Words, Words, Words
Democracy in America has never seemed so spectacular as now, when we’re knee deep in this many-monthed primary campaign whose topsy-turviness has cast Ted Cruz as the Republican establishment’s great last hope and placed a socialist senator in serious competition with the Clintons. Our European neighbors must be thoroughly tickled. But how democratic are these ballyhooed elections anyway, replete as they are with their mutinous delegates and their conspiring “super” kin?
At present, both the Democratic and Republicans Parties are beset with accusations of sanctimony and sabotage, and not undeservedly. Bernie Sanders, who has swept eight of the previous nine primaries, and his supporters inveigh against the so-called superdelegates—party bigwigs who vote as they choose. Truly super, since they possess votes worth 10,000 times more than the ordinary, undecorated citizen. 469 of these special individuals have already sworn fealty to Hillary Clinton. Sanders can muster up only a paltry 31. That Sanders could obliterate Clinton in New Hampshire by 22 points in February, yet still emerge with no advantage in delegate count due to support from the party elite, is the clearest proof of the system’s inadequacy.
It sometimes seems that people only ascribe influence to mainstream media whenever they wish to admonish it. So it goes nowadays, where a modish new theory blaming the media for Donald Trump’s improbable and inexorable rise has started to hold sway.
On Monday, President Obama delivered a gentle chiding to a gathered crowd of political journalists, who, in his words, have been missing substance in order to “fill the void and feed the beast with instant commentary and Twitter rumors.” Just the day before, Nicholas Kristof offered his self-flagellation blaming the usual suspects: initial dismissal of The Donald as a living laugh line, followed by lavish airtime and little fact checking.
Like a floundering wedding toast, Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy was deeply funny before it became deeply troubling. Much effort has been expended of late in understanding Trumpism—both what it means and what it portends. Truth being much stranger and crueler than fiction, the politicos have less substance to offer nowadays than the comedians and the satirists. It’s a bit like being forced to live through a comedic sketch, like a Futurama gag that went on many months too long.
Thinking about Trump in dystopic terms, as I tend to do, leads me to seek sanctuary in literature. A little before Huey Long’s political ambitions were cut short by a bullet, Sinclair Lewis penned his great political satire “It Can’t Happen Here.” Of course, the impossible does happen—the authoritarian Buzz Windrip wins the presidential election and marches America steadily along the road to totalitarianism. Perhaps also instructive in the matter is Phillip Roth’s more recent “The Plot Against America,” in which the fascist Charles Lindbergh rides a wave of anti-Semitic, populist support to the White House.
Before he tumbled, Jeb Bush promised the Right to Rise. John Kasich wants you ready for a New Day for America, Marco Rubio looks further to A New American Century, and Donald Trump, of course, is pledging to Make American Great Again. Sloganitis extends to Democrats too: Martin O’Malley’s misbegotten campaign spoke of Generation Forward, while Bernie Sanders speaks of “political revolution.”
Almost everyone promises radical political reinvention, as if the hopelessly recalcitrant Congress would dissipate if he or she wished it so.
Suddenly and as if on cue, as tends to happen with campaign surrogates days before an election, supporters of Hillary Clinton collectively advanced a curious argument. Madeline Albright, the former secretary of state, declared “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other” at a Saturday rally in New Hampshire. (It might not have helped much; Clinton would go on to lose lopsidedly.)
On Bill Maher’s show the night before, Gloria Steinem made that shaky premise even more dubious, offering that women supporting Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders were too busy chasing men to form their own opinions. “And when you’re young, you’re thinking ‘Where are the boys?’ The boys are with Bernie,” she said, apparently endorsing the same sexist, estrogen-emphasizing arguments of her past opponents.