This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it — that we are really just a nation of 20 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable. — Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 (1973), pp. 413-4, population figure updated.
Three score and seven days from now, a minority of adult citizens of the United States of America will vote for a new President. They’ll also vote for Senators, Representatives, Governors, state representatives and state senators, mayors, city councilors, judges, prosecuting attorneys, and for all I know, dogcatchers. But it’s the presidential race that gets all the attention.
This race is remarkable for the staggering unpopularity of the two main candidates. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are disliked by about 60% of polled registered voters. Many people, both inside and outside the US, are asking “324 million of you, and these two are the best you could come up with?!”
Hillary, at least, is a known quantity. If she wins, she will continue along the neo-liberal corporatist path that started in earnest under Ronald Reagan, continued through every succeeding president (including Hillary’s husband and America’s likely first First Gentleman, Bill Clinton), and despite promises of “hope” and “change”, continued to continue under Barack Obama. The rich will get richer, crumbs will be thrown to the poor and middle class (this is how the Democrats distinguish themselves from the Republicans), wars of one sort or another will continue (and will also continue to make the rich even richer), and not much else will change.
But Donald Trump. What to say about Donald Trump? First, the only known quantity about Trump is his ego, which is about the size of one of the gas giant planets in our solar system. What does he stand for? We don’t know. He has flip-flopped so much over the last three decades — hell, over the last three months — that it’s impossible to know what he really thinks.
What he excels at, though, is telling a certain group of Americans what they want to hear. There are a LOT of Americans who are Very Very Angry about their lives, and about how they think government and others have hurt them. These are generally white, working-class, less-educated Americans, mostly male. They have seen well-paying manufacturing jobs dry up and become “offshored”. They are poorer than they were two or three decades ago; maybe they earn as many dollars, but everything just costs So Much More. Thanks to ratings-driven local newscasts, they fear violent crime committed by people of color. Thanks to the propaganda network for “The Owners”, i.e. Fox News, they fear any politician who doesn’t toe the Fox News line. They fear illegal immigrants from Mexico and elsewhere who “are taking their jobs”.
And while it’s been a staple of American politics to stoke up fear and then ride the wave into office, Trump is doing so in a manner that is galling even for those who do realise how horrible and evil American politics has always been. Yes, politicians have told lies before to stoke up their audiences. But Trump tells the most bald-faced lies with impunity, even though a quick Google search can prove him wrong within seconds of him uttering the lie. Aided and abetted by the eunuchs in today’s journalism, not to mention the intentional fear-based propaganda of Fox News that’s been shoveled at America now for almost 20 years (happy china anniversary on October 7, Mr. Murdoch), there is a hard core of tens of millions of Americans who now think Trump is the greatest thing since sliced bread. They think that with his business acumen, he would do splendidly in the White House. They think that he will “stand up for the little guy”. They think all his promises will somehow magically not put America that much further into debt.
One of two things will happen if Donald Trump is elected president. First, he might actually be able to carry out many of his promises. The trick is that if he does do so, he will cripple not only the US economy, but that of the entire planet. Trade deals like NAFTA sure aren’t perfect, but now that they’ve been in place for so long, pulling out or renegotiating will slam the doors shut on two of the biggest international trading relationships in the world. If he follows through on his implications that maybe the US wouldn’t have to pay all its debt, just as he didn’t always have to pay all his debts after one of his businesses went bankrupt, then the real value of US government debt — T-bills and the like — will plummet, dragging every other financial instrument down with it. If he builds that wall along the Mexican border, how on earth is he going to “make” Mexico pay for it? No, those will be American dollars paying for it, and for all the extra Border Patrol agents he’s going to hire, and for all the new larger detention facilities he’ll need.
The second possibility is that he either chooses not to follow through on those promises, or that he is unable to do so (whether due to obstruction from Congress or a simple lack of executive resources). Then, of course, his base will become even angrier. And that base is a higher-than-average population of people who’ve served in the military, who’ve seen combat, who possess and know how to use firearms, and who take literally quotes like Thomas Jefferson’s “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
A final scary thought is that if Hillary Clinton wins, said base might take seriously Trump’s comments that the system is rigged (especially when combined with real evidence that the Democratic Party did indeed rig some of their primaries to ensure that Bernie Sanders would not win the nomination), and they might choose to try a little tree-refreshing in that eventuality, as well.
No matter what happens, the United States of America has been failing most of its people. The American dream is now a never-ending nightmare, people are feeling more and more hopeless, and those who are supposed to “promote the general Welfare and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” seem to be doing the exact opposite. Of course there are tens of millions who are angry. And that doesn’t even begin to get into why tens of millions of Americans of color are angry at the way they’re treated by their nation, or why hundreds of millions of people in other nations are angry at the way the US has treated them and their nations.
I’ve been using the hashtag #WhyAmericaIsDoomed for a few years now. This is one of the key reasons why. I’ll get into more reasons and more details in upcoming posts.