A Reset Button for Political America

We have reached the point in national politics where the two-party system is impeding not facilitating democracy. The Republican Party now serves as an umbrella for some of the nation’s most extreme rightwing elements. The Democrat Party, sclerotic and embedded with Wall Street, long ago betrayed its ties to working Americans. Turning a blind eye, the mainstream media hums merrily along, dishing out political pabulum bearing all the hallmarks of corporate-speak.

The political thermostat in Washington is stuck on toxic, the federal government is increasingly dysfunctional, and the overall political process has become surreal. Erstwhile leaders of the two Parties flounder in a world of unanticipated events and unintended consequences.

Enter Donald Trump, who acts as his own Party, runs roughshod over what remains of the Old Guard in the Republican Party and blows off the feckless Democrats as losers, demonstrating that the best of con men occasionally nail the truth.

Since the Republican Party’s judicial power grab of the 2000 Presidential Election, it has been on a slow, but steady, path towards becoming the rightwing political organ of the corporate state. The Party remains divided on social and trade issues, but there is a consensus among its leadership that government must ensure that corporate interests eclipse all others.  Public is bad beyond belief; private is good beyond your wildest dreams.

In 2008, liberal voters looked to the Democrat Party and President Obama to chart a progressive course.  Obama had convinced them that he would kick a field goal. But he dropped the ball again and again, leaving backers scrambling with mud – and egg – on their faces. Ardent supporters had hoped (the operative term) for peace abroad and a single payer health insurance program at home.  Instead, they got permanent war and Obamacare, a market-driven health insurance scheme wrapped in red tape and dollar signs. So much for hope.

The Democratic Party, now wedded to corporate interests and neo-liberal economic and trade policies, had moved right of center, ignoring the worsening plight of ordinary Americans. Queen Hillary was on a fast track to becoming the next president. Despite spending an obscene amount of money, she managed to lose the race to a megalomaniac whose only talent lies in attracting attention. Bernie Sanders stirred the pot, but his political revolution died on the vine when it was channeled into the Democratic Platform, a symbolic political tract that says everything but means nothing.

It is a tossup as to which of the two major Parties has betrayed the American people more. Preoccupied with meeting the wants of Wall Street, neither is meeting the basic needs of the voters.  Food insecurity (hunger), lack of public housing (homelessness), and low income (poverty) plague millions of Americans hourly while income inequality eats away at the social fabric.

In the face of this national rot, Republican operatives yawn and Democrats wring their hands. Angry, disenchanted voters respond predictably and rationally. Millions fail to register or opt to “go fishing” on Election Day. They know in their minds and at a gut level that the political system is indeed rigged – and not in their favor.

Flawed Parties produce flawed candidates. Towards the end of the presidential campaign, Trump and Clinton were viewed unfavorably by a majority of those polled. Following the election, Trump’s approval rating dropped well below 50 per cent, setting an historic low for an entering president. Essentially the Donald has been judged a failure even before he has taken office.

You don’t have to be a political scientist to see that the Electoral College is an impediment to democracy.  Rural Americans are vastly over-represented compared to urban dwellers. California and New York have too few senators (2 each); Wyoming and North Dakota too many (also 2 each.) The EC is a political anomaly, but one that acts as a highly effective tool in maintaining the status quo.  We are stuck with it as long as it serves the interests of the power brokers of the corporate state.

The corrupting influence of big money dwarfs the other problems. It has morphed the federal government into a junior partner with Wall Street. The President is now the nation’s most celebrated CEO. Trump embraces the label; it suits his brand to a T. Our country is his new company – his latest acquisition.  Or was it a hostile takeover?

Supreme Court justices are the national corporation’s board of directors. They embraced and broadened the corruption with the Citizens United ruling, allowing unlimited, anonymous campaign contributions under the guise of free speech. To state what should be obvious, corporations are not people. Treating them as such defies ordinary Americans’ notion of common sense.

Democracy is not quite dead in this country, but it is gasping for air; the power elite have choked it beyond recognition. Trump is openly contemptuous of majority rule, preferring the authoritarianism of a Putin or Erdogan.  If he continues down this path, one day soon he will dump Old Glory for a black flag emblazoned with TRUMP in gold capital letters.

We should reject the phony legitimacy of the Democratic and Republican Parties at every opportunity. They are hopelessly corrupt, caught in the throes of irrelevance and the pangs of self-parody. The Republicans are so divided they cannot decide whether to have a tea party or hold a revival meeting. The feckless Democrats should do the country a favor and disband instead of trying to resurrect a corpse.  Chris Hedges said it best: “The Democratic Party is not a real party. It is the shell of a party propped up by corporate money and a hyperventilating media.”

Our best shot at restoring democratic rule is to create a new progressive – proudly   left-of-center – political movement and galvanize behind it.  Organizing at the grassroots is essential, but we will need more than a movement to be successful. A dynamic new Party, one that progressives of all stripes can join and support, must be a top priority.

Recent history tells us that radical change will require marches, demonstrations, sit-ins, and economic boycotts on a national scale. Non-violent civil disobedience must be at the heart of the overall effort. We may never have a better time than the present to chart a new course and build the democratic movement and Party our nation deserves.

Wayne Clark is a retired public historian who writes about politics and society. He welcomes comments at waclark@comporium.net