there even be an America?
We’ll start to know later today.
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If you would like to hear Roger Martin, author of When More Is Not Better, explain why too much of a good thing is not a good thing, especially efficiency, join us on November 20th at our next RamsayTalks Online. Click here for more details.