Ross Perot died early Tuesday morning at 89, an event that certainly left many Americans with an embarrassing thought: Wait, what? … I’m pretty sure I thought he was already dead.
The contrast between the quietness of Perot’s last aging years and the blaring trumpets of his 20th-century business and career in politics is so stark it takes some effort now to recall how large this cocksure Texas bantam as soon as loomed.
A touch of exaggeration is standard in obituaries. However, it doesn’t take much in Perot’s case. He was a secular prophet who in his time anticipated and personified the disruptive currents of the current.
Whether that’s praise depends upon what you consider the current. But for individuals who every so often (maybe some occasions every week) reply to the news in the Trump period by thinking to themselves, I can’t believe that is happening, Perot’s story is a helpful reminder that norm-shattering, cult-of-character politics is just not a completely current phenomenon.
A quarter-century before Donald Trump, Perot was a brash, can-do showman who expressed contempt for politics as usual and promised voters who shared his disdain that the trail to nationwide greatness was to ship an autocratic businessperson with a touch of jingo to the White House to kick ass in Washington.
Perot mentioned cozy, insider self-dealing had corrupted Washington and was screwing over average Americans, and he complained that free-trade agreements such as NAFTA had been raw offers for employees and the economy. This message from 1992 is a linear ancestor of the one which echoes to a point in each party and vaulted Trump to the presidency in 2016.
He also stated funds deficits of some $250 billion yearly would bankrupt the country, a message that sounds quaint at a time of trillion-dollar deficits that even onetime fiscal hawks now not are particularly agitated about.
Unlike Trump, under whom the country will get to run the experiment of seeing what would happen by saying to hell with standard politicians, Perot noticed his significance as a political figure resonates largely because of two what-if questions: