While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening / to empire
And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the / mass hardens,
I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots / to make earth.
Last Tuesday was primary day in North Carolina, so I went out to cast my vote for Bernie Sanders. It didn’t do much good here, where Hillary Clinton was heavily favored to win the Democratic primary. Hillary Clinton did win here, and in every other race on Tuesday, though by a very narrow margin in Illinois and Missouri. Throughout the campaign so far Sanders has done much better than initially expected, and even collected a big surprise win in Michigan, so I still believe anything is possible at this point.
But my hope and optimism surrounding a Sanders presidency is tempered with a certain amount of trepidation at how little a Sanders administration might actually be able to accomplish in a nation as hostile and divided as the United States has become in recent years, and maybe for other reasons as well, which I’ll get to later.
After the eight-year long spree that encompassed the George W. Bush administration’s imperial resource-grab, creation of the homeland security industrial complex, and accompanying rollback of constitutional rights, culminating with the economic meltdown of 2008, Obama’s mandate of “Hope and Change” seemed positively revolutionary, and so he easily won the presidency. Very little changed, however, during Obama’s soon-to-be eight-year administration. If anything, it was a continuation of all the disturbing trends—failed military interventions and a pointlessly antagonistic and bellicose foreign policy stance, extrajudicial imprisonments and torture, and a blind eye turned toward regulating the unprecedented excesses of runaway capitalism vis-à-vis Wall Street and corporate America—that distinguished the previous reign of the Neo-cons.
Obama’s meteoric rise to the presidency from relative obscurity along with the millions of dollars he received in campaign funding from Wall Street and other special interests suggest to my somewhat cynical mind that before he was ever elected, he was already in the pocket of the monied interests and deeper forces that have for some time now controlled the puppet show that I suspect the U.S. presidency has become.
Between the legalized bribery of campaign financing rules (Sanders won’t take corporate contributions, by the way); a hostile congress packed full of obstructionist Tea Party idiots like Trump’s closest rival for the Republican nomination, Ted Cruz; and the powerful undercurrents of the Deep State, it’s difficult to imagine the President wielding any more real power than the British monarchy does today.
And so it’s for these reasons that I worry about the consequences of a Sanders victory. I don’t question his integrity or his ideals or his ability as a leader; on the contrary, I’m sure he’d be true to his convictions and make every effort to bring about the changes he’s campaigned on. Rather, I question the validity and the actual potency of the Office of the Presidency in this day and age. I worry about the ensuing death of idealism and democracy that would most certainly result from a hamstrung presidency. I can’t imagine a more ironically tragic turn of events than for a Sanders presidency to be the final nail in the coffin of democracy, the event that might ultimately lead to the breakup of the United States.
Sanders embodies, to me at least, the best ideals of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal democracy, which arguably saved capitalism from itself and led to a period of greater social mobility and relative income equality. Whether or not such a golden age of equality and prosperity is possible here again in the United States, I have my doubts. But in any case, the commitment of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and a few others to these ideals, which have been largely abandoned by the mainstream Democratic Party, is at least an honest step in the right direction.
For the last 25 years or so, most mainstream Democrats, by way of contrast, have been almost indistinguishable in their positions from moderate Republicans. In fact, as many have noted, the sharp drift to the right in Republican politics now so evident can be traced back to the Clinton administration’s annexation of positions formerly held by moderate-to-conservative Republicans, i.e., free trade, deregulation, equivocation on social issues, etc.
The fealty of the Democratic Party to the billionaire class and the interests of neo-liberal economics and globalized trade began with Bill Clinton’s passage of NAFTA, GATT, and the WTO. These free-trade agreements resulted in the offshoring of many American jobs and the further decline of unions and the social mobility they represented, even while it offered a quick fix, a taste of ersatz prosperity for all, through the flood of suddenly cheap consumer goods, made possible in large part by the fortuitous and historically anomalous conditions of cheap oil and easy credit in the 1990s. The Obama administration have done their part at promoting free trade through the signing of the Trans Pacific Partnership, which is mostly a gift to American mega-corporations at the expense of everyone else.
It is this unsustainable and planetarily devastating orgy of consumption and increasing concentration of wealth from the many to the few that Dick Cheney has characterized as the “non-negotiable” American way of life, and it is what both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump stand for, each in their own way.
Hillary Clinton represents the impossible and unsustainable maintenance of the status quo, of keeping the SUVs and Priuses of upper-middle-class suburbanite soccer moms driving to the Whole Foods for more cruelty-free meat and non-GMO snack foods, even while the former heirs to middle class prosperity in flyover country languish on unemployment, fight to make ends meet, or are busy drinking themselves to death, overdosing, or committing outright suicide at epidemic rates. Though she’s received millions of dollars in funding and speaking fees from Wall Street banks and big corporations, Hillary would like us to believe that somehow she’s not beholden to them and will fight for the interests of the 99%. I don't believe her for a second.
Hillary Clinton, like her husband, has never proven herself to be trustworthy. Even as she is campaigning for the Democratic nomination, she is under investigation by the FBI for alleged security breaches involving her private email server. Most polls also show Sanders faring much better than Clinton in a general election against Trump. But all of this is almost beside the point for the Democratic Party establishment, who insist on her inevitability as the next Democratic presidential nominee.
Donald Trump channels the anger and betrayal felt by many middle aged white people--the same ones who, when not self-destructing, are only too happy to blame the Democrats (rightly or wrongly) for their misfortune, along with Mexicans, Muslims, the Chinese, and anyone else Trump can think to cast as a scapegoat. Lost on them somehow is the fact that people like Trump, a representative of the billionaire class, are the very people they ought to blame for their economic misfortunes.
It is cut-throat businessmen like Trump, after all, who have always been only too happy to downsize, to outsource jobs or hire immigrant labor, if it means greater profits for them and their shareholders. He has never explained how exactly he intends to “make America great again,” and it doesn’t really matter to his followers, who love him not for the logic of his pronouncements but what he stands for, which is everything ugly, petty, and crass in American life. The real estate developer turned reality TV star has become a perverted model of what it means to be successful in America. Trump is the sneering, ostentatious embodiment of Ayn Rand’s ethos of greed, self-interest, and avarice. In spite of his bigotry, xenophobia, and frequent incitements of his supporters to violence, many so-called Christians are apparently supporting him in the race at this point.
The more Donald Trump succeeds in the primaries, the more obvious it becomes from his behavior and his utterances that he is unfit to hold higher office. I completely agree with this assessment, and many are now worrying about what could happen if he gets the Republican nomination. James Howard Kunstler has speculated on the possibility of a military coup or at least a constitutional crisis, should Trump win the general election. It is a measure of how perverted and twisted our so-called representative democracy has become that a military coup would be more preferable to some (as it is to me) than the idea of a Trump presidency.
Of course, the pursuit of infinite economic growth and endless prosperity is madness in its own right, and the illusion of it is increasingly difficult to sustain, even with the manipulations of currencies, markets, labor statistics, and the media. Both Trump and Clinton are only too happy to tell the American people the fairy tales they long to hear, like Reagan’s “Morning in America,” telling us how they will “make America great again,” or even worse “that America has always been great,” if only we’ll elect them to office.
It would be fitting for one of these two shills to be holding office to bear the consequences when the whole edifice of lies collapses, as surely it soon will. But of course, it will be the American people who will bear the consequences, and it will be then that we will most sorely need a real leader to move the nation forward and to calm an outraged and aggrieved populace.
To whatever extent the Office of the Presidency still reflects the will in good faith of a commander-in-chief, subordinate to no one but the American people, I hope for the sake of the American people that the next person to hold that office is Bernie Sanders.
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