Are you about to get swindled on political reform again?
Barack Obama rode into the White House on the vague promise of “change.” Even deep red North Carolina voted for him. Eight years later, we didn’t get the change most of us hoped.
Trump made Wall Street great again, but other American institutions are crumbling even faster under his watch. Home ownership, stable white collar jobs, Medicare, and pension plans are proving to be Ponzi schemes that can’t meet their growth promises. Universities, Congress, and the media are no longer able to create the value they purport to, so they increasingly hire leaders for their shamelessness rather than their competence.
With 30 million unemployed, riots in the streets, and politicians gone wild with baseless edicts and childish finger pointing, the need for change has never been more obvious.
But the prospects of getting it are dim. The one thing the establishment is good at is sidelining agitators. They did it to Bernie, twice, even though he was peddling the same FDR-reheated policies Democrats have advocated for 80 years. If the power brokers are trying to get rid of you, you must pose some threat.
The orange middle finger
Although “change” is a more popular word on the left, Middle America wants it even more, as they proved in 2016 by electing an objectively more radical candidate than Bernie.
Trump wasn’t another career politician trying to frame himself as an outsider. He actually came from outside Washington and wasn’t beholden to the usual lobbies. Unlike his peers, he proposed disrupting policy orthodoxy on immigration and trade, and he seemed to have in mind more than the usual lip service. It seems obvious that continuing America’s Middle Eastern wars into their fourth decade should draw debate, but no major candidate prior to Trump had dared speak frankly about them.
Best of all, the establishment despised him. Both parties tried their best to torpedo him. The media devoted 2016 to simultaneously dismissing him as a joke and denouncing him as a threat. Whether the powerful disagreed with his policies or were offended by his real-estate-salesman braggadocio, it was clear they didn’t trust him to behave himself. He might actually change things.
If enemy-of-my-enemy logic was a good reason for urbanites to support Bernie Sanders, it was an even better reason for rust belters to support Trump.
The riddle of 2016
The red states sent a loud message in 2016: We’re so fed up with Republicrat career politicians that we’re willing to roll the dice on the womanizing reality TV billionaire blowhard.
Their message was loud but cryptic. What problems are Americans reacting to? What caused those problems? What role, if any, did Washington play in creating them, and what role should it play in solving them? What does “change” mean, exactly? We should have spent the past four years having these debates.
Instead, the elites rejected the message and fought any policy deviation, no matter how sensible. They were horrified that Trump might reduce the US’s commitment to cold war relic NATO. They were aghast that he would talk with North Korea, and apoplectic that he would speak diplomatically of foreign leaders like Putin with whom he was trying to conduct diplomacy. The New York Times found its first kind word for Trump when he bombed Syria.
But the establishment didn’t merely fight the Trump message. They spent most of the past four years trying to shoot the messenger, just as they did with Bernie Sanders. Democratic Party leaders eagerly destroyed innocent people’s lives with baseless prosecutions. They attempted a series of coups through means both legal and otherwise. The Republicans, hoping to rid themselves of Trump, went along with a Mueller investigation they knew from the outset to be a sham. The media threw itself completely behind the establishment, devoting itself to smearing Trump and anyone with the temerity to support him.
You would think we would be familiar with the playbook by now. Politicians, journalists, academics, and social media sow terror over the issue of the day, whether it’s COVID, or the Russians, or gentrification, or WMDs, or Brett Kavanaugh. You can live a thousand years and never smack into arcane statistics like the Gini coefficient or the global temperature anomaly. Scarcely any of us even know how to estimate them. But we’re curiously quick to believe any of these things represent a grave threat, and to endorse anyone promising to save us from them.
When Trump appeared on the political scene, the establishment wheeled out its anti-Trump howitzers and began shelling American citizens with a bio weapon that induces terror. The campaign its now in its fifth year, and tens of millions have succumbed to the belief that the businessman from Queens is a Russian mole, but also literally Hitler. He seeks only his own profit but goes out of his way to oppress other races. He’s at once negligent and authoritarian. He’s a grave threat, or a total joke, or somehow both at the same time. These beliefs don’t align with the facts or even with each other. There is no kinder word than derangement, and its another symptom that the institutions the public relies on to make sense of the world are not serving our interests.
The message from the establishment back to voters is clear. We don’t care about telling the truth, or elections, or the rule of law, or peace, or jobs, or fiscal responsibility, or civil liberties, or programs that deliver on their stated goals, or minimizing the impact of COVID, or keeping the streets safe. We care about staying in power, and we think our best bet for doing so is to stomp on anyone threatening change.
Rage against the Machine
Four years into Trump’s presidency, he hasn’t succeeded in changing much. He has pared back some regulations, and he has bits of wall up. He talked about ending wars but then sent in more troops. The mass deportations and concentration camps the left foretold haven’t materialized, and neither has his promised Red Team to challenge climate doomsayers. Abortion is still legal, marijuana still a federal crime. Wall Street is richer than ever, the Treasury deeper in debt.
In 2020, we learned Attorney General Barr’s Obamagate prosecutions will stop with FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith, letting the higher-ups off the hook. We’ve learned prosecutors in St. Louis, Atlanta, and Kenosha freely misrepresent cases and overcharge suspects for political reasons and face no consequences. We’ve learned that courts — even the Supreme Court — are happy to let cities and states ignore citizens’ constitutional rights as they please, just as long as they declare a crisis.
It’s reasonable to wonder whether a vote for Trump is still a call for change.
But there’s no doubt what you say by voting for his challenger, as pure a DNC machine candidate as ever was. If Biden had principles of his own at one point, 50 years of party politics, his trail of skeletons, and his cognitive decline have worn them away. Nothing but machine remains. Someone would be calling the shots in a Biden Administration, but it wouldn’t be Joe.
Kamala Harris will not be in charge either. Voters watching her during the primaries didn’t like what they saw: a cruel opportunist with no particular ideas or principles. But party power brokers saw just what they wanted: a loyal functionary willing to take any position no matter how insincere or discredited. Who has demonstrated the willingness to cozy up to, denounce, or imprison anyone if she thinks it will advance her career in the DNC machine. They like her because she’s flexible, hungry, and therefore easily managed. Senator Harris may sit in the Oval Office before long, but we still won’t know who’s really running the country.
The DNC regards voters as easy to manage and hard to insult. They know they just have to tell you enough times how bad the orange man is, or that this next point-of-no-return for the climate is the real one, or that a few more face masks will stop COVID, and you’ll fall in line. Good for you, Citizen, out protesting to end systemic racism and defund the police. We’re totally against the police too, just get rid of Trump first and then we’ll talk. In the meantime, since we take your vote for granted, we’re putting up the drug war’s Dick Cheney and his running mate the cackling cop.
Trump hasn’t fixed Washington’s problems, nor will he in another four years. Candidates promise great accomplishments once they’re senator, senators promise big changes once they’re president, and presidents hope changes will get easier in their second term. The federal government is an $8 trillion battleship no one can affect much.
As a hiring manager of many years, I’ve learned to hire people based on their strengths rather than their weaknesses. Trump boasts about draining the swamp, and he’s a world class boaster. He’s not much of a drainer, though, so I wouldn’t expect much. A president’s big promises are usually legislative, despite not controlling the legislature, so inevitably many go broken.
If I vote for Trump, it’s because I think the country could use another four years of his real talent: provoking corrupt elites to expose themselves. The media destroyed its reputation with RussiaGate, the DOJ with sham investigations and political prosecutions, Congress with a shampeachment trial. I’d like to see more institutional dysfunction brought to light, as that seems like the first step to either fixing them or relying on them less.
Or I could vote for the machine candidate and send Washington a different message: I’m happy with the job the establishment has been doing. I’m embarrassed that Trump squeaked past us voters in 2016 and violated the decorum that maintains the establishment’s legitimacy. I apologize on behalf of the entire Electoral College. I trust that whoever the machine designates to run the Biden Administration will deliver on my desires for change, or if changes prove awkward at least offer me someone to blame.
What message will you send in November?