Thursday, 23 June 2016

Trump: The Establishment Strikes Back

Cartoon Donald Trump, by Wendy Cockcroft
We the People were supposed to vote "properly," for candidates chosen for us but when we dared to demand a real say in the policies of our own governments, we opened a Pandora's box of unintended consequences that could topple America from its perch at the top of the global economy. The Establishment is having none of it.

The illusion of choice

Donald Trump and his divisive campaign is not the disease, it's the main symptom of a malaise in global politics: the rightward march to surveillance capitalism in which we are as much the product as the customer. As Fascism in various forms blots the political landscapes in Western democracies, polarisation is increasing and authoritarianism is raising its paranoid head on both sides of the aisle. Result: the see-saw binary politics I've been ineffectually railing against. Anyone would think there are no other options. There are, but they don't get much of an airing; it's actually in the best interests of the major players to pretend there is but neoliberal fascism or socialism, with wishy-washy liberalism in the middle if you want an alternative. Enter The Trumpster and Bernie Sanders on the American side of the Pond and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK.

The price of change

The Establishment has always had its own rather paternalistic way of doing things, hence the backroom deals in smoke-filled rooms that we mere mortals were never intended to worry our pretty little heads about. That same attitude persists in the wheeling and dealing behind TTIP, CETA, TISA, and the other alphabet soup FTAs that are floating about. If the Atlantic is to be believed, we should have let well enough alone instead of throwing open the doors of the democratic process and demanding access to the debates, etc., in the chambers of Congress and Parliament. In a piece called How American Politics Went Insane, columnist Jonathan Rauch posits that increasing public participation in the political process, combined with Republican Party efforts to increase its share of votes by appealing to fringe issue campaigners, resulted in the special interest activism that turned an astroturf effort to rally right wingers into a runaway train of terrifying right-wing nutbucketry. Basically, the Tea Party has been hijacked by the people it was set up to co-opt. Result: Republican representatives are too frightened to compromise or, you know, get things done in case they upset their voters and get voted out in the party primary selection elections. The GOP (Grand Old Party, i.e. the Republican Party) Establishment has been hamstrung. It's in hock to the lunatic fringe it hoped would help it to maintain power.

How pandering made matters worse

Fueling the fire of right-wing ire is the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox News. It's been giving every right-winger worthy of the name a platform for their often eccentric views and amplifying the locked-down echo chamber that the American right has become. When the Bush II administration crashed the economy in 2008 no one on the right thought to question neoliberal orthodoxy; in the fraught echo chamber atmosphere that would have been considered heresy. Shaming by referring to dissenters as "liberal socialists" to force them to either conform or declare their allegiance to the opposite side saw to that. The only conclusion they could bring themselves to accept, then, was that Bush had been doin' it wrong. Result: Barack Obama won two national elections despite a campaign of slander, libel, and outright abuse. If, then, the only answer the GOP and its base could accept was that they'd failed their ideology by diluting it with "liberal socialism" and that they had befouled themselves by consorting with the enemy, there was only one direction they could go in: further right till they fell over the edge. Remember how Mitt Romney flip-flopped all over the place trying to be one of us while despising us as "takers from the makers?" When he tanked in 2012, once again, the GOP could not accept that the message itself was the problem. No, they decided, a better, more effective messenger would have to be found. The trouble was, when the candidates for Election 2016 threw their hats into the ring and made their pitches... oh, dear. Let's just say that ideological purity isn't idiot-proof and leave it there. And into that heady mix went Trump. "I'll make America great again," quoth he. Among other things.

The Outsider's appeal

The cozy little two-horse race that American politics had devolved into, teamed with a lurch to the right following the conclusion of the Cold War, had left the American people disillusioned with their representatives. Every promise they'd been given had been broken. As Americans increasingly found themselves struggling to pay their bills only to be told it was their own stupid fault or that it was the Left's fault, they turned away from the parties they had formerly aligned with. It turns out that a binary choice isn't much of a choice, it's like being at a buffet with either bread or cheese. Americans wanted a choice, so they chose. Unfortunately, there were a lot of people choosing, and in a rigged political system only the most noisy and persistent faction can make itself heard, and therefore become one of the two choices people have. This is where Trump's appeal came from. He's famous, noisy, entertaining, and attracting votes as much from people who want to watch it all burn so they can reboot the system as from true believers.

The Establishment's Response

The American Establishment has always favoured continuity and order. Business as usual. When the crazy train rolled into town they let the clowns have their fun but continued to work behind the scenes. That's why, despite a fair amount of grandstanding, Fast Track Authority was given to President Barack Obama to get TPP passed. The idea was to ensure the treaty's passage was protected from political brinksmanship by politicians hoping to make a name for themselves by holding it to ransom. While the GOP flounders, the Democrats have splintered into three main factions: the neoliberal/neocons, the liberals, and the left. Hillary Clinton is the neoliberal/neocon front-runner, favoured by the sane right-wingers. Bernie Sanders is on the left. Both of them pander to the liberal faction; bear in mind that classic liberalism tends to be about free markets, etc. It's the left-liberals who tend to love weirdness and try to force us to accept it.

Trump is faltering

Given that Donald Trump is the apotheosis of GOP nut-baggery, it seems to me that the GOP Establishment is, in its paternalistic wisdom (and in an effort to salvage the party's credibility), letting the Trump thing run its course, then pulling back and letting gravity (and Trump's control-freakery) take care of it. If I'm right, the idea is: "Look what you nearly voted for, you fools. Now vote for this bland orthodox candidate, for the love of God." If that fails, the plan is to change the candidate selection rules, which could turn out to be a bigger own goal than endorsing him in the first place. It wouldn't be the first time they've done that to push a popular candidate out.

Political orthodoxy is being challenged

To my vast amusement, the IMF, that bastion of neoliberal policy-mongering, has finally adopted Middle-Out positions. Yes indeed, the much-vaunted ideologically pure trickle-down theory has finally been taken round the back of the woodshed and shot. And not a moment too soon. This, dear readers, was the "conservative" (read Fascist) line being fed to us for years, and now even the money men are saying it's bunk. If the GOP is unwilling to shift from its now-discredited policy positions for fear of not being conservative any more if it does, it will wither and die. I predict that if it does, the Democrats will split into two separate parties, one on the left and one on the right. The moderate Republicans will join the new right-wing Democrats and the liberal-left will flock to the progressive party. Meanwhile, the GOP itself will wither and die while the party Establishment quietly joins the right-wing Democrats and lets the Grand Old Party rot quietly in a corner. Business will continue as usual while the nutbuckets clamour for attention from a media that suddenly doesn't have much time for them any more.

What about the election?

Hillary Clinton's got it in the bag. Bernie Sanders lacked momentum, he's too much of an idealist while Hillary is a well-organised, experienced player. While Bernie appeals to the hoi polloi Hillary appeals to the movers and shakers, among whom she has moved for decades. She knows how to get things done. Given a choice between a narcissistic conspiracy theorist and a smooth operator who has faced down challenge after challenge with aplomb*, the American people are more likely to vote for her than for Trump. Honestly, I think it's all over bar the shouting. President Hillary it is, then.

*I've got a lot of issues with Hillary but let's be honest, she's good at the game.

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