U.S. Presidential Election So Far

crossroadsThe political conventions in Cincinnati and Philadelphia were extraordinary, if for nothing else their difference in tone. The Republican convention, widely derided as the “The Trump Show”, dwelled on creating a picture of a threatening and dangerous world and an America we had known that was now corrupted by liberals, and rendered ‘less American’ by the influx of non-white immigrants and Muslims.

The Democratic convention struck an entirely different tone by portraying the United States as a morally strong global political force, and, although things seem difficult now, the country will come out stronger in the end if we work together.

Critiquing the Republican convention simply as the “The Trump Show” can lead one to miss the essential message being conveyed. The intent was to build on the Trump brand to encourage Americans to turn their political rights over to him for protection, making a vote for Trump a vote for authoritarianism. This is not hyperbole. In the following week, the Democrats in their convention saw Trump’s sinister message to be sufficiently overt to make “we” their convention’s theme, as opposed to the Republican’s “I”.

As to foreign policy, Trump’s proposals, as well as the agenda of left progressives, call for a pulling back from global involvement to instead focus on America’s domestic well-being. Setting aside what I believe is obvious reality: that the world has never cooperated with American’s control seeking, inward-looking propensities, Clinton, along with more traditional Democrats and Republicans recognize that United States involvement in the world cannot shrink, but only grow. To shirk from this reality presents an unprecedented risk not only for American security domestically, but that of the entire globe.

That Trump became the leading conservative presidential candidate and Sanders became an equally surprising strong contender on the Democratic side is invocative of an America undergoing fundamental change. Predictably, both campaigns heralded a clear “back to the future” message. For Republicans this was intentional, driven by the desire of its support base to return to a time when white male Anglo-Saxon Protestants dominated. In the case of Democrats it could be due to a collective denial of the overwhelming challenges by technology to come, but more likely due to a collective lack of imagination leaving it to form a platform recommitting to the promises of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and  those made in his 1944 ‘Second Bill of Rights’ speech.

Consistent with the ‘back to the future’ tone neither convention gave any indication they were prepared to grapple with the momentous changes that are about to be unleashed with robotics and artificial intelligence other than the promise to educate the current generation of young people and workers for the jobs of tomorrow.

The assumption is new technology will create more and new opportunities requiring that we simply fine-tune the process of education to prepare workers to take advantage of the new forms of employment.

What many don’t or choose not to see is how the introduction of ‘smart vs. dumb’ automation will make the future very different than the past, where the new job functions will experience a shorter life expectancy and shrink in number over time as machines become increasing intelligent, agile, and self-sufficient. Contributing to this process is the current shortage of labor due to the lack of a coherent and welcoming immigration policy and labor costs due to the increase of the minimum wage.

The conservative impulse exhibited by both sides is motivated by those agitating to return the country to its ‘roots’ or a more desirable past (how ever those are defined) or the intrinsic impulses of institutions, moving into the future while focused on what was, is entirely expected. What is different, and potentially more disturbing given the degree of social and political polarization, are Trump’s recent claims the “system is rigged”, a claim also made by many Sanders supporters. The reasons to believe this varies. The more obvious is due to the internal fights within the respective parties, where there has and continues to be serious opposition to Trump by more traditional Republicans, and confirmation through Wiki Leak’s releases of internal emails reflecting the Democratic National Committee’s bias in favor of Clinton.

However, these complaints feed into a larger narrative that goes deeper to question the integrity of America’s political structure itself, and who it really serves. On the left and right it is the reality of economic inequity and the influence a small percentage of Americans have. On the right the complaint extends further to the presence of a liberal bias in the media and the nation’s educational system.

The danger to the political system lies in the level of passion expressed by those who feel this way. Some ‘never Hillary’ Sanders supporters have voiced the willingness to vote for Trump with the expectation and hope that his presidency is a disaster for the country, motivating voters to insist on a truly progressive Democratic agenda. On the right, Trump’s espousal of murder, torture, demonstrated total lack of empathy, and general lack of decency has given legitimacy to some Americans’ darker propensities.

Short of another devastating terrorist attack, given the latest poll numbers and Trump complaining of a rigged system, it seems clear he is preparing to lose to Clinton. The question is: what will he do after? Recognizing that we don’t really know what motivates Donald Trump, based on what can be observed, we can assume that his campaign has been simply to serve his own ego.

When he loses his bid in November, to save face, he will claim the campaign was stolen from him, citing a long list of culprits. At that point he could return to private life or continue as a leader of a more radicalized conservative movement. If not Trump, someone like him, but with more polish, sophistication, and ideologically motivated.  From their perspective, a member of the ‘enemy’ has been voted into office through a ‘rigged’ process, not only making Clinton an illegitimate president, but also the system itself being illegitimate, leading these people to claim to be ‘victims of oppression’ in order to justify the carrying on of a vigorous and, in the case of some, a violent opposition.

Also a factor will be whether after the November election the Republican party will be able to reconstitute itself into a more traditionally recognized form or will the more extreme elements of both the right and left build something of an alliance that stands in opposition to more moderate conservative and liberal elements, upending altogether the long familiar political spectrum. We will have to wait to see how things play out.

In the end, we have to ask the crucial questions of why and how did things come to this point? Many factors can be cited. There is conservative talk radio, deregulation, a Congress whose members have little personal interaction, redistricting along party lines, accelerating social change, globalization, the Citizens United decision, and so on.

If I were to suggest the one factor that I think most people would likely point to, it is the divide in America between ‘Wall Street vs. Main Street’ used to describe a state where the American system seems rigged in favor of the rich and powerful.

Then we have to ask ourselves how did this situation come about? After all, America does not have an aristocratic class where wealth and position are a birthright, and the extent that social inequality exists today did not exist fifty years ago.

So what happened? Two things occurred. The first began in the 1970s and was marked by the Regan presidency when people in the middle and working class came to embrace the upper class perspective, turning middle and working class members against one another and so weakening their capacity to shape how wealth and political power is distributed.

The second is a direct result of not voting and, even if one does vote, expecting elected representatives to carry all the load, and when things do not turn out as one desires becoming cynical and essentially giving up on the whole system.

So when someone says to me that the system is rigged in favor of the rich and powerful I quite agree, but if fault lies with any one part of society it is with the middle, working, and lower classes. The fundamental principle of democracy is political power lies with the people. In the United States where we have a republic the institutions of government are established to build consensus and enforce it.

So if the upper class, motivated by selfish self-interest, is more committed to the political process, per the rules of the game they will get more of what they want particularly after the other classes have been unable to recognize and protect their own interests. For this they only have themselves to blame.

Change will only come about if the middle, working and lower classes fully recognize that their perspective and interests starkly contrast to those of the upper class, then choose to vigorously negotiate a more equitable distribution of wealth and power in ways where everyone can benefit and prosper.