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Friday, February 14, 2020

The Collapse of American Politics, Part II

The election of 2016, I have often remarked, showed that American politics as we have known them at least since 1960 had collapsed.  A serial bankrupt and reality tv star  had ridden fame and resentment to the White House--and neither major party had come up with a candidate who could beat him.  The situation was obviously particularly critical within the Republican Party, which could not field an effective candidate.  Hillary Clinton did, after all, win the popular vote by 3 million votes, although the Democratic nomination process showed her vulnerabilities as well.  Unfortunately, the biggest lesson of the 2020 primary process so far is that the collapse of our political system continues.   The Democratic Party this year is having the same problem that the Republicans had last time: it has not produced a national political figure who can win the nomination.

Many of the Democrats I know expected something completely different.  They saw AOC and the squad as the wave of the future after 2018 and thought that progressives were taking over the party as a prelude to taking over the country.  I think the early signs tell us clearly that this is not going to happen.  Yes, Bernie Sanders narrowly won the popular vote in both Iowa and New Hampshire, but he got less than half the votes in New Hampshire that he got in 2016, and his fellow progressive Elizabeth Warren is rapidly dropping off the radar.  Fivethirtyeight.com shows him with the best chance of winning the nomination among the candidates, but it also shows a deadlocked convention as more likely.  On the Republican side, a consensus unity candidate might have beaten Trump in 2016, but no such person existed.  That is happening among the Democrats this year as well.  Joe Biden, upon whom the party establishment counted, is flaming out quickly, just as he did in 1988 and 2008.  The relatively centrist candidates from Generation X--Beto O'Rourke, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker--crashed and burned before a single vote had been cast.  Pete Buttigieg (a Millennial) and Amy Klobuchar (a late-wave Boomer) have drawn some support based on their personalities and their demographic novelty, but neither one has shown much polling strength around the country.  The really interesting question about Buttigieg, it seems to me, is whether his big-tent moderation will prove to be more characteristic of Millennial politicians than Ocasio-Cortez's left wing militance. I suspect that the answer is yes.

The Democratic establishment needs a savior, but they are not turning to any elected Democratic official Instead, they have seized upon Michael Bloomberg, listed this month as the ninth-richest person in the U.S., with a net worth estimated by Forbes at $61.8 billion.  Bloomberg won his two terms as mayor of New York as a Republican.  Like Biden, he was born in 1942 and would turn 80 in the middle of his presidential term.  The billionaire (or, in Trump's case, self-proclaimed billionaire) candidate may become the norm in our politics.  The other Democratic candidate who has been gaining some ground lately is hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, whose net worth is estimated at $1.6 billion.  He has spent ten times more money than the next-highest candidate in both Nevada and South Carolina.  Such men can finance their own big tv ad campaigns, and they seem to have a stature among the public at large that politicians lack.  Our politicians, of both parties, have failed to address very real problems such as immigration, climate change, the impact of globalization, and the cost of health care for decades, and the public, at some level, knows it.  From Bill Clinton to George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump, the less experienced major candidate has won every one of the last seven elections.  That should tell us something about the American public's taste. Meanwhile, Donald Trump has used emergency powers that accumulated during the Cold War era to rewrite our Constitution.  He is building a border wall with Defense Department money that Congress appropriated for entirely different purposes.  This too could be a portent of things to come.

I am afraid that the reputation of politics and politicians may get worse as the year goes on. In 1956, when I was 9, I saw the Democratic convention take two ballots to decide a hot race for the vice-presidential nomination between Estes Kefauver and John F. Kennedy.  It was one of the most exciting things I had ever seen, but I did not know that it would be the last time that a convention had to take more than one ballot on anything for the next 60 years at least.  There is a good chance that it will happen at Milwaukee when the Democrats meet this summer--and if it does, the result will probably be disastrous.  Neither the convention chairman nor the delegations will have any experience with actual balloting, and the spectacle may make the Iowa caucuses look like a model of efficiency.  Donald Trump would benefit in such a case.  All this has profound causes on many fronts, and I hope to discuss them further in months to come.


5 comments:

Bozon said...

Professor
Interesting analyses.

I see this as a Lincoln moment, a really really divisive moment, for both parties, for the right candidate, whoever that is.

Re your inquiry below:

"The really interesting question about Buttigieg, it seems to me, is whether his big-tent moderation will prove to be more characteristic of Millennial politicians than Ocasio-Cortez's left wing militance. I suspect that the answer is yes."

My view is: neither, neither big tent moderation, nor left wing militance.

All the best

Energyflow said...

Collapse of politics is really a global theme. Think of Duterte in Phillipines and Bolsonaro in Brasil, Salvini in Italy and the right wing governmentsin Poland and Hungary plus Brexit and Boris Johnson, a Trump type. Essentially the powerful conservative straight talking, straight shooting type has become the norm. Putin was just the beginning. Erdogan came even earlier I think. Modi's nationalist Hinduism and Xi Jinping starting a personalty cult next. People want a superman, a savior, not a manager, bureaucrat party operative. It is crisis transformation time. So if Trump fits the bill on this Greek drama, so be it. Party renewal, national renewal even. Ike meant his farewell address seriously. Obviously American power has been based on its successful leveraging of all its resources in two Wars in Europe and then Asia and then continuing in the same vein the cold war against communism which was won. Now it just keeps on running on autopilot using the Middle East since 2001, even 1991 as a theater of expansion, to end its Greek tragedy, seking a dragon to kill, a gorgon or two. Internally though the system, the people itself have no motive, internal reason to continue fighting for eternal justice in the world. Most have long since noticed that, as in Orwell's famous work, this is propaganda to keep arms manufacturers in the profit zone while the local population earns little money, schools, roads deteriorate. Why be so concerned about PC talk while supporting secretly al queda in Syria through CIA and supplying the Saudi monarchy with bombs against yemen? I never trusted the anti Iran thing even in 1979 as a teen. Why support dictators exclusively against populist uprisings and create populist uprisings artificially against demoratic governments with Bernie Sanders type ideas. Obviously military security types, NeoCon, CIA spooks are ruining the globe. Even Stalin, Soviets were blown way out of proportion with scaremongering. After the fact one could see they were not that dangerous. Now for example the New red scare prevents cooperation with Russia and it is a fake manufactured to maintain weapons sales, expand hegemony. Meanwhile back at the ranch dictators of Trump type are preferred by joe normals who tell the truth over bureaucrats who are empty suits to read off the teleprompter from CIA press releases and virtue signalling hypocritical social marxists who feign love of foreigners at home but cheer mass murder abroad to spread 'human rights' so as not to be called unpatriotic or shamed by the term 'unamerican'. Reading Roman history would be instructive about now. You expect decent people doing the right thing only that chance was passed up even by Ike letting Dulles do his dirty work and then certainly by Kennedy, Johnson and Vietnam. We have slowly become engulfed by the arrogance of empire. Not letting the dollar slip away but accepting a fiat tied to oil for example was Kissinger's stroke of genius. CIA boss Bush sitting behind idiot Reagan. Darth Vader Cheney and corporate Rummey runnng show for stupid W after a likely faked 9/11. Where were those WMDs so much discussed in Iraq? 20 years in Afghanistan will run to 50 or 100. Sick. Mental. Real questions aren't being asked by you or any mainstream pubished source. Any sane 'man on the street' with even a below average IQ is sick of t all. Only radical politicians of right and/or left like Trump/Sanders/Gabbard say real things that people think, but is not allowed on google, twitter, mainstream. Prerevolutionary days when the apparatchik of the Politburo and Pravda rule the roost and don't notice the people storming the 'Berlin Wall'. Mene mene tekel.

Steve Clark said...

Gray Champions are best declared after the First Turning opens, but they always emerge from the elders who, back in the Fourth Turning (where we now reside), envisioned and championed the future that came into being because its cause was embraced by society’s midlife and, especially, young adult generations.

One would have to turn a blind eye to fail to see that Sanders and Warren are the two best-positioned American political figures capable of filing the Gray Champion role. While some other Boomer politicians and non-politician celebrities could become co-stars and supporting actors (depending on how the political crisis plays out), these two speak to the future’s need: a green new deal, a job guarantee at sustainable wages, health care for all, debt relief, and diplomacy, not war. Biden is entirely off-message; Blomberg isn’t suitable (a shrill for the corporate sector); and Buttigieg and Klobuchar (so far), despite hearts and minds in the right place, seem too faint for Championship duty.

My thinking is: Warren regains strength and Sanders gains further strength as the primaries advance. Meanwhile, politicians who don’t tap the urgency behind our future’s demands continue to fracture and decline. After the primaries are over, Sanders, Warren and Steyer, plus Yang, Booker, Harris, Castro, Abrams, AOC, et al (the progressive wing), maybe even Klobuchar and Buttigieg, will forge a united plan to take the nomination on the first ballot at the convention. After all, this is a generational tidal wave, not a matter of nit-picking difference of who gets to run for president.

At long last, the neoliberal, corporate, “middle” seems to have been squeezed out of American politics. Now, we’re finally down to the choice between two radical agendas: more of Donald Trump’s wrecking-ball of personal corruption and strongman authoritarianism or dethroning corporate power, ensuring peace and social justice, and saving the planet under (most likely) Bernie Sanders’ socialist (people over profit) ethics. Hallelujah!

peter forbes said...

"The Collapse of American Politics, Part II." Prof.: Could you post a link to Part I, please and thanks?

David Kaiser said...

Part I referred to "The State of the Democrats," a few weeks ago.