It doesn’t matter if Trump wins. 2016 is already a revolutionary election

Summary: The public, and so journalists, focus on the presidential elections as races, reasonable since the political consequences of each party’s victory are large but predictable. The 2016 election is different. Focusing on Trump’s latest outrageous sound-bite conceals the massive change made by his success to date. What if the parties’ control of political money and our political machinery no longer controls election results, and elections become a free-for-all among the power centers of America? This post explores what it means for our future.

USA Revolution: the Logo

 

Many factors produced the simultaneous insurgencies by Sanders and Trump against the Democratic and Republican establishments. Most obviously, for decades they have ignored vital concerns of their core constituencies, preferring instead to serve unpopular special interests such as Wall Street — and those of the 1% (e.g., favoring mass immigration).

A classic sign of organizations’ senescence is the increasing age of its leaders and their decreasing qualifications for high office. As seen in the candidates offered for President. In the case of John McCain in 2008, the Republicans gave us both — an erratic elderly man (would have been 73 at inauguration) with poor judgment and an unqualified VP (Sarah Palin, chosen with 21 months as Gov of AK).

Now the Boomers are turning over leadership of America, but the Democrats appeal to a new generation with two contenders: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, who would be 70 and 76 at inauguration.

These events take place in a nation where the people’s confidence in their governing institutions has been eroding away for decades (see Gallup’s Confidence in Institutions polls). Which brings us to this, the key insight about 2016 (although written long ago)…

The face of Tacitus

“Although Nero’s death had at first been welcomed with outbursts of joy, it roused varying emotions, not only in the city among the senators and people and the city soldiery, but also among all the legions and generals; for the secret of empire was now revealed, that an emperor could be made elsewhere than at Rome.”

— From The Histories by Cornelius Tacitus (~56 – 117 A.D.).

Since Goldwater (1964) and McGovern (1972), the establishments of the Republican and Democratic parties have presented us with a narrow selection of candidates to choose among. In 2016 their leaders anointed as favorites two placeholders whose primary qualification was seniority in their families’ dynasties: Clinton and Bush. Even Cruz and Sanders are examples of that process, successful national politicians representing the extreme wings of their coalitions — running with low odds of winning.

Trump is the revolutionary in 2016. Not in the literal sense of using force to overthrow the existing order, but because he shows that a President can be chosen by forces outside the Capitol (in the sense of outside the establishment). Trump used the media to directly appeal to the American people, gaining strength by entirely bypassing the party elites and their machinery. If he gets the nomination, that will be an unprecedented event in American history.

Nobody has seen this. It is the equivalent of Rome realizing that legions in the provinces could anoint candidates for Caesar. There are countless power centers in America that today play minor roles in the political process, yet have great resources and the ability to play the national media. Trump has proven that each has the potential to reach for power, converting themselves from Pawns of the political parties to Queens — King-makers.

Trump might lack the wit and skill to tap the wild energy of America populism — but he was the first to say that Ted Cruz might be constitutionally ineligible. That shows intelligence (or a good staff, equally valuable for a leader).  See this by Paul Campos (professor of law, U CO-Boulder) that acknowledges this while mocking Trump), and a more detailed analysis by Mark Field.

But even if the GOP’s leaders crush Trump, his partial success shows their weakness. Political parties have controlled access to America’s electoral machinery. Rebellions such as Goldwater, McGovern, Reagan have been fought by established political figures within its rules — where endorsements, money, organization, and insider knowledge are trump.

This year suggests that system has broken. If a flawed person as Trump — a lone wolf, without institutional support — could go so far, what might be accomplished by special interests operating on their own? By, for example, a powerful and savvy organization representing corporations, or small businessman, or Veterans — allied with rich backers? What alliances could be made to create national movements, tapping as yet dormant yearnings and hatreds in the American people?

Conclusions

Our news largely consists of commonplace events hyped as unprecedented, while the significance of truly revolutionary events is buried under trivia — for good reason: it is usually too disturbing. Now the system is changing but we prefer to pretend otherwise.

This is a revolution in the narrow sense of broadening access to political power — to more of the 1%. Now their influence is bottlenecked by political elites and the party machinery. The 1% see both of these as servants. Trump shows how to bypass them.

In 2014 I said this was coming: Stand by for political realignment in America! Now its happening. We can only guess at the results.

Revolution

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about the 2016 election,  about Trump and the New Populism, and especially these…

  1. In August I wrote The Donald Trump revolution, dismissed as all revolts are in the beginning.
  2. Background: Scary lessons for America from pre-revolutionary France.
  3. Trump’s hope: a recession might put him in the White House.
  4. The four keys to a possible Trump victory.
  5. Trump, not Sanders, is the revolutionary.
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7 thoughts on “It doesn’t matter if Trump wins. 2016 is already a revolutionary election

  1. I’m guessing that by Trump’s “latest outrageous soundbite”, you mean the following: “I could stand on Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”

    Certainly sounds outrageous, but video reveals that the whole sentence went thus: “They say I could stand on Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”

    The first version, presented by many media sources, sounds outrageous, because it sounds as if Trump himself is contemplating the idea of standing on Fifth Avenue &c, &c, or he is mocking the blind loyalty of his own voters.

    The second, which is what Trump actually said, sounds much less outrageous. It sounds as if he’s reporting to his audience something that a pundit has said (or perhaps several pundits), which he has found striking/amusing.

    The small deletion of just two words changes things a lot.

    It looks to me as if the media have edited his words deliberately to make them sound more outrageous, and thereby push the narrative that Trump is an outrageous person who only says outrageous things.

    This kind of misrepresentation, I’m realizing, is standard practice in this campaign.

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  2. “If a flawed person as Trump — a lone wolf, without institutional support — could go so far, what might be accomplished by a powerful and savvy organization representing corporations, or small businessman, or Veterans? What alliances can be made to create national movements, tapping as yet dormant yearnings and hatreds in the American people?”

    There’s no organization that can do what Trump is doing, unless they have a candidate with the right appeal (charisma + common touch + populist policies + selling point of not being “bought and owned”) — and if they did have such a candidate, that candidate would run the show.

    That’s the position the GOPe is in now. It has plenty of money, brains and network power, but it doesn’t have the candidate.

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  3. What I think you are pointing out without realising it, is that the two-party system in the US is in danger of destroying itself, if not by creating a true, 3rd party “Independent” party, but from within by being forced to accept members who do not play be the rules.

    Independents generally are not attractive because they come with no power base. They can be ignored at will by everyone else. But if, as you note, special interests – or simply mainstream forces fed up with the status quo – were to step behind a significant “other”, an Independent block could sweep into power. Even if nominally they went by the Democrat or Republican affiliation.

    An independent Trump, for example, pulling for others running for Congress and the Senate with whom he says have his same ideology, could alter the playing field despite the current organizers. An interesting way to have a revolution without it being a revolution.

    We do have to recall that the Democrats back in 1861 were for Slavery, the Republicans against slavery, a turnaround for what we think of liberal and conservative values by party line. That’s an internal couple of coupes if you think about it.

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    1. Doug,

      “two-party system in the US is in danger of destroying itself, if not by creating a true, 3rd party “Independent” party, but from within by being forced to accept members who do not play be the rules.”

      I don’t know how that would destroy the two-party system. If someone else rents or buys your house, do you consider it destroyed? The two-party system has evolved during the past 200 years, and will continue to do so. Sometimes the evolution moves slowly; sometimes it takes jumps.

      “the Republicans against slavery, a turnaround for what we think of liberal and conservative values by party line.”

      That’s because the Democrats and Republicans did not map as Liberal and Conservative until the 1964-1980 rationalizaton. The Dems has its Southern conservatives; the GOP had its New England liberals. They changed partners, not changed ideological labels.

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  4. If the existing parties do not adapt, then outside challenges could cause a groundswell that looks to allow a third party to bring the unrepresented “others” representation. This would require the ruling deadlock to be seen as structural and beyond internal fixes. If it is true that the 200-year-old American two-party system is locked-in to hardened positions for internal, political reasons that neither resonate with the voters or meet the State’s functioning needs, an alternative will arise, messy or organized. The questions are, first, how bad those conditions need to be, and then, is the dysfunction really structural or just personal? Is it the machinery or the ones in office responsible for running the machinery? My belief is that it is the personnel, not the institutions themselves. But you can’t always get rid of the upper management without selling off the company.

    I find the difference between changing partners and changing ideologies confusing. It suggests that a Party has no intrinsic belief system, that it is just a collection of presently like-minded people. Overall, historically, I’d agree. But I think the public think that a Party actually has an ideology, such as one Party does represent some different position than the other. These days more than previously, we are attracted to labels as sort-cuts to philosophy.

    You are the knowledgeable ones. I’m just observing the race, wondering if anyone is noticing what lap it is or if there is even a guy with a checkered flag any more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Doug,

      “a Party has no intrinsic belief system”

      Yes, that pretty much describes US parties, as compared 1930 and 2016. Isolationism vs. foreign military involvement, racial attitudes, and many other partisan beliefs have changed. Southern conservative whites were a core of the Democratic Party; they’re now a core of the GOP.

      But all that was a result of the civil war. Now they have reorganized on the basis of more or less consistent belief systems (more less rather than more).

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  5. I should avoid specifics as I clearly don’t know enough history to put examples in their proper use. So I’ll go back to the philosophy or, simply, the day-to-day reality.

    When the point of politics is to have a job rather than to be part of effectively running a country (or municipal area or State), the Nation falls down. When the point of running for President is to be the President rather than assisting the effective running of the Nation, the Nation falls down. Is this what happened in Rome? It wasn’t decadence, it was the pursuit of a paycheck and cocktail parties as a respectable career?

    A four year US presidential term now has 2 years of “running for it”. A new Congressman is advised to spend 4 hours per day working on fundraising – to get back in office. The machine requires 50% of your time and more than 50% of your gross costs to operate. Would you buy a car that was in the shop 3 1/2 days per week and took more than your mortgage to keep on the road?

    Bizarre.

    I have read that this Presidential election will cost $5B. Let’s guess at $1B/serious candidate. That is the cost of “buying” your job. If you were to go to Google and said, “I’ll pay you $1B to let me be President of Google”, people would think, rightly, you were up to something nefarious. Or you were a megalomaniac who only wanted to smooze at dinner parties and would soon destroy Google. But in the current political system, it seems to mean you are a patriot with only the company’s best interest at heart. Bizarre.

    Trump may be revolutionary in disregarding his political “elders”, as you observe, but he is still buying the job. Did Lincoln buy his job, or did he appeal to the interests of the common voter? Or perhaps we should ask, do the electoral colleges look up or look down when they are making their choices? And do they have a choice?

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