A Businessman, A Socialist, and a Fascist Walk Into a Bar…
American Politics are a Joke
It is a depressing thing to live in a representative democracy where none of the viable candidates for national office seem to represent anybody who isn’t either a lobbyist or a ‘Platinum Circle Donor.’ It is yet more depressing when hordes of otherwise well-intentioned folks flock to support these candidates anyhow. At present, a morally questionable, power hungry, dynastic, opportunist and an egomaniacal businessman-turned-gameshow-host with no policy but oodles of limelight are leading the polls for their respective parties. The pundits prattle on, bemoaning the fact that voter turnout seems to decline with each passing election, but when the pickings are so sparse, can the voters really be blamed?
The electoral cycle, which bears in similarity with herpes the fact that it is unpleasant and yet never seems to totally fade away, has renewed itself with ever greater vigor. The Age of Social Media has been as kerosene to the open flame of the ‘Cult of the Politicians,’ and now it is easier than ever for a wackaloon to grab the headlines and embed him-or-herself in the national consciousness, if even for a moment. The 24-hour-news-cycle has served to whittle away reasoned evaluation and the thorough collection of facts to reveal the rancid core of journalism- sensationalist gossip- and to morph genuine newsmen and newswomen into the he-said-she-said talking heads so painfully familiar to us all. Even the editorial column; once a bastion of political commentary; and the roundtable discussion have transformed into disorganized and intellectually void ‘Blowhard versus Douchebag’ shadowboxing. When opposing opinions are presented at all, great pains are taken to marginalize, otherize, and decontextualize them. The producers, for their part, seem to select the least capable adversaries that they can get away with.
Shamefully guilty as the news media is, however, the candidates themselves are far from blameless. Mencken observed nearly a century ago that those fit for office can seldom reach it, and those that go farthest in the political arena are not the best suited for the job but those most willing to compromise and maneuver to get it This was true in the 1920s and it is certainly the case today. On offer for the 2016 Presidential Election so far is an assorted menagerie of professional neerdowells and rabble-rousers (the notable exception being, quite literally, a lightning-rod mogul with a carefully crafted media personality).
On the Right, the dregs of Congress have been stirred up, and they have whipped their constituent bases into a mighty fervor. The leitmotif of the day, at least among most Republicans, seems to be what might be called a grotesquely unfocused rage. The most successful candidates on the Right (Carson being the one exception, though at this point is seems almost absurd to call him successful) seem to be preternaturally capable of appealing to this rage in broad swathes, pointing the firehose alternately from the economy, to immigration, to national security, to Obamacare, and back again. The fervent base of the Tea-Party Republicans (who now occupy the gaudiest and hollowest seat at conference table of the Grand Ol’ Party) doesn’t seem to have any specific ideas about what sorts of policies they’d like to see implemented; nor, for that matter, do they seem to have specific knowledge of which policies they’d like to see redacted. Mirroring this, the candidates favored by the far- and center- Right are vague and general in their policy positions. Why tighten the nozzle when, by letting it remain open full bore, they can watch their opponents across the aisle slip and slide in the flood of unaimed malice? With this tactic, as with all others, the Republicans demonstrate their superiority at playing the perverse game of politics.
For their part, the Democrats seem to have adopted the strategy that worked so well for Gore in 2000; ‘Vote for Our Gal, Because the Last Guy Wasn’t Half Bad.’ This strategy falls apart when one realizes that a) tying your electoral hopes to the appeal of a president whose approval rating knocks around the 40–50% mark is a terrible idea, and b) it is extremely vulnerable to the Republican counter-tactic of ‘Your Candidate Was Involved With _______!’ (insert your scandal or unpopular piece of legislation here).
Whereas all the Republican candidates frighten with their boorishness and myopia, the Democrats each seem to have their own unique terrors. Focusing on the two frontrunners (read: the Chosen Heiress and her one potential stumbling block), we have (respectively) a candidate whose moral scruples when it comes to power are reminiscent of many a great despot throughout history and another whose policies are so removed from ever actually being implemented by any Congress this side of the Politburo that his campaign promises take on the air of the fantastical. In any national election, both are very nearly unelectable when put against any of the half-dozen or so legitimate Republican contenders- Clinton has more soft targets to defend than she has ways of doing so, and Sanders is vulnerable to the reactionary label (that he has, to date, mostly accepted) of ‘Socialist,’ guaranteed to scare voters away in droves.
Neither party, though, seems willing to even seriously address the major problems that our country faces. We have very real peril staring at us from a number of angles; anti-Western resentment has reached another peak and the Islamic State is a legitimate threat to our security and that of our allies; the economy is still unstable and income inequality has grown as real wages have remained stagnant and the unemployment rate has only slightly ticked upwards despite ceaseless talk of recovery; the budget deficit and constant fiscal brinksmanship threaten to shutter vital government programs (and a whole slew of less-than-vital entitlements, but that goes without saying) interrupting normal services; our young people are entering the workforce largely overqualified, mis-educated, and deeply in debt to a profit-driven education system that simultaneously announces higher education as a veritable requirement for the ‘good life’ and charges and arm and a leg (and a mortgage on a first born son should you elect to attend a private institution) to get it; our health care system is under great strain and even since the adoption of the ‘Affordable Care Act’ millions of Americans go without vitally needed treatment and procedures and drugs cost more on average here than anywhere else in the world, with the same or worse outcomes. Somewhere rather far down the ladder, of course, is the (non)issue of marriage privileges, which is nothing more than a conservative bugaboo used to get their radical Christian base frothing at the mouth upon demand.
Instead of concrete plans we are treated to soundbites and oversimplified, monolithic, unreasonable, half-baked proposals which, of course, are less than worthless, since they give the illusion of policy with none of the practicable substance.
This is the part of my diatribe where most of you would tend to expect a solution. I, however, am willing to do what no candidate would even dream of- I’m going to admit that I don’t, at present, have one. But the first step to solving a problem is recognizing that you have one, and this country is long overdue for a reality-check. Put simply, we cannot continue down the path that we are on without dire and irrevocable consequences. The candidates and the media have their share of blame, and it is great; they have both abandoned the ideals of their classes and gone rogue into demagoguery and charlatanism. Yet for all of their skullduggery, the overwhelming mantle of blame falls on the public; on you and I.
We have been remiss for far too long. We have allowed the ease of our daily lives to cause our diligence to lapse. The candidates and the media pundits do not apparate from thin air. They are Americans, born to American parents, educated in American schools, and reflect American culture and social mores. They are us, and if they have failed it is because we have failed. If they have gone remiss, it is because we have ceased to hold them to appropriate standards and to demand accountability.
We need to start back up again.