Everyone remembers Karl Marx for his landmark book “The Communist Manifesto.” Funny, no one remembers the real brains behind that book: Frederich Engels. However, I digress. His best work may have been the one he was working on when he died. It was titled “Das Capital.” It was essentially a theory of history.
Most people see history cyclically. We are often told that those that do not learn their history are destined to repeat it. In fact, people often cite current events with an obvious tie to historical events. Hitler seems to be a popular comparison, but there are others. Political scientists and historians have compared Donald Trump to George Wallace for instance. Their rhetoric is similar and their methods for gaining support is/was similar.
Das Capital was a unique theory of how history works. Marx believed we were constantly evolving. Sure, communism as he viewed it has never come to fruition. Yet, one cannot deny progress. We never quite get to where we think we are supposed to go, but each generation brings us closer to that dream of equality.
Marx made one major miscalculation. He believed the communist revolution was inevitable because the bourgeoisie (or business owners) would never relinquish power to the proletariat (workers). It would have to be taken from them. A study of late 19th century and early 20th century American politics is a study in compromise. We saw child labor laws, safety rules, the minimum wage, and the rise of labor unions.
In a similar way, it would be wrong to assert that Wallace was at the center of the civil rights movement. It had begun before he went into power and still rages on after his death, but it is impossible to deny his role in providing proponents of civil rights a focal point of opposition. Even though he recanted his racist views later in life, it is impossible to calculate the amount of damage his views and his actions did. Yet, you also can’t deny that those words and deeds provided fuel that helped the civil rights movement reach levels it might never have reached without him.
This is what we call a paradox. On the one hand, you have a horrible man that hurt countless people. On the other hand, his mere presence helped provide focus and energy to a movement for more equality. It’s two sides of a very perverted coin.
Enter Donald Trump. In many ways, it will take years for us to calculate the human damage he has caused in America. Whether his end comes in 2021 or 2025, we will be repairing that damage for years or even decades. Some of that damage comes in the form of frayed institutions and norms. Some of that damage comes in the form of short-sighted policies and policies that help the few and hurt the many. Some of that damage comes in the form of broken relationships with family and friends that have chosen one side or another. It is staggering to think about.
Some of the damage will never be repaired. Some lost their lives in the pandemic. Some lost their lives in natural disasters like the hurricanes in Puerto Rico or wild fires in California. He didn’t cause those disasters, but he certainly didn’t do all he could to help in the aftermath. Some of the kids in cages died. All of them will have psychological scars for the rest of their lives. There is no way to get around any of this.
However, we also can’t deny that the recent protests in part have gotten fuel from his presence. I don’t know how a President Clinton would have handled the civil unrest in the aftermath of George Floyd, but I guarantee she would have done a better job. It’s hard to do a worse job. Maybe Kyle Rittenhouse doesn’t happen. Maybe some of the other things like Portland don’t happen. Maybe they do.
We also don’t have the benefit of knowing how the civil unrest will turn out. We don’t know if we will see real progress like we did in the 1960s or if it will all be erased like a Etch A Sketch. We can hope for the best. We can hope regime change occurs sooner rather than later. If Trump gets another four years there is no telling what could happen. Things could build to a crescendo. None of us really want to see that happen.