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The Clintons are Coming, the Clintons are Coming!

A Post-Mortem of the 2016 Elections

It has been clear for some time that next year’s Presidential election would finally relieve the world of the Bushes or the Clintons or both. That was the good news.

Better still: because Jeb Bush’s campaign is faltering, the Bushes could be finished sooner than anyone, a month or two ago, would have dared to hope. They could be out of our lives even before the first caucuses and primaries early next year.

Jeb isn’t toast yet, but only a Hail Mary pass can save him now.

Osama Bin Laden was a godsend for his brother, but the IS won’t help Jeb.

The IS can get “the West” revved back up to post 9/11 levels of hysteria. In the United States, it can ratchet up the fortunes of the War Party. Thanks to our exceptionally base and servile mainstream media, the process is already well underway.

Jeb can therefore count on the never ending War on Terror that his brother set in motion continuing to create an endless supply of terrorists; and he can count on Republicans and many Democrats demanding that America kill more Middle Easterners and Africans than it otherwise would, and exclude more refugees and asylum seekers than it is already doing.

But none of this will do much for Jeb’s prospects in 2016 – not with the Republican base. In the dark corners Republican caucus attendees and primary voters inhabit, vileness is all. Jeb is plenty vile; but, in that department, his rivals have him beat.

His personality is lackluster too; he has no charisma at all.

In a slightly better possible world, Jeb’s mindlessness and raging ignorance would be enough to do him in. But for Republican voters, these foibles are assets – witness Donald Trump.

The fact that his brother was the worst President ever ought to have made Jeb’s candidacy a non-starter in any case.

George W. unleashed a chain of horrors, the consequences of which only keep getting worse. The rise of the IS, the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe, and now the eruption of Islamist violence in the heart of Europe itself, are among the latest examples.

But these considerations are too subtle to register with Republican voters. Their problem with Jeb is only that he isn’t stupid or vile or outrageous enough.

Ironically, the most stupid, vile and outrageous candidate of all, the Donald, deserves credit too – for bringing down the House of Bush.   Trump’s candidacy has brought the Republican Party’s cultural contradictions to a breaking point, setting off an insurgency that nobody, least of all George W’s feckless brother, can hold back.

***

The bad news, though, is that the Clintons will be the first to reap the benefits of the Bush family’s political demise.

This is disappointing to say the least; Bill and Hillary have already done more than both President Bushes together to set the American and world economies on the wrong, neoliberal, track.

Because, as Democrats, they were able to bring potential opponents along, they accomplished what Ronald Reagan could only dream of doing. America’s and the world’s richest and most heinous capitalists may not all realize it, but they are all profoundly in the Clintons’ debt.

For promoting the neoconservative vision of American world domination, albeit in a “humanitarian” guise, the Clintons are second to none as well.

Now, they will be back with a vengeance. The fact is, though, that, even had Hillary’s candidacy met a fate similar to Jeb’s, the Clintons were not about to disappear from public life altogether.

With or without Hillary in the White House, the Clinton Foundation would still go on doing its smarmy, corporate-friendly, war-mongering thing. And the Clintons’ debilitating hold over the “commanding heights” of the Democratic Party would, in all likelihood, continue unabated too.

Indeed, we may actually be better off with Hillary in the race than out – at least for a while. Because to become President, she must first become the Democrats’ nominee, Hillary is, for now, talking a less Clintonite line than she otherwise would.

Evidently, she and her advisors have concluded that, at this point, it would make no sense to alienate the many voters who, justifiably wary of the devil they know, prefer Bernie Sanders.

It is highly doubtful though, that any good will come of this in the end; but, for now, Hillary’s newly discovered “progressivism” on economic policy issues does make her inevitability seem a tad less dreadful to contemplate.

The holiday will soon be over, however – because, again thanks to Trump, she and her handlers will likely decide, before long, that lesser evil considerations more than suffice to insure her election, and that they no longer need to work to keep progressives on board.

They will figure that it makes more sense for them to court America’s later-day “malefactors of great wealth” than to address the concerns of the ninety-nine percent who suffer at their expense. After all, the former just might be stupid and greedy enough to support a Republican who promises to put more money in their pockets, while, as every establishment Democrat believes, the latter have nowhere else to go.

For the time being, though, Hillary still feels that she needs to make nice to Sanders – and Martin O’Malley – enthusiasts. They should savor the moment. After the nomination is in the bag, Hillary will be free to neglect or deride them to her heart’s content.

She will be able to do that with impunity because 2016 is shaping up to be a banner year for lesser evilists.   Only aging “New” Democrats and Second Wave feminists actually like Hillary, but the Republicans have no candidate whom anyone with any sense at all could support.

America doesn’t lack for people with no sense at all, but, fortunately, there are not nearly enough of them to elect a Republican this time around.

This is why a post mortem of the 2016 election is feasible even now, a year in advance, no matter what horrors and catastrophes, like the one that just transpired in Paris, lie ahead.

We can already say, with nearly complete assurance, that the Democratic candidate will be Hillary Clinton, and, with even greater assurance, that the Democrat, even if it is someone else, will win.

Nevertheless, the talking heads on cable TV, and their counterparts in what passes for a quality press, are doing their best to make the general election seem competitive.

Why wouldn’t they? A horse race is good for advertising revenues; and, true to the mission of corporate media, for diverting attention away from serious political concerns.

Corporate media outlets are also doing their best to marginalize Sanders’ candidacy.

With the Democrats’ paymasters and their Party establishment backing Hillary to the hilt, the Sanders campaign has always been a long shot. But an avalanche of self-fulfilling prophecies, coupled with as much malign neglect as those “manufacturers of consent” can muster, can’t hurt.

With the Sanders and O’Malley campaigns effectively marginalized, the only real horse race is the one for the Republican nomination. Expect to hear a lot about that in the next few months.

This too is unfortunate: a less edifying spectacle would be hard to imagine.

Needless to say, for anyone who takes political ideas seriously, the race for the GOP nomination is of no interest whatever. Who cares what a dozen or so bozos think?

But because presidential elections draw so much political oxygen into their ambit, they cannot fail to be at least somewhat instructive – if only for shedding light on the sorry state of public life. For those who can observe them without falling into despair, they can be morbidly fascinating as well.

There is therefore some point in bucking up and tuning in, as Republican candidates insult the intelligence of everyone outside their benighted sphere of influence.

***

The Trump saga is a case in point; and not just because it is shaping up to be consequential in ways that no one would have imagined even a few months ago.

Does Trump believe even a third of the nonsense he spouts?   Going by positions he has taken in the past, the answer is No. Of course, he could have taken took a sharp turn towards stupid in the past few years. This is not impossible; the Republican Party is where people who have done precisely that generally end up.

More likely, though, he says what he says only to win over the hearts and minds of the know-nothings whose votes he seeks. It has always been that way with him; even more than the Clintons, Trump is a rank opportunist, and nothing more.

But, in the end, who knows what he really wants? Perhaps not even Trump himself.

Nevertheless, in one of history’s many ironies, that wheeler-dealer tabloid billionaire and reality TV star, that paragon of over the top bad taste, could, through his campaigning, become a man of destiny – remembered for nothing less than mortally wounding the GOP.

That would be no mean achievement. Despite its Lincolnesque origins and storied past, the Republican Party has become the favorite instrument of the most loathsome characters in American politics today. Whoever or whatever does it harm deserves praise.

Even so, knocking off the Republican Party is probably not Trump’s aim. More likely, the consequences of his machinations and his intentions are just wildly out of sync.

We should therefore be careful not to give the Donald more credit than he deserves, even if, in the end, he accomplishes great things.

In the same vein, we should be wary of condemning him for leading a xenophobic, quasi-fascist “populist” movement. This may be what he is doing “objectively.” It is doubtful, though, that the thought has ever crossed his mind.

More likely, there is nothing more to Trump’s current, or past, political escapades than his pathologically overblown propensity to compete for competitiveness’ sake.

All the attention the media has been lavishing on him therefore is of interest – not for political theorists or philosophers, but, for historians in the years ahead and, in the here and now, for clinicians and other investigators of the vagaries of the human mind.

***

Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are less colorful than Trump, and their ideas, such as they are, are no more worth taking seriously. Nevertheless, their campaigns do more than Trump’s to put into focus the theocratic and libertarian temptations to which segments of the American voting public sometimes succumb.

As for the other participants in this season’s Republican goon show, the less said the better.

For now, Marco Rubio is the mainstream media’s Jeb Bush substitute du jour; evidently, in a party stacked with Carly Fiorinas and Chris Christies, he is deemed the least risible of the lot.

There is also John Kasich, who, like the hapless Bobby Jindal, is too colorless to survive for long, even if he can make himself out to be the adult in the room. Does anyone even remember his face?

In an only slightly less decrepit political culture than ours, the whole sorry lot of them would be paid no attention at all. Carson especially.

Yet, for now, Carson is second only to Trump in the polls. On the weirdness scale, he is second to none, however; and not just in the way that affable, non-threatening, rightwing African Americans sometimes are.

That he is there at all boggles the mind.

When something is comparatively easy to figure out or to do, we say that “it isn’t rocket science.” It is not clear why.   Rocket science is hard, but not uniquely hard; it is odd that it is singled out. Brain surgery is singled out too. Like rocket science it is widely assumed that it is a profession for really smart people only.

What, then, is the deal with Carson?   By all accounts, he used to be an ace brain surgeon. And yet it is hard to believe that anyone – especially anyone as well credentialed as he — could be dumb enough to believe the things he does.

Like surgeons of all kinds, brain surgeons exercise skills that are difficult even for talented and well-educated people to perfect. But those skills are not always related to, or even correlated with, knowing a lot or being good at dealing with symbols in the ways that meritocratic educational systems prize and that people generally identify with smartness.

The hurdles that students must get past on the way to becoming brain surgeons very likely involve smartness more than brain surgery itself does.

Among other things, students must acquire a certain level of scientific culture and competence.

Any brain surgeon, indeed any doctor, would therefore have to have at least a passing knowledge of evolutionary theory, and would have to know how empirically well corroborated the theory is.

Yet Carson believes the Biblical account of creation and of the origin of species — not in some metaphorical sense, but literally. He therefore holds beliefs that contradict what he knows (and, since knowledge includes belief, what he believes).

It follows, then, that even if he is as great a surgeon as he seems to think he is, and as he is said to be, his views are incoherent.

It is also evident that the smarts he does have don’t have much to do with being a President of the United States. Even his defenders concede that Carson knows little and cares less about politics, economics and world affairs.

Remarkably, his ignorance doesn’t seem to affect his self-confidence. Like Trump, the man seems unable to imagine, even for a moment, that he might be out of his depth – or wrong.

It is even more remarkable that his manifest shortcomings, like Sarah Palin’s eight years ago, don’t disqualify him in the minds of his admirers.

Trump’s supporters are not especially theocratic; most of them could care less about religion. They find Trump appealing because he has a badass attitude — because he puts down everybody in his way, and talks trash.

Carson’s admirers are cut from a different cloth; they are godly folk. What draws them to Carson is that they see their faith in his.

Strangely, though, it hardly matters, to them, that Carson’s Seventh Day Adventists beliefs are, by their (evangelical) lights, more than a little weird. Their theocratic instincts are not doctrinal; they care little, or not at all, about theology.

What matters to them is godliness itself. Any Abrahamic conception of God passes muster in their eyes – so long, of course, as the God in question is not named Allah.

This defies rational explanation, but then so does Carson’s worldview and general purchase on reality. The man is a muddle – Yale and Johns Hopkins should be ashamed.

Princeton and the Harvard Law School have much to answer for too – for having let Ted Cruz loose upon the world. That man is one blustery, insufferable gusano.

He is too is a theocrat, or at least he plays one on TV, when he is hustling for theocratic votes.

But unlike Carson, he tends towards zealotry, not affability. His personality is such that it is hard even for people who generally agree with him not to hate his guts. From the moment he entered the Senate, Cruz has been a thorn in the side of the Republican establishment, and of many of his Tea Party colleagues as well.

Somehow, though, his contempt for politicians doesn’t resonate quite as much with the Republican base as Trump’s does. Perhaps this is because, in this as in his religious posturing, a certain inauthenticity shows through.

Cruz wants to be the thinking man’s (and woman’s?) Rick Santorum. What an odd ambition for someone who did well enough in Law School to clerk for a Supreme Court Chief Justice! To be sure, it was William Rehnquist, a thoroughly rightwing jurisprude, but even so.

Could it be that Cruz has no shame? Or that this former debating champion, trained to defend positions he may not endorse, is faking it? More likely, he is only, for the sake of political expediency, accentuating one of his many unappealing sides. Whatever he is doing, it is not likely to do him much good.

Apart from Federalist Society types and others who think that, say, George Will is an important public intellectual, it is only the lesser evilists whom Hillary is counting on who care about academic achievements. The godly folk in Cruz’s target audience could care less. For being like them, and being liked by them, Cruz can’t hold a candle to Santorum or, for that matter, to Mike Huckabee, the most no account bumpkin of the entire Republican lot.

Cruz is not even the top libertarian in the Republican fold. That honor falls to Rand Paul.

As a more or less principled libertarian, Paul’s views on surveillance, on aspects of trade policy and corporate welfare, and on war and peace are more progressive than those of any of his Republican rivals, including Cruz, the other self-declared libertarian in the race – and better by far than Hillary Clinton’s.

He has more sensible views on Middle East issues too, though even he has have fallen under the sway of the Israel lobby. But none of this will help him become the Republican nominee, any more than Jeb Bush’s testosterone-laden ravings will improve his chances. In both cases, the competition is too stiff.

Bush is still the establishment’s favorite, even with his campaign faltering, while Paul is and always has been unloved by the establishment and the plutocracy it serves. To the extent that his libertarianism actually is principled, it puts banksters’ and other capitalists’ abilities to use state power to further their pecuniary interests in jeopardy. The pillars of the Party, notwithstanding their official commitment to small government and their faith in “free markets,” can hardly stand for that!

It bears mention too that Paul’s commitment to choice is trumped, as it were, by his opposition to abortion; and that this is not the only area in which his views take a godly turn — unlike those of his namesake, Ayn Rand, who famously regarded all true believers with contempt.

The situation on the Republican side is so pathetic that Trump actually could become the GOP nominee, if he that is indeed what he wants. No one, it now seems, can stop him. Only he can stop himself.

Would anyone be surprised if he does – if, after having competed successfully, and perhaps also after having earned his place in history — he moves on to less onerous, more lucrative or more sybaritic pursuits?

American politics these days is weird enough that, if there were a way to do it that would not offend his pathological need always to be the boss, Trump’s once and future pal Hillary could offer him some cushy post in her administration – that is, if the Donald would not consider it beneath him to be appointed, say, ambassador to France or to the Court of St. James.

There is no principled ideological reason why not; and, since rank opportunists seldom hold permanent grudges, no psychological barriers stand in the way either.

Improbable, yes! But no more ridiculous than a race for the GOP nomination in which the leading figures are an egomaniacal real estate mogul and a knuckleheaded sawbones, while a Jeb Bush protégé, Marco Rubio, a gusano nearly as dumbass as Cruz, waits to pick up the pieces.

***

Those of us with a taste for the absurd should enjoy the circus while we can because, back in the real world, the Clintons are coming.

The Bushes will be gone, but we will have Hillary instead and that won’t be amusing or enjoyable at all.

Barack Obama is already looking good in comparison. Soon even his most ardent detractors will be missing him terribly.

More articles by:

ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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