While we have never had so many dishonest, corrupt and/or incompetent candidates running for president in the same election, it is worth bearing in mind that politics more often reflects, rather than creates, our culture. Donald Trump is what modern capitalism has taught us to respect, Hillary Clinton is a model of amoral power that the media wants us to admire, and Ted Cruz a reflection of the mass corruption of Christianity by evangelical hustlers like his father.
For a culture to survive it needs leaders who articulate, advocate and proliferate the values, beliefs and standards that are meant to define it. For the past few decades, America’s leaders have either turned silent – in churches, on campuses, in print and on the air – or joined with those who prefer money to decency, power to cooperation and bullying to concern.
Trump and Clinton are evidence, rather than causes, of something that’s been going on a long time: a growing indifference by the powerful to the things that kept us and our communities human.
We can not expect the media to judge something like this campaign through the eyes of citizens struggling to hold on to what we thought we shared. The media has become part of the soulless, morally vacuous elite and so it quizzes candidates about torture as though it was just one more budget issue.
I sometimes think that we are living in a second medieval age in in which the strong have enormous power but can only exercise it behind moats and in heavily walled castles because, in the end, they are truly scared. The rest of us live in villages on farms owned by the lords but in a culture that still retains some of the traditions, freedoms and values the elite no longer experiences. We are victims, but also models and preservers.
Often, when I go to a meeting in my small Maine town, I think: wouldn’t it be great if these folks were running the country? In such places, one must cooperate as well as compete, serve as well as lead, and be a useful part of things far larger than oneself.
There was a time not too many decades ago that this was also true in places like Washington. During the Great Society you didn’t have to just rely on a Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren for the decent way forward. There were at least a score of politicians on the Hill who purveyed the truth against those who would have it otherwise. Usually not a majority to be sure, but certainly far better than what we find ourselves with today. Even the opposition was – with rare exceptions like Joseph McCarthy – more inclined towards the decent despite their policies being off. Maine’s Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith, for example, had more integrity then the net character of all the current GOP presidential candidates. You didn’t, as we do with Donald Trump and his opponents, give hero status to narcissistic hustlers and bullies or describe exploitation and greed as worthy skills.
When I watch the presidential candidates in debate it seems that only John Kasich acts and speaks the way normal politicians with whom you disagreed once did while Bernie Sanders is the lone voice of dreams and decency. If nominated he would be the truest liberal Democrats have had on the ticket since Walter Mondale ran three decades ago.
But because liberalism has changed from a broad based ideology emphasizing economic issues to a narrow iconography tilted towards the interests of upper income voters, its supporters can’t figure why so many don’t like it any more.
And, after nearly a quarter century of covering Clinton cons, corruption and lies, I’ve pretty much come to realize that conventional liberals will never give up on a pair deeply responsible for America’s reversal of major achievements of the New Deal and Great Society. As far back as 1993, in my book Shadows of Hope, I described how Bill Clinton was picked by the Progressive Leadership Council to do just that – which he accomplished in such ways as eliminating the Glass-Steagall Act (helping to cause the recession of 2008) and attacking public welfare.
We now face the strong prospect of a contest between two of the best con artists in modern America: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. What they share is that they have no cause other than another victory for themselves. An ideology for one. A difference between them, though, is that Clinton cons some of America’s brighter voters and Trump cons the less bright. Unfortunately, there are more of the latter.
And there is another critical difference: Clinton is a Democrat and if we’re going to have a hustler in the White House, we should at least have one likely to preserve things like Social Security, food stamps, and public works. I will still vote for Clinton if she wins the nomination because I consider the election a choice between parties and policies, not between finalists in a political American Idol contest.
And, further, there are signs that a Clinton presidency would be a grim transition that we must endure in order to end the era of Democratic triangulation and start to rewrite the script for the future.
There are already some hopeful indications. The attraction of the young to Bernie Sanders, including young women who understand that gender equality means a common distribution of evil as well as virtue and not that any woman is better than any man.
There is also, in the Black Lives Matter movement, a revival of young black action. But there are also obstacles, such as the danger that the young will treat politics as one more thing to consume rather than to act upon and change, or that anger and critical judgements are a sufficient form of action.
If the young put down their cell phones and rewrite a future for this land that can be shared across gender, age and ethnicity, then we might finally enter an era that would make us proud again. The last time this was visible was some four decades with the punk movement and we have waited long enough for another chance.
We need not to seek a solution through politics’ natural course but through the way politics has to react to those who challenge that course. We need to start the election campaign of 2020 right now.