Firm believers in the American Experiment are no doubt deeply troubled watching the evolution of the 2016 nominating campaigns. Troubling may be too tepid a description. For some, it has become outright despair. Has the brilliant experiment in a self-governing democracy ended in a wave of hysteria, hyperbolic rants and suggestions that violence is an appropriate mode at a political rallyThis campaign reminds some observers of the failed Weimar Republic of Germany in the 1920s.
The candidates oscillate between outright fabrications of asserted facts and tendentious policy recommendations that have little chance of passage on Capitol Hill during the next Presidential term. Or do they Are we at the beginning of a political revolution that threatens our 240-year-old experiment
Is it possible that the newly emerging extremist plurality will cram it down the throats of the sliced and diced minorities that make up the balance of the electorate After 13 years of war overseas, and nearly 15 years since 9-11, the public appears too tired to carefully examine the underlying premises and the policy rubbish thrown out by the three remaining candidates.
What is perhaps most distressing is the voluble rallies that feature the worst of extremist pronouncements. Bernie Sanders wants to finance a massive further intrusion of the State into the economy—although no respectable economist can confirm that his tax proposals are viable. The more likely outcome is that to finance these additional Government efforts, not only will there be gaping deficits going forward, but the deficits themselves will cause a huge retreat from US Government Securities. The ensuing rapid rise in interest rates will force even the present level of government expenditures into a growing and massive Government budget deficit. Yet, Sanders is cheered by the 21st century’s version of the No Nothings. Their shouts of approval blot out any thoughtful political discourse or examination of the substance of his proposals.
Meanwhile, the debate between the two front-runners, Clinton and Trump has become the political equivalent of the old saw that the second liar has no chance! If you listen to The Donald, you have to conclude there is ‘no manufacturing left in America,’ despite the fact that the value of U S manufacturing has never been higher! He doesnt want the voters to know that. Perhaps, he doesnt know that either! What is true is that it takes much less labor for the manufacturing sector to produce its higher output. Productivity—the real source of economic growth—has risen sharply over the past few decades even if it appears to be slowing at present. It is also truethat the most recent data continue to show rising employment and output—which is what we should expect if productivity continues to rise. Growing output and falling employment are reconciled via growing productivity. The key fact is growing output—but that is absent in the political discussion. The discussion should be on how to raise productivity in order to make the economic pie grow.
One might ask Trump how can we begin becoming more productive again The question is never raised because the discussion starts with we are losing. The mistrust in which Clinton is held shows up in her favorability ratings that are essentially as bad as are Trump’s. Clinton’s policy measures move steadily toward her Democratic party opponent’s solution fantasies. What you hear depends upon which day you listen. Each of the candidates obscure the facts. It stretches ones faith to believe that they know anything about how the economy actually works.
Why is it that these facts never enter the current political ether The answer is that the candidates dont want the voters to which they are appealing to understand the real facts. Maybe the candidates are themselves are ignorant, but their advisors arent even if they are disingenuous. They are surely quite familiar with basic economicstatistics. How then explain the collective political spin of candidates on the far left, and the ordinary left The answer is simple but repugnant: many voters are unhappy with their own personal outcomes. That is the mass that the candidates wish and need to attract. If the country is getting richer, why are the horizons of this mass seemingly contracting Whose horizons or outcomes are improving Aaaah! You know who is doing well! Take it from them and give it to us! It is not the first time that a pariah has been found to provide an easy political answer.
Once you start with that kind of political arithmetic, the Democratic assault on Wall Street, the “Banks,” the 1%, or the special interests that finance these political campaigns, the conclusion is obvious. The politicians need to convince you that all that is needed is to redistribute the outcomes. The basic message on the left side of the aisle is that it is high time that the inequality of outcomes becomes the central theme of the campaign. The problem in their view is that the pie isnt growing fast enough now, so its time to recut the portions! the real problem of making the pie grow faster is simply ignored.
What about the other side of the aisle Is Trump running from the right or the left Here, we have the answer to the conundrum of the putativeRepublican nominee. Somehow, the Trump campaign has to define the them that is the cause of the current unhappiness. He can’t indict his own class! You dont have to look very hardto find them. If the fault is not “ours” it must be coming from outside. The foreigners and the illegals are his “them.”
Look carefully at the Trump attack points: unwanted and illegal immigrants; cheap Chinese labor combined with the theft of American invented technology; American expenditures in solving problems in foreign countries. Each of those targets consist of non-voters. Trump identifies the source of our problemsas lying outside our political boundaries. Its them, not us! The answer then is to do better against the them! Keep the illegals behind the Wall and build more Walls to keep out cheap imports, and place restrictions on where America spends its blood and treasureoutside of our continental boundaries.
As to how to start winning, elect a Winner! The drumbeat is the evident stupidity of the current politicians and bureaucrats of Washington who dont know how to win. They never ran successful businesses. They exist on the support of our taxpayers and then they give away Americas rightful place in the world. The answer to start winning, is to throw out those Bums and replace them with someone who is an evident Winner.
This raises a most difficult question: can democratic self-governance work in a Kingdom of Lies Have we passed the point of no return where the Big Lie becomes the only driver of political success Of course, if you trust one or the other of the candidates, you are leddown his or her path,accepting their assumptions and their respective conclusions. But believing in fantastical conclusions doesnt make the conclusions correct or their remedies likely. Treating a sick patient with the wrong medicine because you have misdiagnosed the problem can only result in tragedy.
There are historical parallels to our current political morass. In the 1850s, the American political spectrum was badly divided and the existing parties (Whigs and Democrats) were factionalized. Neither could provide a solution. Within each of the old parties, there were serious divisions over the issue of slavery. Only a new party that grappled directly with the issue of slavery could do that.
The Republican Party was formed in 1854 in Ripon, Wisconsin. The new party incorporated many of the splinter parties of the times (the Free Soilers, the No Nothings, the Liberty Party) plus segments of northern Democrats and Whigs.
The Republican Party ran an unsuccessful campaign in 1856. The country was rent by the issue of slavery and the threatened secession of the southern slave states. During his unsuccessful Senatorial candidacy in 1858, Lincoln uttered his famous line a house divided against itself cannot stand. Shortly after his election in November of 1860, his prophecy came true. The bloodiest war in American history followed at a terrible human cost. The Union would have failed under a less resolute and far seeing leader. The political lesson is clear.
The existing structure of our two party system has failed to address our current problems. Each party fails because it combines too many internal contradictions to allow for a clear solution path. American politics is at an impasse because the centers of each party have more in common with each other than within the extremes of their own party. “Centers” don’t provide the needed extra votes necessary to win an election. It is the “extremes,” where the candidates focus. Attempting to overcome those internal divisions, the candidates are now attempting to draw in new blood, by hysterical appeals that mislead the public with solutionsbound to fail. This leads to extremist appeals. What is needed is a massive political realignment. This is not new dilemma in American political history. It has happened here before.
The 1850s and 1860s also were terrible times of hysteria and denial. America was fortunate then to have a (minority) President dedicated to saving the Union butwilling to incur a terrible price in doing so. Lincoln did not begin as a dedicated abolitionist. While he hated slavery, he began first by trying to save the Union. In the process of the terrible Civil War, he moved from emancipation to abolition. What made Lincoln unique was his combination of morality and acute political insight. He fashioned a winning policy out of opposing forces within his own cabinet and within the Congress while enduring a succession of failing military leaders. Despite the considerable internal pressure from opposing factions within his own party and within his own cabinet, he found a winning combination by focusing on the true problems that faced our nation..
Sadly, Lincoln’sassassination cut short his own vision of reunification and delayed for too long the healing of the wounds caused by centuries of slavery. Reconstruction didnt successfully deal with the legacy of slavery and that legacy has haunted us since. We have made progress with overcoming those issues but we are not yet home.
This country is tormented by the problem of factions, which was recognized by our Founders in writing the Constitution. Factions was the Founders nomenclature for the problem of majoritarian politics. Those problems remain. Each of the existing parties wishes to establish a majority that must, if it follows the dictates of its own platform, scourge the minority. That is the continual political dilemma of a democratic republic. It is time to honestly recognize the problem and begin building a new consensus that can re-energize American idealism. Perhaps, the place to begin are theimmortal opening lines of Lincoln’saddress at Gettysburg.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.
Lincoln’s focus was on the equality of opportunity, not the equality of outcome. This campaign addresses outcomes, not opportunities. It does so with denials of fact and hysterical presentations. Hopefully, we can find the leadership to bring about a badly neededchange. Hysteria and denial are the Dragons Teeth of democratic government. It is time to stop cultivating these monsters.