The reality TV show that is our democracy staged another exciting episode last night. The only real takeaway was my experience trying to watch the debate live on YouTube, where the comment section was literally unintelligible with comments of “lying hillary” or “Trump is lying” coming so fast it was literally a blur. A “tweetstorm” is now the most substantive and genuine format political debate can take.
Let that sink in for a second. Pretty much all ground for a rational public debate is gone: all that remains is weird and rude emoticons and ephemeral caps-lock screaming in an online comment section. This morning, pursuing what the pundits are saying, it’s still more sad. “This was Trump’s best debate yet!” Why? Because this was the most substantive debate, and Trump kinda stuck to talking points. Somehow Trump’s garbled, debunked Republican ideas are still given a fair hearing. The bar is so low that I find almost all commentary on the debate to meaningless.
What is lost is any real sense of debate. What is lost is substance and the essence of a democracy: genuine, peaceful choice. This needs to be stressed.
Because this is where it gets weird: I’m watching a Pro-Trump attack ad on Hilary. The basic message is that Hilary, in government service for 30 years, has enriched Washington DC fat cats and America’s expense. “A Vote for Hilary is a vote for more of the Same.” “A vote for Trump is a vote for Change.” There is so much to unpack here. If we all understood the history and context and implication of these few lines, we would live in a much better society.
Who was President 30 years ago when things started to slide? Reagan. It’s Reagan and Republican neoliberal ideology which is destroying America’s middle class and enriching a handful of billionaires. Why do Americans feel disenfranchised? Because we are: studies show that the actual laws passed correspond to the needs of major corporations and are unresponsive to ‘middle class’ or rather non-billionare/corporate lobbying. Why is our political system awash in private money purchasing favours and policies? Look no further than Citizen’s United, another conservative/neoliberal pet project.
So all these Americans which are furious over “the past 30 years:” the disenfranchisement, the economic decline and stagnation are angry over the policies that Reagan laid down and where reinforced by successive Administrations – most notably Bill Clinton’s. I cannot be the only one who finds it fascinating that Trump is touting himself as the candidate of ‘change’? To use standard American parlance, Trump’s right-wing populism is essentially an anti-capitalist, anti-neoliberal establishment standpoint; an inarticulate scream of rage against a system that has exploited them and left them behind.
What do you think about “Work-Life Balance”? This is the way we have to ‘code’ our anti-capitalist sentiments these days. Another one is “retail therapy:” what else could this be but an escape from the relentless laws of capitalist scarcity? So what we have in this country is a forbidden leftist/progressive political alternative. Most Trump voters -had they done some homework – would should have found themselves supporting Bernie Sanders. Yes, Trump is touting trickle-down economics and most of his followers will spout some version of it – usually something about a rich guy buying a boat – but what emotionally is driving the Trump phenomenon is alienation driven by neoliberal/Establishment policies.
So this is where I agree with the pro-Trump sentiment. I do agree that Clinton is an Establishment candidate and the Establishment has failed. But it goes much deeper than this. Next to Trump – easily the worst presidential candidate in history – anyone and almost any policies look great. Isn’t it strange that a populist right-wing baffoon is this the only alternative to Establishment neoliberalism? Trump is the unwitting prop of the Establishment; so is right-wing politics in general. Their archaic, twisted policies can only function to displace criticism of the existing order. Why else would something so bad get so much airing? Their nonsense and our toleration of their nonsense simply legitimises The neoliberal Establishment.
Which brings me back to the debate. Despite Trump’s attempts to attack Hilary as the Establishment candidate, we the public where denied a genuine discussion over the past 30 years of neoliberal ideology. We are denied a debate about climate change and what to do about it. What escapes is any real examination of Hilary as a candidate, much less a genuine choice in this elelction.