Musings on 2016 – at least it is over

Posted in Uncategorized by EloiSVM42 on January 19, 2017

2016 was above all a pathetic, partisan political year. We were inundated with political news, opinion, and just plain junk. You couldn’t avoid it. It overwhelmed everything else of importance. The presidential campaign was low brow, crass, vulgar, specious and untruthful.

Below are musings, not a book review, but I begin with a nod to “The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed Politics in America and Europe,” by John B. Judis. It is a primer on Populism and its history. Truly, 2016 was a year of Populist political ascendance. Beginning with Brexit – the decision by UK voters to leave the European Union – populist voters had a huge effect on governance last year, not least in the election of Donald J. Trump to be our President.

There is no single definition of Populism. There are different strains, some from the left (Sanders), some from the right (Trump). However, they have two common characteristics: 1) the common man against the elites, and 2) the desire to work within the governmental system, not destroy it (though I wonder about Ponzi Don’s advisor Steve Bannon.)

Right wing Populism has a third common aspect: it always includes “the other,” – Islam, immigrants, elites, minorities, the media, i.e. someone to blame for the alienation, frustrations and anxieties felt by populist voters.

In Europe in 2016, “the other” was immigrants from Eastern Europe via the EU covenant, and refugees pouring in from the chaotic Muslim Middle East and Africa. This is garden variety xenophobia.

I would not have expected this kind of Populism to have become so pervasive in America, since our culture is built on immigrants, but it has. Ponzi Don got his support by conjuring up fear of immigrants and/or Muslims. A lot of Americans were desperately in need of someone to blame, apparently. In their fear and anger, they completely ignored our culture of inclusiveness and our Constitutional guarantees.

Another “other,” it turned out, is women. Misogyny runs deeper and broader even than racism. I did not understand this until 2016.

Our democracy, estimable, though not perfect, and certainly perishable, came under suspicion, if not outright attack. Law and precedent became expendable in a year of hyper-partisanship. Facts were irrelevant. Lies, distortions, insults and slanders didn’t seem untoward.

By the end of the year, our institutions seemed all to be discredited, which is an opportunity for authoritarian challenges to democracy. To be sure, many of our institutions have been discrediting themselves. Our court system has become a political prize, our police are exposed by smart phones to include some prejudiced, violent officers, our intelligence services are corrupted, our media less than worthless, and our system of checks and balances is in tatters. The Supreme Court is hamstrung by the Legislative Branch, which has given up all pretense of meeting its Constitutional responsibilities. The Executive Branch is filling the vacuum as best it can, and at times exploiting it.

One discredited institution, due to its obstruction of the public will, is the Electoral College, an anti-democratic, dysfunctional glitch in our Constitution, designed in good faith to be a final check on popular mistakes, but which twice in the first 17 years of the 21st Century has given us two presidents who lost the popular vote, and both terrible mistakes from which it did not save us. The president is the one truly national elective office. It should be decided on the national majority vote.

Which brings me to a final institution that became discredited in 2016: the American voters, a large minority of whom failed to understand their own self-interest, or to consider the interests of the country, again.

Jefferson said that to be sustaining, a democracy require an educated electorate, and ours is failing. State governments subvert education by starving school budgets. State legislatures pressure school boards to create curriculum and purchase text books that bend history for political convenience.

Media compete for ratings, rather than news and information. They chase frivolous distractions, like kittens chase a flashlight beam on the floor. Everything is a “crisis,” so nothing is important.

Much “news” in 2016 was completely fabricated rather than reported. And voters were too stupid or too lazy, or too uninterested in citizenship to sort it out. In the most important and disturbing Election Day in my memory, more than half the voters slept in.

The most egregious failure of government was the refusal of the Senate to advise and consent on a Supreme court Justice to replace Antonin Scalia for eleven months, an absolute and deliberate abdication of its responsibility. I am not certain the Court, or the Senate will ever regain their reputations after this affront to our Constitution. It made me sick to see this happen.

Another institutional failure of our system was the FBI Director’s interference in the presidential campaign, which was worse than the damage done by the cyber-attack on our election by Russia. We don’t like Russia, so their antics didn’t affect people very much, I think, but we trust our FBI. (I mean generally; this does not include me: Google J. Edgar Hoover.)

We obsessed on Russia, which is now a lightweight country, and ignored or insulted China, which is infinitely more important to our future. To be fair, we’ve seen this before. Clinton bashed China until he entered the White House and learned better. Let’s hope Ponzi Don does the same, but it will require his learning something about China.

Meanwhile, Muslim countries on the Middle East and Northern Africa are a dog’s dinner and getting worse. As Steven Pinker observed, Islam is sitting out the global trend away from violence. Religious war rages there, a war that can only be settled by those directly involved. As with two mad dogs fighting, if you try to break them up, you will only get bitten. That is what we are doing and why Islamic terrorism occasionally erupts in the West. If we weren’t stepping in between the rival sects, they would concentrate on fighting each other and ignore us.

So, we end 2016 in pretty bad shape, and things don’t look promising in the near future. However, the United States as experienced the sleep of reason at other times – internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Committee come immediately to mind – and managed to get through them; we probably will get through this one too. Perhaps this period will go down in history as one ugly, but ultimately harmless mistake. But it is not a “slam dunk.”

I would be more sanguine about our near term prospects, however, if we hadn’t seen so recently how bad George W. Bush was able to screw things up in just a term or two, and he had some semblance of checks and balances. In our current cycle of hyper-partisanship, gridlock, obstructionism and spreading inequality, Asia is overtaking us. Fortunately, at present the competition is economic and technological, and that’s the good news.

2 Responses

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  1. Bob Keller said, on January 19, 2017 at 1:05 pm

    I really enjoyed your essay. This is great insight into why we are so divided as a country and the dilemma caused when 50% of the population doesn’t care enough to actually vote.

    For the last year I’ve argued here in the comments section of your blog that Racism is simply a very, very poor excuse used by Progressives to avoid intelligent discussion of the real issues. [I’m lucky you haven’t kicked me off your approved commenter’s list 😉 ]. I now must add Misogyny to the list.

    Misogyny was not even a tiny factor in the election. It simply doesn’t exist at the electorate level. The vote would not have been different if Hillary had been a man or Donald a woman. If we, as liberals, intend to compete in the marketplace of ideas we must move beyond name calling and race baiting and labeling and get down to the heart of the issues affecting the few folks who actually go out to vote.

    • EloiSVM42 said, on January 23, 2017 at 9:29 am

      Wizard –

      Thank you for the compliment. I felt good about this essay.

      I would never dream of kicking you off my approved comments list. I enjoy our exchanges too much, plus, you are one of the very few who give me different, informed points of view.

      That said, we will have to disagree on this subject, which to me seems self-evident. When multiple elected and appointed officials, including Ponzi Don’s New York campaign co-chair and the mayor of a city in Washington state, plus others, refer to Michelle Obama, as a black gorilla, possibly male, with monkey features appealing only to her black husband, that pretty much seals the case for me, without having even to mention the eight years of obstruction from the entire Republican Party.

      That said, I agree completely that these odious impulses excuse neither party from their irresponsible contributions to our growing inequality – both parties suckles at the same donors’ teats – and other more meaningful issues.

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