Why I'm weirdly cheered by the 2016 primaries
Anyone who believes in all-controlling, airtight government conspiracies should reflect on this latest presidential primary.
It's hard to believe this has gone according to anyone's plan. It's exposed the last tiny loophole in the otherwise invincible oligarchy that runs America; you still, regrettably, have to go through the motions of running the candidates past the voters. The voters, the freaking voters — the dingbat, crackpot, ignorant malcontent wackjob voters. And this time around, infuriatingly, the voters keep not voting for the obedient well-vetted technocrats the parties have preselected for them to choose from. No, the voters want mad-scientist socialists or blow-dried reality TV stars for president. It is, horrifyingly, democracy in action.
But even the rowdiness and stupidity of democracy is bracingly fun compared to the well-run dystopia of a plutocracy, the way even a crappy amateur garage band is exhilarating after you've heard enough overproduced, Auto-Tuned pop.
Pundits and op-ed writers are affecting a pose of soul-searching dismay over the fact that Donald Trump's xenophobic ranting seems to resonate with a lot of voters. It really should not come as a shocking revelation to anyone in 2016 that large swaths of the American public are craven, bigoted hysterics. You don't need to look back as far as the internment of Japanese Americans or the crowds who jeered little black girls going to school for evidence; anyone still remember Guantanamo, or Abu Ghraib? Anyone who's still pretending not to know what the American people are is in blind denial — which I guess is what, in this country, we call positive thinking.
But I'm actually not convinced that everyone who supports Donald Trump necessarily agrees with him. Because he is a billionaire and therefore not beholden to other billionaires, Donald Trump actually gets to say what he thinks. That what he thinks is the bloviation of a moneyed bumpkin is almost irrelevant; it's been so long since anyone in power said anything uncalculated that hearing someone who sounds like he even halfway believes what he's saying, and doesn't immediately crumple and start backpedaling as soon as he's challenged, is apparently heartening to a lot of voters.
The media, who've made it their own prerogative to discredit candidates as unelectable, are boggled that Trump's ignorance and gaffes have failed to destroy him, as they did Sarah Palin before him, and that Bernie Sanders keeps refusing to accept his own irrelevance, as Howard Dean was forced to. The Democrats haven't suffered the same kind of spectacular schism as the Republicans, but their designated frontrunner is also being harried by a usurper in the polls. Not a lot of things unite Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders; the only one I can think of is the same thing that accounts for both their popularity — they're proposing radically new solutions to our nation's problems. Of course there are some important policy differences between them: Bernie Sanders wants single-payer health care while Donald Trump just wants to round up all the brown people. If you ask me, Donald Trump's solutions are delusional and dumb while Sanders' are just improbable of success, but at least they're not just reciting focus-group-tested slogans.
It's obvious to pretty much everyone by now that we're not going to solve our country's problems with conventional solutions, and that no one in power seems to have any vested interest in solving them anyway. We lost the Wars on Poverty, Drugs, and Iraq. Gun control and campaign finance reform might as well be perpetual motion or faster-than-light travel. As Chris Rock asked: When was the last time they cured anything?
I actually find this primary weirdly cheering, and not just because it's made Republicans look like bumbling Disney villains. There is, admittedly, a satisfying justice in seeing the GOP taken hostage by the core of paranoid know-nothings it's cultivated as its base over the last few decades. It turns out there are some animals you can't safely domesticate, and the species H.L. Mencken identified as Boobus americanus is one of them. At this point they'll be lucky to end up with a nominee who accepts the Copernican model of the solar system. But it is, more importantly, evidence that large numbers of Americans are ready for major systemic changes, to second-guess fundamental assumptions that obviously aren't working anymore.
Everyone from objectivists to anarchists by now recognizes that we're at another low point in the cyclic conflict between democracy and capitalism, a second Gilded Age when the divide between the wealthy and the poor is only growing and becoming institutionalized. Of course these gross inequalities have historically tended to correct themselves, either through internal reforms or by a lot of people getting garroted. Our system was designed to allow for self-correction, but it's lately gone sclerotic with money. We really ought to have a new constitutional convention every 10 or 20 years in this country; we haven't even had a viable new political party since the Whigs.
A Clinton vs. Bush race would be about the most depressing imaginable indictment of the failure of American democracy, the final evidence that the empire has entered its late decadence; a would-be meritocracy reduced to increasingly feeble and inbred dynastic succession. Some of my conspiratorial-minded friends have suggested that this brief flurry of craziness in the primaries is deliberately calculated to make us grateful for the same old non-choices, who at least have manageable hair and can spell. But I think the rebellion against the parties' spokesmodels might have less to do with ideology than with plain old boredom.
Americans may not know what the Gulf of Tonkin was or where Alberta is, but we are imperious and fickle consumers, and we know what we don't want. A Clinton vs. Bush race just would've been bad TV. A rerun. No one wants to see it. We'd rather see Sanders vs. Trump, or Chomsky vs. Kardashian. Probably, as when watching most formulaic shows, we just want to see a little tension and suspense before the predictable resolution, when everything reverts safely to status quo. But I can't help but wonder how long the show can go on before things go seriously off-script.