Political Catnip

Presidential politics is always the most fun, the most interesting, the most engaging. Americans get the most excited about presidential campaigns, and it makes me want to write about the one going on right now, despite the fact that there’s all sorts of other stuff I’d also like to write about. But when I was heading home earlier from work, I got on this whole line of thought about where we are in this years elections…

So, although I still have hope for Hillary Clinton (and I intend to hang onto that until either she wins or gives up) – I think Trump’s hand is getting stronger. Maybe its because the media and the conservative establishment have both been in a state of denial over Trump’s ascension, and I like the idea of them being confounded by the blindingly obvious appeal of an angry populist. Or maybe its because I had this moment where I found myself admiring Trump when he waited with Ben Carson in the wings while the other candidates hurried out onstage at the New Hampshire GOP debate.

But I think probably the big reason why I think Trump has a genuinely good shot at winning the election is that I’m starting to suspect that the political party system – and perhaps democracy itself – has gone into terminal decline in the US over the past 25 years. And not because of money in politics, either. There has always been money in politics – indeed, politics in the modern world is about little else.

But that isn’t what Americans want to talk about when they talk about politics. These days what they mostly seem to want to talk about is resentment. Conservatives resent liberals, and vice versa, and what everybody wants is to put the kibosh on their opponents. NPR has a story today about how Trump and Sanders are quite similar in the sense that they’re New York natives with funny accents and famous hair – and they’re angry. They appeal to people with a story about the system is rigged. And they can both plausibly claim to be independent of corporate money.

But if the election comes down between Sanders and Trump, it’s Trump. Americans are capitalists, not socialists (or democratic socialists, as Sanders’ supporters have recently emphasized). It’s Trump all day long over Sanders. However, that wouldn’t be the real tragedy of the election – what would really be tragic is that the Democratic Party would come apart at the seams under a Sanders campaign, not unlike the Republicans have already.

At that point, what I think we would get is something much, much different from what we are accustomed to in this country. If party politics become purely reactionary, then elites will stop bothering with them altogether. And elections will cease to matter. Democracy will cease to matter. We’ll have a system that, ironically, will look like the vision that Sanders has promoted: a system that is corrupt, rigged in favor of capital.

What I find especially upsetting in this scenario is that what is being resisted by the American electorate is precisely what is most needed: thinking. Hillary Clinton, unappealing as she may be to progressives, is nevertheless a wonk. She favors careful, sophisticated policy analysis over populism. And I am deeply irritated that she seems to be slowly giving in to the urge to panic. The New York Times reported today that Bill Clinton attacked Sanders maybe a little too fiercely in New Hampshire. As it is Sanders will win that state – if the Clinton campaign loses its composure over the loss, they’ll go down in flames. And if that happens, the Democratic party will be in serious trouble. Sanders, even if he won, doesn’t have a prayer of delivering on his message, and he says as much when he insists that we need a “political revolution” – Americans are extremely fond of the idea of a revolution (remember those pickup truck ads that sold the manufacturer as an “American revolution”?) but in practice are about as conservative as you can get. Most liberals are basically conservative. They want single payer health care, sure, but they don’t to pay higher taxes, and they definitely don’t want a higher government debt. If anything, they’re balanced budget fetishists, the same as John Kasich or Paul Ryan. They don’t have a clue how economics or money work. They just want to get back to the American Dream – that is, living unconsciously in America.

This time next year we could be looking at a completely different situation. I feel like the UK right now is a kind of preview to that future. Slowly but surely they’re closing out the conversation. And that will be a kind of revolution in the US, if it happens. Just not the revolution that people expect.

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