Bear Baiting

As summer residents of Maine, my family and I have witnessed the rise and reign of Paul LePage, who now appears to be something like a junior version of Trump. Over the past several years, we learned a great deal about what the country at large could soon look like by watching the bizarre, ugly saga of Governor LePage.

LePage is an impractical jokester right out of Trump’s playbook. During his first campaign for governor, LePage proudly declared that headlines across the nation would read “LePage Tells Obama to go to Hell.” Once in office, he refused to attend Martin Luther King Day activities and responded to entreaties from the NAACP with insults, one of which included the phrase “kiss my butt”. Obscenities continued when, in 2013, he made an astounding, beyond-lewd remark about a Democratic state senator.

A classic narcissist, LePage—like Trump—feeds off attention, and will apparently say anything to get it.

While he is certainly a believer in saying whatever he wants, LePage does not believe that others should have that privilege. In 2011, he removed a statehouse mural depicting important moments in the labor movement and (like Trump) has repeatedly joked in public about killing journalists and political cartoonists. In the latter case, the joke was made in the presence of the cartoonist’s teenage son.

Not only is the man disrespectful, he is corrupt and uninterested in actually governing. He appointed incompetent cronies to important state positions and unqualified family members to high-paying posts.

He promised to veto all bills sponsored by Democrats in retaliation for the bipartisan rejection of his proposed amendment to the state constitution, which would have eliminated Maine’s income tax.

Later, perhaps too lazy to even look at the sponsors of a bill, he promised to veto EVERY bill passed by the Maine legislature. While he has vetoed a record 182 bills, he can’t manage to even do that right: Maine’s Supreme Court ruled last August that his veto had come TOO SLOW on a whopping 65 bills, which became law despite his attempted veto.

The man somehow manages to be too incompetent to even obstruct the process of governing.

And yet, LePage managed to secure two terms in a famously moderate state (which Obama won by almost fifteen points in both elections) and has publically stated his interest in running for the Senate in 2018. The incongruity of that reality is almost dumbfounding.

One crucial reason for LePage’s continued success is that he takes advantage of a divided electorate. Like Trump, LePage has never won a majority of anything—he took advantage of a fractured electorate to win both his gubernatorial campaigns. This may be the biggest lesson to learn about how to deal with Trump.

Another reason for LePage’s success is exploitation of a favorable political moment. During the 2014 Maine gubernatorial election, a ballot measure proposed ending the practice of bear baiting: using rotten food or pastries to draw bears to a particular place, making them easier to “hunt”. The ballot measure, which LePage publically opposed, drew increased voter participation from LePage’s core groups, who seem to be insensitive to right and wrong. In fact, he won the election by the same margin by which the ballot measure was defeated. That raises interesting/puzzling questions—do you suppose some voters mistook him for a bear?

Finally, LePage—like Trump—plays to his voters’ basest desires and fears, spreading blatant lies without apology, as when LePage claimed that BPA, a substance used in making plastic that was under FDA investigation at the time, would at worst cause women to grow small beards or when he called the IRS “the new Gestapo” and said that they would eventually kill a lot of people. Like Trump’s supporters, LePage’s supporters do not care whether or not anything he says is actually true. They merely want someone to echo their worldview.

While LePage is an example from a very small state, he may harbinger of Trump, foreshadowing the controversy, censorship, and corruption of a possible Trump presidency.

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This piece was suggested and contributed to by my physician son-in-law, Samuel P Harrington, who is a resident of Maine.

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