Tuesday 19 April 2016

Raging Against The Dying American Light

E Pluribus Unum: Out of the four leading contenders for the Presidency, the American electorate and/or the Republican and Democratic Party "grandees" must contrive to winnow down the choice to just two (or three, if they fail) and then to just one. Not since the 1850s has the American Republic been confronted with an electorate less disposed to swing in behind the last man - or woman - standing.
THE AMERICAN PRESIDENTIAL election campaign is entering a critical stage. The results of the forthcoming primary elections in the big, delegate-rich, north-eastern states of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania will go a long way towards determining which of the Republican and Democratic candidates square-off against each other in November.
For the Democratic challenger, Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont, it’s make-or-break time. If he cannot inflict a series of decisive defeats upon front-runner Hillary Clinton in these three great Democratic Party redoubts, then his candidacy will be dead in the water and the Democratic Party Convention in late July will be the Clinton coronation her supporters have always predicted.
On the Republican Party side, the race could get a whole lot more complicated. A failure by Trump to come storming back in his home state, New York, may well end his hopes of winning the 1,237 delegates he needs to secure the Republican nomination. If neither Trump, nor his principal rival, Texas senator Ted Cruz, has the numbers to win on the first ballot, then the world will be treated to a spectacle unwitnessed in twenty-first century American politics – a brokered convention.
Will the assembled Republican delegates, no longer pledged to dance with the candidate they came with, install Trump or Cruz anyway? Or, will they swing their support behind the allegedly “moderate” Governor of Ohio, John Kasich? The possibility that the candidate may turn out to be someone entirely unlooked for: someone “drafted” by the convention delegates themselves; cannot be discounted.
What is it that has produced these high levels of political volatility and uncertainty in American society? How has the usually elite-driven process of selecting a presidential candidate been transformed into this rowdy festival of unguided democracy?
Before answering that question, it is worth pausing for a moment to consider the implications of the previous sentence.
Because whatever its critics may say about the American system, this year’s presidential race is proof that the great republic is still very much the creature of “We, the People of the United States.” Trump is selling populism; Cruz conservatism; Sanders idealism; and Clinton is retailing pragmatism. “Step right up!” their respective barkers shout: “You’ve paid your money – now make your choice!” And, in the lengthy and complex process of choosing, millions of Americans are demonstrating not only their ideological diversity, but also their unifying faith in the ongoing utility of the ballot-box.
Whether that ballot-box can any longer deliver a President equal to the challenge of representing the burgeoning diversity of the American electorate is the core question being posed by the 2016 campaign. Somehow, the populism, conservatism, idealism and pragmatism which have whipped the contest into its present state of inchoate frothiness must be settled and distilled: firstly into two candidates; and then, on 8 November, into a single individual.
The number of times this seemingly impossible task has actually been accomplished by the American electorate is impressive. Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt managed to keep all four balls in the air, and so did Dwight Eisenhower. Lyndon Johnson did it in 1964, as did Richard Nixon in 1972 and Ronald Reagan in 1980, and then again, even more emphatically, in 1984.
For all their eloquence and glamour, neither John F. Kennedy nor Barack Obama succeeded in triggering the sort of landslides granted to Johnson and Reagan. Bringing together the clamouring tribes of the American polity proved to be beyond both presidents. Although Kennedy’s assassination did engender a kind of unity – if only of shock and grief.
The current roilings of American politics: its vicious and uncompromising partisanship; the disquieting thought that many of the issues at stake may not be susceptible to resolution by simple majorities; have recalled for US historians the deadly politics of the decade immediately preceding the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861.
The historic outcome of the presidential election of 1860, which saw Abraham Lincoln elected with just 39.8 percent of the popular vote, was made possible by a fatal split in the ranks of the Democratic Party. That such a split – this time in the ranks of the Republican Party – is being openly canvassed only adds to the sense of historical déjà vu. Should Trump’s clear plurality of the Republican primary vote be discounted by the machinations of party grandees, his supporters may not go quietly into that good night of political impotence.
A third party challenge by Trump could throw the 2016 Presidential Election to the Democratic Party in circumstances that call into question the legitimacy of its mandate. As in 1860, it will be race and the threat it poses to the status of White Americans, that threatens not only the coherence, but also the very survival of the American republic.
Tomorrow’s New York Primary is worth keeping an eye on.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 19 April 2016.


greywarbler said...

Thanks for putting the ingredients of the mud pie together so they can be seen in a coherent whole. USA food recipes now tend to contain HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) which is cheaper than sugar. The way that desire for more profit undermines already unhealthy food values there, is an analogy for the spirit of democratic USAmerica. It still has the shape and appearance of an earlier time, but basic integrity and nourishment declined leaving it flabby with blocked heart valves.

Anonymous said...

A very good piece of writing with quality opinion.
I will and have been keeping an eye the American candidates selection process's for the Presidency.
For what it is worth, I believe, if Trump gets the GOP nomination he will go on to win the Presidency whoever is the democratic nominee.
If it anyone else wins the GOP nomination then I believe that Clinton will get the Presidency if she is the Democrat nominee.
If Trump or Clinton do not win their party's nomination then our world is in for a severe jolt which no-ne can predict the results , though many will try.
These are revolutionary times in America politics, revolutions can spread they also can be both violent and peaceful.
Let me use an American word to describe the situation "WOW"

Guerilla Surgeon said...

The ballot box is not very full these days. Very few people vote in presidential elections, even fewer in midterms. And Republicans are trying to make sure that the voter turnout is even lower, by using spurious photo IDs to counter even more spurious voter fraud. Not to mention that whoever is elected is not going to be able to get much done if there are Democrat, because the Republicans control everything pretty much - due to their constant gerrymandering. Apparently even an overwhelming majority now would not return a Congress that is majority Democrat. Which is a pity given that the Republican Party is in chaos, and neoliberalism is becoming hated all over the developed world.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"In 1967, not long after I got out of the Navy, I worked at Rubbermaid, $1.65 an hour supported my new young family – my wife Cindy and my infant son, Tim. In those days health insurance at most jobs was free or almost free....... there was dignity in working class life and family for both of us; we were anxious to prove worthy of adulthood and the world as we knew it.
33 years later I found myself back in Winchester and close to Rubbermaid workers again...... I spent three months living with 34-year-old Tim, who had been pulling rotating shifts at Rubbermaid for five years. What I saw broke my heart. The working class world of my sons Rubbermaid friends was so harsh and insecure and barren of the dignity of labour that I damned near cried. Some commuted more than 100 miles from West Virginia to work, spending four or five hours a day in transit. One van load of workers commuted almost seven hours a day, taking turns driving while the rest caught up what sleep they could. Some slept on couches and in sleeping bags at Tim's when the snow was too deep to drive home, which is often enough when you live in the mountains of West Virginia..... They were decent and quiet men..... All seemed worried to death about a possible plant move overseas and about bills, medical bills in particular. Their wives worked yet they barely kept their heads above water..... Here in Winchester we have been pistol whipped into a proper sense of gratitude so this is considered a good deal."

From: Dear Hunting with Jesus: Guns, Votes, Debt and Delusion in Redneck America. By Joe Bageant.
A book I started reading yesterday, which attempts to explain why people he grew up with vote Republican/Trump. Something I might say he's put his heart into. It's described as "with the lacerating fury of Hunter S Thompson, Bageant's bitingly funny report can at times make Michael Moore seem tame"
It's well worth a read for anyone who wants to try to understand why people in the US vote against their own interests. It cost me about $13. A trifle, considering how interesting it is

Nick J said...

Despite what the commentators of the status quo, both local and international may claim this election reflects a deeply divided polity. And this US election is reflected in all Western States in which the neoliberalism liberal concensus has created the same social conditions. They will of course deny this at National Party HE.

Anonymous said...

The reason landslides don't happen in the US any more is simple - polarisation. Both big parties used to have left and right wings, so there was more cross-over in 1964, 1972, and 1984 than today. Not to mention that in 1964 and 1972, the magnitude of the landslide was driven less by incumbent popularity, and more by the toxicity of Goldwater and McGovern.

Today? There aren't any left-wing Republicans, and there are vanishingly few right-wing Democrats. People will vote for a particular party regardless of candidate.

jh said...

Trump is selling populism; Cruz conservatism; Sanders idealism; and Clinton is retailing pragmatism.
The way i see it is that America is threatend by people. People migrate from poor to wealthy; worse to better however America is straining. This isn't a radical view it is standard population biology. Hillary and co remind me of people who catch opossums and let them go down the road; essentially they are appeasers.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"there are vanishingly few right-wing Democrats"

I don't know what your definition of right wing is. I don't know if you mean politicians or people. But pretty much either way you are wrong. There are vanishingly few left-wing Democrats. And due partly to guns and God, many people who should be left-wing are not.

greywarbler said...

GS your Winchester anecdote was very moving. I have put it up on The Standard to remind commenters as to what our problems are, of which McCully and Key are symptoms really.

Nick J said...

When I was younger GS your contentions about Left and Right would have held true. Now I am not so sure. Take what Tariq Ali refers to as the "Extreme Centre". They are neither truly one way or other and act pretty much in their own individual interests only.

For a long time we have utilised Webers and Marxs models of class which modelled industrial societies. Left and Right with class associated. All too neat and tidy. You have to ask how applicable working class equals Left when for example large chunks of NZ workers became part of Robs Mob. Or the significant chunk of the German proletariat who supported Adolf against fellow "Red" workers.

Best I have read on the Trump / working man association was from Thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com a few months back. Worth a read.

Victor said...

Anonymous@ 21.37

Centrist Democrats are still much in evidence and have just delivered New York (and probably the nomination) to Secretary Clinton.

But I agree about the absence of that once populous species, the liberal Republican.

Come to think of it, there aren't all that many traditional conservatives left in the GOP's ranks either, just crazies for Cruz and proto-fascists for the Donald.

It's not just the illustrious likes of Teddy Roosevelt and Ike who must be turning in their graves. Even the shade of Barry Goldwater might be a bit troubled.

The real problem, however, is that the centrist Democrats have dragged the centre way too far to the right these last thirty years.

Unfortunately, as a result of today's news, it doesn't look as if the admirable Senator Sanders will be able to push the centre back to where it should be.

As a result, the US political system is likely to continue ignoring the real interests and needs of most of the American people, at least for the next four years.

Elizabeth Warren for 2020!

Jigsaw said...

'I don't know what your definition of right wing is' - the problem is that the definition you make is not necessarily what anyone else would make so you are correct for yourself but don't try to pretend that just because you defined it anyone else agrees or has to agree. Left or right depends where you stand and likely if you stand at the extreme then everyone else is further left of right that is really the case.

Tiger Mountain said...

well Bernie took 49 counties to 13 for Hillary in New York state, but Clinton of course got the three “biggies” including Bronx and Queens, but Sanders did well considering the legal exclusion of “independent” voters not registered as Democrats that have been supporting him elsewhere

it looks like the POTUS (always wanted to use that weird acronym) election will involve two severely disliked candidates–hardly inspirational–but maybe this contest is the beginning of the end for money-bags-only Presidential races

Victor said...

Anonymous @21.37

Reconsidering your post, it's true there are no more "Dixiecrats". But although the Democrats no longer have a right wing of that particular sort, they do have a dominant 'neo-liberal'/ 'social liberal' right wing, increasingly entrenched around Secretary Clinton.

It's also true that mainstream US politics have become something of a "Kulturkampf" over the last 30 years, with a lot of trench warfare over largely symbolic issues.

Part of the appeal of the Sanders campaign has been its focusing on more fundamental issues. And having been focused upon, those issues aren't going to go away.

Anonymous said...

Trump has won New York. Don't know what will happen after that

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"act pretty much in their own individual interests only."

Seems to me a reasonable rough definition of right wing.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Bageant claims that the Democrats have forgotten how to do grassroots organising, while the Republicans haven't. A comment I read on Salon said "Democrats don't do it in the right churches" – possibly a certain amount of truth there. Certainly there doesn't seem to be a great deal of grassroots organising by Labour in New Zealand – though please correct me if I'm wrong about that.
He also claims with some justification I think that all the Republicans have to do is say something like "Hillary is a'comin' for your guns." Judging by some of the "discussions" I've had on Salon about this topic I think there is more than some justification to be honest.
His friends are all either high school graduates or non-graduates. They haven't got the time as he puts it, to sort out the truth from the lies. Not that he doesn't condemn them for it. But as he says, when you got a computer it's easier to find the right wing nut job sites than it is the ones that give you the facts. This is certainly true, I'm just reading "Telling Lies about Hitler" – Richard Evans's book about how he picked apart David Irving's bullshit. Just looking at a few things on the web that came up in the book and you find it very difficult to get past the Holocaust denying Hitler approving a whack job websites to find real information.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"the problem is that the definition you make is not necessarily what anyone else would make so you are correct for yourself but don't try to pretend that just because you defined it anyone else agrees or has to agree. Left or right depends where you stand and likely if you stand at the extreme then everyone else is further left of right that is really the case."

Agreed. I think this every time you accuse me of being extreme left.

manfred said...

Hi Victor. Great to have you posting again. I'm having trouble finding this out online; if Clinton for example is chosen as nominee (and she wins the presidency in November 2016) will she automatically be nominee for the 2020 election? I thought that whoever was the president was pretty much guaranteed to keep the nomination. Fun times learning about US politics!

Victor said...

Hi Manfred

There's no iron law that says the incumbent has to be the candidate four years later.

As you know, Reagan ran unsuccessfully against Ford in 1976 and Ted Kennedy against Carter in 1980. Neither was thought to be acting in total defiance of the rules, although many in their respective parties thought they were letting the side down.

But, personally, I doubt that Hillary will want to do more than a four year stint. She's not got the stamina she used to have (which is reportedly why she gave up the State Department after Obama's first term). I suspect that crashing the "glass ceiling" and being the first woman in the top slot will be enough for her.

Yup, US politics are fascinating. Presidential elections are, to my mind, the greatest show on earth, apart from the FIFA World Cup.

Anonymous said...

"The *establishment* composed of journos, BS-Vending talking heads with well-formulated verbs, bureaucrato-cronies, lobbyists-in training, New Yorker-reading semi-intellectuals, image-conscious empty suits, Washington rent-seekers and other "well thinking" members of the vocal elites are not getting the point about what is happening and the sterility of their arguments."

"People are not voting for Trump (or Sanders). People are just voting, finally, to destroy the establishment.

manfred said...

Thanks Victor. Victorpedia never lets one down!

Victor said...

Nah! I didn't foresee Leicester City's weird triumph OR Trump getting this far. So what do i know?

manfred said...

Measured centre-left politics is useful 95% of the time. The unforseeable I leave to Chris!

jh said...

When Trump calls Mexicans "rapists", he is being sloppy (obviously some are good people trying to escape poverty). However, he is send a message fairly and squarely to the section of US who are held in contempt by liberals with a superiority complex. He is unequivocally drawing a line. Amongst the working classes migrants are seen at a basic (animal?) level as competition for resources.
Take NZ and the continual copious praise heeped on "our migrants" (prize bantims) by elites and media. Just this morning Paul Henry and Maggie Barry (a National robot) declared nothing to see over allegations of an ethnic property by up.