Friday, August 05, 2016

Andrew Bacevich On American Politics

There was a time, Andrew Bacevich writes,  when "the outcome of any election expressed the collective will of the people and was to be accepted as such. That I was growing up in the best democracy the world had ever known -- its very existence a daily rebuke to the enemies of freedom -- was beyond question."

Unfortunately, such is no longer the case. Both parties have nominated terrible candidates. Donald Trump is a narcissistic TV celebrity who, with each successive Tweet and verbal outburst, offers further evidence that he is totally unequipped for high office?" And Hillary Clinton " exudes a striking sense of entitlement combined with a nearly complete absence of accountability. She shrugs off her misguided vote in support of invading Iraq back in 2003, while serving as senator from New York. She neither explains nor apologizes for pressing to depose Libya's Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, her most notable "accomplishment" as secretary of state." 

But the problem runs much deeper than the two candidates. Three pathologies have taken root in American politics:

First, and most important, the evil effects of money: Need chapter and verse? For a tutorial, see this essential 2015 book by Professor Lawrence Lessig of Harvard: Republic Lost, Version 2.0. Those with no time for books might spare 18 minutes for Lessig's brilliant and deeply disturbing TED talk. Professor Lessig argues persuasively that unless the United States radically changes the way it finances political campaigns, we're pretty much doomed to see our democracy wither and die.

Needless to say, moneyed interests and incumbents who benefit from existing arrangements take a different view and collaborate to maintain the status quo. As a result, political life has increasingly become a pursuit reserved for those like Trump who possess vast personal wealth or for those like Clinton who display an aptitude for persuading the well to do to open their purses, with all that implies by way of compromise, accommodation, and the subsequent repayment of favors.

Second, the perverse impact of identity politics on policy: Observers make much of the fact that, in capturing the presidential nomination of a major party, Hillary Clinton has shattered yet another glass ceiling. They are right to do so. Yet the novelty of her candidacy starts and ends with gender. When it comes to fresh thinking, Donald Trump has far more to offer than Clinton -- even if his version of "fresh" tends to be synonymous with wacky, off-the-wall, ridiculous, or altogether hair-raising.

Third, the substitution of "reality" for reality: Back in 1962, a young historian by the name of Daniel Boorstin published The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America. In an age in which Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton vie to determine the nation's destiny, it should be mandatory reading. The Image remains, as when it first appeared, a fire bell ringing in the night.
According to Boorstin, more than five decades ago the American people were already living in a "thicket of unreality." By relentlessly indulging in ever more "extravagant expectations," they were forfeiting their capacity to distinguish between what was real and what was illusory. Indeed, Boorstin wrote, "We have become so accustomed to our illusions that we mistake them for reality." 

Trump may be unconventional. But that's no reason to vote for him:

Let me be clear: none of these offer the slightest reason to vote for Donald Trump. Yet together they make the point that Hillary Clinton is a deeply flawed candidate, notably so in matters related to national security. Clinton is surely correct that allowing Trump to make decisions related to war and peace would be the height of folly. Yet her record in that regard does not exactly inspire confidence.

And that's his point. Neither candidate inspires confidence. But, until the three pathologies are rooted out of the system, there will be more Trumps and Clintons.



The Mound of Sound said...

To me, Owen, the real battlefield is the "third branch" of America's government, the judiciary. As many as four appointments may fall to the next president and the Republicans' past experience of appointments has been ruinous for justice in America.

Campaign finance reform is the greater issue but that won't be sorted out in time to have any meaningful impact on the face of the US Supreme Court for the next 20-years. Partisan ideology deserves no place in any nation's top court but this is the United States, the land of Citizens United.

Owen Gray said...

Citizens United was a disastrous decision, Mound. And people like the Koch Brothers have taken full advantage of it.

Steve said...

Which makes my argument correct. We need to flush the Hillary out of our system, call it Bush, call it Ryan call it McOnlle;, we need to flush the turds. We have a once in a lifetime opportuity with Trump. Thats my case. Flush the democracy toliet and let the turds fall where they may.

Owen Gray said...

Unfortunately, Steve, Trump will pile the turds higher and deeper.

Dana said...



Okay then.