Apart from excited Trump supporters, there are few in the United States and elsewhere anticipating his inauguration with hope for the future and gratitude over his success. The fact is, if the United States had had a functioning and rational democratic polity and if the rule of law had been an organic quality of its institutions, then Donald Trump would not be poised to become president of the United States. He would be contemplating a jail term instead. Moreover, at this moment, he is slated to violate the emolument clause of the Constitution (Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8), and willingly so. His willfulness is unsurprising because sleaze defined his business career, vice his personal life.
More importantly, we can be certain that a rational democratic polity, namely, a political system in which a well-informed demos could significantly influence the institutions and decisions of the state, would not produce a Hilary Clinton or a Donald Trump as the only feasible candidates for president. This certainty reflects the fact that these candidates were so bad that reasonable individuals would not choose either for president. They would choose instead someone worthy of the office, picking from a candidate pool that offered defensible but different solutions to the problems at hand. How do we know they would make a better choice? We know because we identify someone as reasonable because they consistently act reasonably.
Consider Trump’s adversary. Just like Hillary Clinton’s preferred opponent, crime and corruption, incompetence and hypocrisy stain her persona, and presumably her soul. Her Foundation functioned as a bagman for her influence peddling. As the First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State, she produced a record composed of imperial war-making and genocide, of rapacious attacks on the subordinate classes and groups, of the transformation of the welfare state into the carceral state and of the waste of capital by Wall Street. Today, Hillary and Bill Clinton, along with Barack Obama, stand before the world as the faces of a country suffering an irreversible decline, and of a state much more dangerous to its citizens and others than any state known to us. It is exceptional only in the dangers it makes real.
Amazing as it may seem, given the power vested in the office they sought, Americans despised both candidates. This hatred included some of their partisan ‘allies.’ At times, candidate Trump appeared as though he wanted to ruin the Republican Party. He attacked his opponents as well as party regulars. Naturally, his party reciprocated. It now appears obvious that a large fraction of America’s security-surveillance apparatus want to destroy him. Likewise, the FBI, or a fraction thereof, attempted to wreck Hillary Clinton late in the campaign. She clearly harmed her party through her tainted primary victory and her decisive loss to a buffoon like Donald Trump. Along the way she alienated the leftwing of her party with her arrogant march to defeat, treatment that continues with the post-election faction battles occurring across the country.
And she, along with the party elite, seemed to have learned nothing from their defeat. They blame others (Russia and Putin!) for their failings. They believe they were stabbed in the back by the FBI, Sander’s supporters and Green Party members. They fail to realize that their grafting of neoliberalism and identity politics works well only when the country enjoys a bubble inflating. They have only indifference, patronizing gestures and a mailed fist whenever the bubble deflates. Neoliberalism does not play in hard times. Only a simpleton would believe otherwise. Enriching the already rich, empowering the already powerful — neoliberal nostrums require heavy doses of ideological foolishness, narcolepsy and nativist bluster to swallow, when making ends meet becomes a difficult problem.
Even ideology and identity fail when capitalism torments the electorate, who vote with their pocketbook even when they choose to follow this or that charismatic leader. Like any candidate, the neoliberals need voters once they spend their billions on a campaign. They need to offer something to the electorate. They need democratic legitimacy. Even running against a Donald Trump could not put Hillary Clinton in office, she the charmless Princess of negative charisma. As a system politician, she offered nothing but more of the same.
Despite his triumph, most Americans do not care for Donald Trump. Because of this his electoral victory amounts to a personal defeat. He did not win the popular vote, and he lacks democratic legitimacy because of it. He is a populist lacking popular support. His inauguration might become a social disaster. Few wish to attend, applaud and cheer. Musicians break agreements to abandon him. Hollywood ridicules him. His cabinet nominees disgrace themselves when they appear before Congress. The CIA and MI6 collude to spoil his already damaged reputation. He may quit the job or Congress may impeach him. The bar is set low.
I suspect that we may be living through a decisive moment in American history. By decisive I mean it is a time pregnant with the promise of radical change. I am not alone in this regard. The duopoly party system that emerged after Watergate, a regime that expressed the neoliberal turn in the nation’s political economy, is all but spent. It never had a defensible moral compass. The needle of its political compass always pointed to Hell. To my mind the Obama administration provided the farcical endgame for this regime. He was a system politician, and for most Americans, that system came to be a source of worry and debt, of a better future that would never come. I also suspect that many Americans believed Obama would deliver a politics that realized the hopes he elicited from them on the campaign trail. He would not be another phony leader. He would follow the path set by Martian Luther King, whose name Obama invoked. His reforms would make their lives better.
But Obama was a phony. For Obama, King provided a symbol he cynically appropriated, not a model for a political ethos. He thus gave America another failed presidency, reckless war-making, surveillance and a rawer form of capitalism. Out of his failures and their hopeless some Americans looked towards a Trump, some towards a Sanders. I leave it to my readers to judge whether the sociopath or the fellow traveler would make successful presidents under present circumstances, when radical change confronts us.