Thursday, November 10, 2016

#315 / Defib Democracy

Justifiable anguish at the election of Donald Trump has probably been best and most dramatically expressed by David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker. Remnick says that: 

The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump’s shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy.

If that is true (and I am pretty much inclined to agree with Remnick) then why did Donald Trump win? From my admittedly non-exhaustive review, there appears to be a lot of agreement with what I said yesterday

I believe, based on the presidential campaign that has just ended (and particularly from my own personal experience in the Democratic Party primary election), that the majority of the American people are demanding significant change, and that they profoundly distrust the governing elites (of both parties) who have been in charge of this country for the last 25-30 years.

Joe Garofoli, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, said this

To millions of Americans who feel that the system isn’t working for them, who haven’t been part of the nation’s economic recovery, who think Washington doesn’t listen to them, it was something that needed to happen ... Donald Trump was the imperfect vessel for their frustration. “The message to the elites (of both parties) is, ‘You’re out of touch,’” said Mo Fiorina, a professor of political science at Stanford University and author of “Disconnect: The Breakdown of Representation in American Politics.”

Glenn Greenwald, making a comparison between the "Brexit" vote in Great Britain and the election of Donald Trump in the United States, again called out the role of uncaring and out-of-touch elites:

The indisputable fact is that prevailing institutions of authority in the West, for decades, have relentlessly and with complete indifference stomped on the economic welfare and social security of hundreds of millions of people. While elite circles gorged themselves on globalism, free trade, Wall Street casino gambling, and endless wars (wars that enriched the perpetrators and sent the poorest and most marginalized to bear all their burdens), they completely ignored the victims of their gluttony, except when those victims piped up a bit too much — when they caused a ruckus — and were then scornfully condemned as troglodytes who were the deserved losers in the glorious, global game of meritocracy.

The New York Times ran a series of very thoughtful analyses, all published under the overall title, "What Happened On Election Day." Among the articles printed in The Times was one by Michael Lerner, who said, "Stop Shaming Trump Supporters." Lerner went on to make these observations:

Many Trump supporters very legitimately feel that it is they who have been facing an unfair reality. The upper 20 percent of income earners, many of them quite liberal and rightly committed to the defense of minorities and immigrants, also believe in the economic meritocracy and their own right to have so much more than those who are less fortunate. So while they may be progressive on issues of discrimination against the obvious victims of racism and sexism, they are blind to their own class privilege and to the hidden injuries of class that are internalized by much of the country as self-blame. 

Joel Kotkin, in "Trumping The Elites," claims that "the American people said “no” to oligarchy and ruling classes."

She had it all—the pliant media, the tech oligarchs, Wall Street, the property moguls, the academics, and the all-around “smart people.” What Hillary Clinton didn’t have was flyover country, the economic “leftovers,” the small towns, the unhipstered suburbs, and other unfashionable places. As Thomas Frank has noted, Democrats have gone “from being the party of Decatur to the party of Martha’s Vineyard.” No surprise, then, that working- and middle-class voters went for Donald Trump and helped him break through in states—Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa—that have usually gone blue in recent presidential elections. 
Trump seized on the widespread sense that American life was destined to get worse from generation to generation. Americans wanted opportunity for the next generation, not a managed decline. Democrats—and I was one for over 40 years—once offered this to the working and middle classes that have now deserted the party. 
More than anything, the Trump vote says “no” to oligarchies and ruling classes that not only hoard their wealth but also are convinced that they are morally superior.

Thomas Frank, whose analysis tracks the commentaries above, writes for The Guardian, and headlines his article, "Donald Trump is moving to the White House, and liberals put him there."

Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of the splendid novel, The Sympathizer, made the following comment: 

The sickness of the American body politic remains untreated, and will remain untreated, or exacerbated, in a country run by clowns, conspirators, and collaborators. 
That sickness is imperialism. America is an imperial country, and its decay might now be showing. The power that has brought so much benefit to the country — for white people — is now faltering in its ability to provide those benefits to all white people. The empire’s best hope is to be more inclusive, demographically and economically, but that runs counter to the imperial impulse to hoard power and profit.

Is there any positive lesson to be learned from the obvious failure of progressive politics to win the day on Tuesday? The victory of Donald Trump was startling. It was, in fact, "shocking," as David Remnick said, and in thinking about this "shocking" result, I think I have found a positive metaphor, to help carry us beyond what happened on November 8th. 

If the elites in charge of our politics (in both parties) have been largely uninterested in the actual health of the body politic, since the elites have been doing just fine, thank you (which is what the analysts seem to be saying), then the "shocking" victory of Donald Trump (who is described by David Remnick as "a twisted caricature of every rotten reflex of the radical right") may be a dose of good medicine, because a politics so sick and unhealthy that our democracy lies comatose, and on the brink of dying, needs to be shocked. 

The "shocking" victory of Donald Trump, in other words, may be just what the doctor ordered. 

Now we know. We need to defibrillate our democracy.

Metaphors aside, of course, that is going to require us to get personally reengaged in our politics, and not let the party elites run it for us. 

Let's hope that the Trump shock does it!

Otherwise, because the sickness afflicting our body politic is real, it's likely going to be game over for democracy in the United States of America.

Image Credits:
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  1. Gary, I have to say that the idea that Trump could be the champion of anything or anyone but himself is beyond laughable, and that people who feel as if they've been taken advantage of are crazy to have chosen this reprehensible figure. Please don't ask me to be understanding to people who watched him insult pretty much everyone but his own family and voted for him anyway. Not going to happen. I'm certainly not part of any elite, but the idea of voting for Donald Trump as a protest vote would never have crossed my mind.

  2. I guess I have not been clear about the "we" I'm talking about. I am talking about those of us who agree with Remnick's characterization of Donald Trump ("a twisted caricature of every rotten reflex of the radical right"), and who have been shocked by the fact that almost half of those who voted voted for him anyway. I think it's truly shocking - and I sense you agree. To me, that means that "we," using that word in the sense I have just explained, need to step up our game.


Thanks for your comment!