August 21, 2015
There are sixteen declared candidates for the Republican nomination for the 2016 presidential election. They collectively span what is, by the standards of the contemporary Republican party, a broad socio-political spectrum. But one of those sixteen is making all the running, generating all the news, dominating the events — both those he attends, such as the first candidates debate earlier this month, and those he doesn’t, such as the high-powered confab convened by the Koch brothers, supposedly the supreme moneybags and power-brokers in the GOP.
However, every official Republican spokesman and every mainstream pundit, even those with clear Democratic leanings, has said umpteen times, both on and off the record, that Donald Trump cannot possibly win the nomination. As for becoming POTUS — that’s inconceivable.
On the other side of the field, the dominant, obvious, clear, front-runner and “shoe-in” for victory in the Democratic primaries, and hence candidate — and thence to the White House as the first-ever woman president — is Hilary Clinton. True, the voters don’t like her. True, too, that she is ensnared in yet another scandal, the latest in an amazingly long list of scandals that the Clintons have amassed over their joint careers. This one is not a murky scandal like Whitewater, rather it — the conduct of the country’s foreign affairs from her personal computer and email address — is on a par with Watergate. At least, that’s the opinion of Bob Woodward, and he knows a thing or two about presidents, candidates — and even Watergate.
Nevertheless, an old Caucasian male, a self-declared Socialist, is closing in on the obvious, clear-cut, certain Democratic candidate. This clapped-out has-been is not only making the running against Hilary, he is attracting much larger crowds than anyone on either side, including the Donald himself.
But every official Democratic spokesman and every mainstream pundit, event those with clear Republican leanings, has said umpteen times, both on and off the record, that Bernie Sanders cannot possibly win the nomination. As for becoming POTUS — that’s inconceivable.
The populist wave
The American political Establishment is plainly nonplussed, to put it very mildly, at the emergence of a populist surge that is sweeping the electorate on both sides of the artificial and largely meaningless divide that defines the party political system over there. Yet the only surprising thing about this surge is that it took so long to show up.
Everywhere else in the world, the populist wave has been gathering force for years. In some countries, it has plunged the system and the country into chaos (think Libya, but also Greece). In others, it has sparked revolution and counter-revolution (Egypt, Ukraine), or civil war (Yemen, Syria, Ukraine again). Even in Western Europe, where democracy and human rights supposedly reign supreme, no country has escaped the surge in political extremism, whether of the Left, Right, or both.
Indeed, even in Great Britain, the mother of parliaments, manufacturer and exporter of democratic ideals and practices, traditional politics has been blown away by the emergence of a plethora of “other” parties, of which two, the Scottish Nationalists and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) offer the heady brew of both know-nothing nationalism and loopy populism. This winning cocktail has garnered them many millions of votes — although, thanks to their country’s warped electoral system, very different results in terms of seats won.
As for France, another well-established Western democracy, the idea that Marine le Pen, could be President has moved from inconceivable, to couldn’t possibly happen, to a near-certainty that she will be a candidate in the second round in 2017….and the rest is wide open.
The list goes on, but the point has surely been made. In the golden age of post-war liberalism and stability, many things were effectively impossible in European and American politics. The list included the idea that countries could fall apart or break up, that extremist politicians and parties could attract mass support and become powerful, even gain power. All of this and much more was simply inconceivable. (Apropos of that phrase, see http://bit.ly/1qtYq6I and Inigo Montaya’s insightful comment that “I do not think that means what you think it means”).
Shallow, callow and corrupt
The forces at work in the world in the second decade of the 21st century are so different as to be unrecognizable to citizens of the world that existed in the second half of the 20th century. Demographic forces, both inside (the baby bust) and outside (mass emigration) the rich countries, is changing their societies at a pace probably never seen before.
Add to that the furious and fearsome scope and pace of economic upheaval, driven by technology, and it is no wonder that the mass of citizens are confused and increasingly concerned about their future and that of their children, their country and their culture. They look to their leaders, elected on the basis of promises, platforms and supposedly clear policies – and are disappointed and, increasingly, repulsed by the shallow, callow and corrupt cadre that have taken over parties and governments.
Inevitably, they turn to seemingly tough people who chant attractively simple slogans that offer short, sharp solutions to long-term, complex problems. The result is that “couldn’t possibly” scenarios are coming to parties, governments and countries near you, sooner than you can say “simply inconceivable”.