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Clio's Temple

Swimming in history, or drowning?

Mark Twain once said, "History doesn't repeat, but it rhymes." Looking at the shape of American politics this year, I think he was onto something important. Namely, that the hopes (fears) with which we invest our candidates are cyclical, except that we often don't recognize what's happening.

What do I mean? Just this: there is very little about Donald Trump that's surprising. Anyone who looks at the less-than-golden past of our elections can pick up echoes of things Huey Long might have said, or Father Coughlin, or George Wallace. By contrast to this strain of "populism," Ross Perot looks positively quaint.

This is not to let Hillary Clinton off the hook. The strength of her appeal is, I think, that we can replay the economic glories of the '90s, but extend their reach to segments of the American population who have traditionally been left out. She's already hinted that her First Dude will take on that challenge as part of his responsibilities.

Now seriously, folks, are we that stupid? Do we really think our leaders have the alchemy to override the powerful counter-currents which are part of our world: international economic queasiness; fears of terrorism; distrust among nations who have traditionally acted as though they had interests in common?

We'd better fasten our seat belts and hang on for a rough ride. To my jaundiced eyes, 2016 looks more like 1968 than anything that's happened since.

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