The outcome of the presidential election puzzled many people. How could such a brash, offensive personality — who didn’t understand the nuances of conservatism, who spoke in politically incorrect tweets —win election to lead the world’s greatest nation? How could such a dark campaign bring us this?
It started with a light bulb.
In 2007, the federal government enacted the Energy Independence and Security Act, which required standards to make incandescent light bulbs more energy efficient by effectually banning their manufacture and importation.
Most Americans didn’t realize their light bulbs were a problem, but the replacements most definitely were. The light they emit is cold, flat and unnatural. They contain mercury; when broken they pose a danger to health and the environment, and thus require special disposal. When they burn out they require special recycling, and they cost a lot more.
People, outraged over the feds outlawing incandescent bulbs, experienced firsthand the meaning of “government overreach.” They began to think about government’s role in their lives.
In 2009, we saw the rise of the TEA (Taxed Enough Already) party movement. Americans said, “Enough.” They objected to bailouts for homeowners who bought houses they couldn’t afford and a stimulus package that extended already bloated entitlements. They yearned for a return to the Constitution and the principles set forth by the Founding Fathers. They rose against a government they saw as too big and too costly. They organized rallies and town halls, and elected candidates to city councils, state houses and Congress. Their message began to resonate.
Then came the Boston Marathon bombing. Terrorism on U.S. soil once again was real, our security was threatened. We remembered the souls lost that day, and a decade earlier on 9/11, and we cried for the soul of our nation. We honored, revered, and remembered those who fought to keep us safe. We came together in horror and sadness but with a renewed pride in the strength and greatness of America. We were hopeful.
But promises of hope and change were broken and thus brought disappointment and divisiveness.
Health-care costs escalated. Turns out you can’t keep your doctor or health plan, after all.
The government couldn’t balance a budget and added trillions in new debt while asking more from hardworking taxpayers. The economy slowed, additional regulations were imposed, and businesses struggled to survive. Manufacturing, the backbone of our economy, was gone. Jobs were lost, and the dignity that comes with work was denied to hardworking Americans. Millions more were condemned to government dependency, entitlements, and welfare programs.
A bureaucratic-driven education system gave us Common Core, imposed a one-size-fits-all system that failed students, frustrated parents, and offered little to no choice. Low graduation rates and a meaningless diploma created workers without needed skills and businesses handicapped to meet market demands, consequently missing opportunities provided by technology. College graduates had huge debt loads, worthless degrees, and no jobs.
Government defined sex, which was no longer “man” and “woman” but now included a whole range of orientation and identification. Deeply held religious beliefs and liberties were pushed aside.
Law enforcement faced off against communities they were protecting. Racial tensions mounted, and riots ensued. Historical monuments were defaced, buildings renamed. A government that should have found common ground and aided healing seemed to pit citizens against one another, driving divisions even deeper. Accusations of racism becoming rawer.
Taxes, debt, national security, immigration, health care, jobs, education, racism, entitlements, religious liberty. No longer about light bulbs, it was now about the size and scope of government, about opportunity and freedom, American exceptionalism, and respecting and protecting our rights.
By 2016, Americans had had enough. People were tired of a government that broke promises, that overreached, that robbed them of opportunity, and chipped away at their freedom. Darkness cast a long shadow on the American dream.
Donald Trump turned on the light.
Becki Gray (@BeckiGray) is senior vice president of the John Locke Foundation. She appears frequently on “N.C. Spin.”