We’re about a year out from the Republican National Convention, and already we’re off to the races with one debate. Iowa and New Hampshire are already awash in visits, paid media and free media. The heat’s on for Republicans to make up their minds about whom they plan to support.
Let’s start with the Republican part: I am one of those odd people who has roots both in the “country club” side and the “religious right” side of the GOP, although I’ve become more libertarian of late because expanding the power of the state only empowers our opponents and increases the likelihood that more people in the land of the free and home of the brave will end up in jail. To be honest I think we’d be better off with a parliamentary system with multiple parties and coalition governments; the varieties of public opinion would be better represented in such a system. But in a country where moving a county line is considered secular blasphemy, we’re more likely to end up with a dictatorship than something like that.
So now we must play the cards we’re dealt…we certainly have a full deck this time, it took two debates just to grill the field. But at this point I think that most of us would be well advised to “keep our powder dry” until things move down the road a bit.
Part of that is purely practical: most of us don’t live in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or any of the early primary or caucus states. By the time this road show gets to where we’re at, many of the people on stage now won’t be there. It’s a tiresome business to continually switch your allegiance–especially if you’re active in the party–when people keep dropping out of the race. I frankly think that our system of nominating candidates is stupid (having a few small states determine the course of the nominating process doesn’t strike me as good democratic process) but we’re stuck with it.
Some mention of Donald Trump, who is currently leading the pack, is in order. As a Palm Beacher, someone who puts Jews and Gentiles in the same club isn’t to be dismissed out of hand. His success is a combination of two things. The first is that he’s saying things that people are thinking but cannot easily verbalise in the current climate. The second is that he lives in a country where people are still, to some extent, aspirational, and will not dismiss the thoughts of a billionaire just because they are not.
But the political class is like a trade union: they don’t like “scab” labour coming in and doing the work that people in the “bargaining unit” are supposed to do. So they fight Trump, hoping to get him off the political stage before he makes an impact. They try to tell everyone he’s “unfit to be President” when in fact no one is fit to govern the ungovernable country that the United States has become. (I don’t think the idea behind the Presidency is for it to be the centre of power in the nation, but that’s what people think).
But there’s a more profound reason why I’m no hurry to back a candidate, and that goes to a more profound problem than talking points or position papers. The large number of candidates in the field indicates one thing: Republicans still believe in the power of the electoral process to change things substantially. That assertion itself needs to be challenged, and it is the central problem behind any attempt to seriously change the course of the United States.
The centralisation of wealth and the growth of government (which in turn further centralises power) have shifted the dynamic in this country from a bottom-up to a top-down business. To a large extent the whole electoral process, to say nothing of the endless “movements” we see, are window dressing to conceal the anti-democratic nature of our society. Coupled with a society with no independent moral compass and one which has shifted from a society of owners to a society of renters (actual or de facto) the central task of our elites is to gin up public opinion for their own benefit.
Those elites, especially since the Boomers took the reins with Bill Clinton, have two central objectives in life: to get laid and to get high or drunk. The former explains their fanatical stand on issues such as abortion and same-sex civil marriage; the latter hasn’t quite gotten as far, but it’s moving forward. Having diffused this ethic throughout our society and generationally forward, they realise that the people in society either can’t (because of educational deficiencies) or won’t do the work for them, so they make it an imperative to import a new work force (and also a new electorate). Thus we have an immigration issue in this country.
We also have an elite that is highly credentialist in nature. For the most part they go to the same schools, live in the same places and believe the same things. They may be “diverse” in some senses but in others, as Steve Taylor would say, they want to be a clone. True to the trade union mentality, they intensely dislike the idea that the restructuring of society would dislodge them from their perch. They’ve seen enough chaos wrought by technology and other changes and have no stomach for more of the same.
The Republicans, collectively and individually, don’t have an alternative to this. Part of the problem is that Republican politics are driven by the aspirational ethic of the base. They want to get to the top as it currently exists, even though the results of that are antithetical to their political and personal ideal. But another problem is that there is no constitutional way to change the current power structure, least of all through the electoral process. The current power holders are simply too well embedded in their position to be dislodged by one or more election cycles. Their position is buttressed by the carte blanche that Congress gives the executive branch with almost every law it passes. Barack Obama has taken advantage of that with his executive orders, all of the complaints about “unconstitutional” notwithstanding.
The Republicans have a candidate–Scott Walker–who built his reputation as a union buster, but there seems to be little incentive to get rid of the “trade union” that really runs this place. Many Republicans are part of the problem, or want to be part of the problem. And until that changes, there’s no reason to be in a hurry to back a certain candidate.
And the Democrats? Their “weak bench” problem is more than evident as Hillary slogs through yet another round of scandals and no really strong alternative emerges. There’s a lot of speculation as to why their bench is so weak, but the reason is simple: budding Democrats see the way up through the bureaucracy, NGO’s etc., rather than the electoral process. That leads to a weak electoral bench; the “best and the brightest” are elsewhere.
Ultimately, in this interconnected world we live in, what we’re about to find out is whether or not the “best and the brightest” are even in the United States.