Tuesday 9 July 2024

The President They Have Got.

“This cannot be real life!” Confronted with the choice of recommitting themselves to the myth of Joe Biden, or believing the evidence of their own eyes, those Americans not already committed to Donald Trump will reach out instinctively for the President they wish they had – blind to the President they have got.

HOWARD DEAN knows what it’s like to be at the sharp end of an adverse public reaction. He was doing surprisingly well in the 2004 Democratic Party presidential primaries until his infamous “Dean scream” caused voters to turn away abruptly. As he watched the debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump unfold on 27 June 2024, most Americans old enough to recall Dean’s downfall would have assumed that the former Vermont Governor new exactly what he was looking at – an unprecedented political train-wreck.

Interviewed by CNN barely 48 hours after the event, however, Dean was curiously unperturbed. Indeed, he affected a lofty disdain for the whole event. Give it ten days, he admonished his interviewer, reminding her that the attention-span of the American voter was very short. Contemptuous of both his panicking Democratic Party colleagues, and a click-hungry news media, Dean was at pains to tell the American people that there was nothing to see here. So, please folks, just move along. Joe’s fine.

Dean’s arrogant lack of concern epitomises the deep-seated dysfunction at the summit of the Democratic Party. Because, in spite of his spectacular crash-and-burn exit from the 2004 presidential race, Dean would spend the next 20 years steadily climbing his party’s greasy pole – to the point where he must now be counted among what MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow calls the “muckety-mucks” of America’s political elite.

Dean’s CNN interview revealed the corruption of that elite almost as unequivocally as the debate revealed Biden’s infirmity. Dean made it very clear that the Democratic Party leadership’s response to the demonstrable weakness of their candidate will be, simply, to invite the American people to disbelieve the evidence of their own eyes.

The Biden-Trump debate did a lot more, however, than showcase the unacceptability of both candidates. On display, albeit in different costuming, was the fear and contempt of the American people that permeates the American Constitution. In spite of the first three words of that august document, its content is devoted to ensuring that the decisions of ordinary American voters cannot be translated into unmediated political action. More bluntly: the framers of the Constitution saw no good reason why the popular will should prevail over the interests of wealthy and well-educated Americans like themselves.

If Joe Biden had the slightest respect for the working-class Americans who have supported the Democratic Party consistently since Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” of the 1930s; if he was genuinely concerned about the upholding the equality of Black and Hispanic Americans; if he truly cared about the reproductive freedom of American women; then, having defeated Trump in 2020, he would have cleared the way for the younger, more vigorous, men and women of his party, by announcing early that he would not be seeking a second term.

If Donald Trump was not convinced that a good half of the American people were, at one and the same moment, as thick as bricks, and as malleable as clay, then he would not dare to affront their morals, and lie to their faces, with such breathtaking consistency.

Some historians argue that successful demagogues love their audiences, caressing and delighting them like a lover. Others, however, insist that the successful demagogue, like the successful con-man, has nothing but contempt for his “marks”. In the estimation of these “friends of the people”, anyone stupid and/or greedy enough to be taken in by the grifter’s pitch, deserves to be – and will be – grifted good and hard.

The leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties, were they genuine democrats, would long ago have modernised the American Constitution. It is scandalous that the Electoral College made it even as far as the Twentieth Century. The President of the United States should be directly elected by the American people. The idea that a candidate can win the popular vote, but not the presidency, is a democratic outrage. That it has persisted well into the Twenty-First Century confirms that the ruling elites’ contempt for “We the People” remains every bit as strong as it was in the Eighteenth.

The Supreme Court of the United States offers additional proof of how little faith the dominant factions of both parties are prepared to repose in the judgement of the people. That nine men and women, appointed for life, have the power to strike down any and every legislative initiative deemed inimical to the elite interests responsible for their appointment, cannot be deemed acceptable by any democracy worthy of the name. Unelected judges should never be empowered to strike down the laws of elected legislators. Constitutional principles are far too important to be left to the judiciary.

The endurance of these and many other anti-democratic features of the US Constitution raises the possibility that Howard Dean’s arrogant response to the Biden-Trump debate, while outrageous, may not, in fact, be ill-judged. If the Constitution’s glaring affronts to democratic principles have yet to engender a nationwide movement for its revision, then perhaps Dean’s faith in the public’s willingness to disbelieve the evidence of their own eyes is not as cynical as it appears.

For more than 200 years the American people have been encouraged to look upon their republic as “a shining city set upon a hill” – the exemplar from which all the other peoples of the world can draw inspiration. America’s Founding Fathers, far from being the landed gentlemen, slave-owners, soldiers, merchants, and lawyers which history confirms them to have been; men inspired by high ideals, but also heavily constrained by the exigencies of practical politics; are instead presented to posterity as intellectual and moral titans. They have become the USA’s tutelary deities: impervious to error; incapable of sin.

The horrors perpetrated by these heroes and their successors may be acknowledged, albeit reluctantly, by educated Americans, but only if presented to them as unconnected aberrations. All attempts to present such crimes as a feature, not a bug, of the USA’s historical evolution are fiercely resisted. Columbia, America’s symbolic colossus, her liberating lamp held high, strides resolutely to meet America’s future. Only the most impious attempt to direct the world’s attention to the blood, bones and gore besmearing the soles of the gigantic goddess’s feet.

Truly, it is easier to believe in the comforting myth than the disturbing reality. What Americans saw on 27 June was their President, a frail old man, alone on stage, unsupported by notes and advisers, made suddenly aware that he could not gather together enough of his wits to contradict the greatest charlatan ever to occupy the White House.

“This cannot be real life!”, protested The Daily Show’s John Stewart, his voice overloading with incredulous anger and grief. “It can’t! Fuck! This is America!”

It was by far the best comment of an overwhelming night. America was staring, horror-struck, at its very own picture of Dorian Grey.

By the morning after the morning after, however, America had turned away. “Joe” was back, socking it to ‘em in North Caolina. Teleprompter firmly in place, supplying the President with the words, facts and ideas that had been so evidently AWOL 48 hours earlier. God knows who’s actually running America: Biden’s speechwriters? Democratic Party muckety-mucks? The First Lady?

Howard Dean’s great insight, shared with CNN, is that while God may know who’s running the show, America doesn’t want to. Confronted with the choice of recommitting themselves to the myth of Joe Biden, or believing the evidence of their own eyes, those Americans not already committed to Donald Trump will reach out instinctively for the President they wish they had – blind to the President they have got.

This essay was originally posted on the Interest.co.nz website on Monday, 1 July 2024.


John Lee said...

Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes…

New view said...

We are fixated on the front man. The front man or woman has to look good speak well and lie in a genuine way. This has to satisfy our preferences and give us confidence in the fact that the leader has their finger on the button. Ops wrong choice of words. Does it matter who the front person is. Do Americans want a smooth practiced liar who often acts alone and disregards the advice of the advisors. Or a frail aging leader who no doubt is part of a big team who work together to implement policy and make the big decisions. If I was an American I would think Bidens frailties are far less important than the threat Trump’s Authoritarian style of leadership poses, in that it resembles more a loose cannon than stable leadership. The presidential style of politics is designed to have a shiny cover like an attractive magazine but the substance of the magazine is often rubbish.