US voters will cast their ballots with varying degrees of disdain for either of the rival contenders that a torturous primary-election system has thrown up. Sadly, that choice, between a congenital liar and an egomaniacal dilettante, is also a symptom of the malaise that has eroded the country’s very spirit
A long and recent essay, “The Flight 93 Election”, published pseudononymously in the Claremont Review of Books, sought to advance the case for backing Donald Trump in the coming elerction. Lavishly praised by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, it has also engendered a spirited response from all the expected voices. Its title was inspired, of course, by the doomed heroism of the passengers who, rather than submit meekly to the 9/11 hijackers, fought their way into the cockpit intent on regaining control.
Although argued from a paleoconservative view and in a very problematic way, the essay strives to make the point that both the GOP and conservatism have failed utterly in foiling leftism’s subversion of all the key institutions — a slow and relentless coup that has spawned the curse of political correctness and, with it, the ongoing erosion of Western society and values. Trump—while far from perfect—is therefore the only way of bursting into the metaphorical flight deck. Those politicians and pundits who self-identify as being #NeverTrump constitute—along with Democrats and other (small-l) liberals—a “junta” that is committed to the status quo and, therefore, the election of Hillary Clinton). Or so the author argues.
The essay prompted something of a furor — and something useful as well, in that it defined quite clearly the battle lines of November 8’s election. Although there are only two parties, there are three distinct groups:
- that section of the left ardent in its desire to see a Hillary Clinton victory;
- the so-called Trumpites or Trumpkins, a category which also includes almost all paleoconservatives and the increasingly vocal and alarming “alt-right”; and
- the #NeverTrump Republicans (including Presidents G. H. W. Bush and G. W. Bush, Henry Kissinger, Condoleezza Rice and an unknowable number of others)—and some Democrats, especially Bernie Sanders’ irked supporters—who cannot stomach the thought of Hillary in the Oval Office (the majority of “true” conservatives and neoconservatives).
But the most useful aspect of this public spat is the emergence and enunciation of a certain truth—indeed, a diagnosis, of sorts—succinctly stated by the Claremont Review‘s pseudonymous essayist: “Only in a corrupt republic, in corrupt times, could a Trump rise.” This statement encapsulates just about every aspect of what is so deeply troubling about America right now.
It should be noted that such a diagnosis rests on the accommodation of two alternate theories of who, or what, is responsible for Trump’s ascension. Certain US political commentators have written in support of blaming the country’s “elite” (the political “establishment”, its media enablers and certain sections—predominantly white and educated—of the middle class), while others have pointed to Trump’s recognition of the fact that only 30% of Americans believe their country is on the right track (a consistent finding since the public was first polled about this in 2009), plus his success in appealing to the disaffected.
In fact, both points of view are correct. Trump has drawn attention to the national malaise, and he has styled himself its only solution. And in realizing as much, let’s not forget that more than anyone else Hillary Clinton is seen by many as the personification of that same “corrupt and rancid” elite. While Trump-led insurrectionist GOPers vs. a Clinton-led Democrat incumbency surely speaks to the 180-degree inversion of American politics that now envelops the country, that portrayal overlooks the granularity and complexity of the real underlying malaise. That so few public intellectuals on both sides of politics have picked up on this speaks to a national lack of insight. A more studious assessment of the broader political and cultural illness was accurately depicted by commentator and editor of the online opinion magazine The Federalist, Ben Domenech, when he wrote one year ago:
The rise of Trump is an epic expression of frustration with the American political system, and it is a natural outgrowth of frustrations with America’s changing demographics; the hollowing out of white working class values and culture…; and what life is like when governed by the administrative state, where the president increasingly acts as a unilateral executive and elected representatives consistently ignore the people’s priorities.
In response, America and its left-leaning commentariat have been laser-focused on quite legitimate concerns over Trump’s populist, nativist and racially-tinged instincts. Yet in the end, such preoccupation represents little more than a costly distraction from a badly needed, hard-nosed and honest evaluation of what has caused “the greatest nation on earth” to come off its rails.
UNDERSTANDING the extent of societal corruption and decay in a country 240 years after it was founded in exceptional circumstances is difficult, if not heartbreaking. Accepting that this has occurred in a nation that has been the principle enabler of Pax Americana— the global stability and peace prevalent since the end of World War II—is equally painful. This “American exceptionalism” is now giving way to a post-Exceptionalism future—in fact a re-invigoration, in Tocquevillian terms, of l’ancien régime (or perhaps an American neo-fundamentalism). Recognition of this transformation is not as difficult as determining the sequence of events that led to what might have once been thought an improbable situation.
Yuval Levin, in his highly acclaimed 2016 book The Fractured Republic documents America’s hopelessly outdated, ossified, Great Society-style institutional governance and the country’s utter failure to galvanize its fragmented, hyperindividualistic culture with appropriate civic renewal and reform. As Levin states:
[The] understanding of social democracy as the wave of the future has left some liberals unwilling to consider the faults and failures of the particular welfare-state institutions we have. Those institutions, largely designed and built at midcentury, embody an ideal of centralized administration that is increasingly out of step with American life: it assumes immense competence on the part of the federal bureaucracy; requires public spending at levels that are increasingly unaffordable; undermines (and deeply mistrusts) the mediating institutions of society; and demands a degree of public confidence in our national institutions that we have not seen in half a century. Indeed, this outdated model for solving problems is what now stands out most about the social-democratic vision that implicitly guides the American Left: although it offers itself up as a vision of the future, it is an anachronism. It is how the past used to think about the future.
Charles Murray, Robert Putnam, J. D. Vance and, most recently and factually, the demographer Nicholas Eberstadt chronicle the immiserating of whites without college degrees, among whom drug abuse and lifelong unemployment are rampant. The widespread cultural and social angst and reduced intergenerational mobility is documented in recent Gallup study, particularly so among Trump supporters). The elitist dismissal of potentially ruinous societal ills—dissolution of family; decline in religion amid an increasingly vapid and spiritually void popular culture; loss of trust in government, and the undermining of constitutional-democratic principles by judicial and executive overreach—are all core components of this malaise. Yet much has also been written in recent months of not only the failure of this numerically unclear section of society to “own” the responsibility for their social ills, but that their despair is “finding expression in support of Donald Trump”, as commentator John Daniel Davidson suggests. One could imagine such despair to be channeled through their singular agency as a voting bloc; however, they are likely to be disappointed by the failure of Trump’s anti-trade and anti-immigrant rhetoric to curtail such widespread substance abuse and rehabilitate dysfunctional lives. Only social connectedness through community and civic engagement can address those problems.
In different settings but in a similar context, American societal dysfunction calls for the admirable but uncommon work of the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, a black pastor who has dedicated himself to providing psychological and spiritual support for members of his community disenfranchised by family enucleation, as well as re-tooling them with life skills and leadership training. Peterson seeks to fill the damaging void left by absent black fathers (described in his book The Antidote). Instead, Obama has befriended and welcomed into the White House the George Soros-funded, radical-Left/Marxist Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, an organization that rose to prominence after Obama’s successful attempt to sow racially charged political division across America following occasional but tragic deaths involving suspected criminals (who happened to be black). A major protest march in Dallas in June, organized in response to two such deaths within days, was eclipsed by the shooting deaths of five Dallas police officers by a lone black gunman in the middle of it. Although the gunman had no formal ties to BLM, the movement’s bellicose rhetoric—and an uncharacteristically divisive speech given by President Obama himself earlier that day—no doubt created much of the toxic and frenzied environment of which the Dallas police shootings (the equal second-worst fatal attack on police in a century) caqn quite reasonably be assumed to be a consequence.
The renewed focusing, by BLM and the left, on the thoroughly discredited notion that the social problems of blacks in America today is due to slavery, a practice that ended 150 years ago, is a prominent example of the sophistry that corrupts social and political discourse. As detailed below, this pernicious behavior continues to blight the nation. On the subject of mobility and education in the nation’s black community, respected black academics and commentators Dr. Thomas Sowell (of the Hoover Institution) and Jason Riley (the Manhattan Institute) have provided compelling evidence that these have both deteriorated under the progressive leadership of President Obama Absent today is the deeply moral vision of community stalwarts, notably Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., during the civil-rights era, who strove to encourage family values, schooling and education. Sowell laments the moral corruption of dominant black community organizations that has occurred in the decades since. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), for example, in its desire to maintain the welfare state has become hostage to special interest groups (such as teachers’ unions), resulting in formal opposition to institutions that actually advance the cause of black people (charter schools and vouchers, in this instance).
Another consequence of this racial division, as academic and writer Heather Mac Donald explains in her book The War on Cops and also here, is the ongoing murderous violence in cities such as Chicago, where over 500 homicides have occurred—largely in black communities—since the beginning of 2016 (an increase of 50% over the same period in 2015). She describes the “Ferguson effect”, named for the Missouri city in which a policeman (who was white) was wrongly believed to have unjustifiably shot and killed a thug (who was black), leading to citywide rioting and civil unrest. Police have become loathe to use appropriate force in proactive policing, as Mac Donald notes, “under the onslaught of criticism from the BLM movement and its political and media enablers.” If only prominent black community leaders, such as Al Sharpton and Barack Obama, would have modeled the communitarianism of Jesse Lee Peterson, instead of the identity politics of BLM, perhaps there would have been far less blood on US streets this year.
And yet the Left, including BLM and its media enablers, would have us believe the Chicago murders are the corollary of the Second Amendment right to bear arms, despite Chicago having perhaps the most stringent gun-control laws in the entire country. Other atrocities involving gun violence—including radical Islamic terrorism (Fort Hood, San Bernardino, Orlando — take your pick)—are similarly attributed, despite blinding evidence to the contrary. It appears not have occurred to opponents and enemies of the National Rifle Association that it is not the weapon but the motivation that is most relevant; after all, an Islamist with a truck needed no gun to strew scores of victims about a Nice promenade.)
The Democratic Party is not only part of the corrupted system, but is itself inherently corrupt, and prone to mendacity and malfeasance. Flagrant corruption has been revealed within its internal politics (exposed by WikiLeaks at the DNC’s national convention) and through the Obama administration’s disdain for the rule of law. The breathtakingly brazen venality with which Hillary Clinton (while Secretary of State) and her husband (former President Bill Clinton) appear to have behaved in merging her State Department activities with those of her family’s Clinton Foundation is but one exam[ple — a case study in corruption examined by investigator by Peter Schweizer in both a book and a film. In an effort to explain the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi on September 11, 2012—during which four Americans were killed, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens (the first US ambassador to be killed in the line of duty since 1979)—Hillary Clinton, who was responsible for America’s presence in Libya, concocted the fiction of a spontaneous reaction to a US-made, anti-Islam YouTube video. Official testimony has revealed this to be a deliberate attempt to deceive the family members of the killed US soldiers and the American public.
In another instance the government doctored its own intelligence gathered during the present conflict with Islamic State simply to better suit its preferred but misleading narrative concerning that conflict. In yet another, the public discovered it had been deceived about how the government secured the release of imprisoned US citizens in Iran when the bizarre details of a secret ransom payment in cash were released by the Iranians several months later. The same administration used deceptive tactics to secure passage of its controversial—and now demonstrably unsuccessful—Obamacare legislation (the Affordable Care Act) intended to refinance the country’s unevenly-applied and grossly inefficient healthcare system. And just this week, the GOP introduced a resolution to impeach the administration’s Internal Revenue Service commissioner for having “engaged in a pattern of conduct that is incompatible with his duties as an officer of the United States,” referring to the excessive but unjustified scrutiny applied by the IRS to 426 conservative-leaning entities which were targeted simply because of their partisan affiliations. While the public learned of this tendentious behavior in 2013, documents obtained recently under the Freedom of Information Act indicate the FBI was aware of it as early as 2011; neither it nor the Department of Justice undertook to prosecute those responsible.
PERHAPS the most egregious manifestations of America’s malaise are evident in its culture. These manifestations are not uniquely American; indeed, they afflict Western civilization in general. Some have referred to a “Europeanization” of America; however, it appears that developments in the US are more than just a reflection of trends that may have emanated from Europe’s social democratic tendencies. The issues have long since been widely reported and recognized. I am referring, of course, to the transmogrification of the libertarian American psyche into one that is animated by the libertine impulses of radical individualism. Collective public confusion about the meaning of both morality and liberty has led to a paradoxical climate of “political correctness” characterized by an illiberal identity politics. To paraphrase Yuval Levin, both identity politics and moral chaos are the logical conclusions of American society’s expressive (and radical) individualism. To be sure, the origins of the current hyper-individualism are to be found in the latter half of the 20th century; however, there seems little doubt their current incarnations—some examples of which I will mention—are a direct consequence of the progressive, polarizing policies of the Obama administration. Indeed, on his election to the presidency in 2007, Barack Obama promised to “fundamentally change” America. Whichever election promises he may have broken, that was surely not one of them.
The characteristics of the now dominant culture of political correctness and the attitudes inspired by it are protean. In the terminology of the “culture wars”, the “New Left” has won the recent battles. Victory snatched by progressive-minded folk (once identified as the “counterculture”) who have championed various causes is not in itself a bad thing. Some would legitimately cite improvements in society as a result of their efforts, while others would say they were merely meretricious. Regardless of opinion, these victories (e.g. the legalization of same-sex marriage, the enacting of laws to promote carbon abatement) are not responsible for the cultural malaise. What has contributed to corrupted societal behavior is the emergence—from the left—of a pervasively soft totalitarianism, an invidious neo-Puritanism. In a recent incisive opinion piece G. R. O’Brien criticizes the pernicious behavior of the New Left as follows:
The New Left evolved from the New Left of the 1960s, adding third-wave feminism, the LGBT movement, the consolidation of post-colonialism and “privilege theory”: Having won some recent battles in the culture wars, the triumphalist counterculture now demands persecution of all those with dissenting views. Its greatest claims should be familiar to most of us by now: gender is socially constructed rather than based in biology; the West is uniquely despicable for its history of imperialism; racial identity rather than individual action determines guilt and responsibility; and capitalism has increased rather than decreased poverty and exploitation.
The New Left’s orthodoxies have over time pervaded government and major public and private institutions, and their proponents now seek to control virtually every aspect of our lives. Examples of this include a national preoccupation with gender equality, even to the extent that it has become “politically incorrect” to require transgendered individuals to use male or female public bathrooms according to the gender they were assigned in utero, even to use conventional pronouns when referring to such people.
There are far too many examples of the illiberal tendencies vested in identity politics to list them all, but what needs to be called out is the undeniable result of such politics: that American society has become riven with divisions by race (as noted above), religion, sexual orientation, gender and class. In “PC-speak” (hauntingly reminiscent of George Orwell’s fictional “Newspeak”), these divisions—and the requirement to recognize to them—are commonly understood by the more anodyne but euphemistic terms “diversity”, “equality” and “inclusion”. Emblematic of the immense societal pressure to conform to this new orthodoxy is the very frequent use of the labels “homophobic”, “xenophobic”, “Islamophobic”, “racist” and “bigoted”—especially in the incorrigibly biased, left-leaning media. These are the epithets almost certain to be hung on all and any who dissent. Roger Sandall’s 2001 book The Culture Cult describes the mainstreaming of the anti-bourgeois bohemianism of the left; this “counterfeit culture”, as the Australian US observer and commentator Daryl McCann portrays it in his review of Sandall, “has allowed so-called progressives, including academic activists such as [Germaine] Greer, to barbarize our institutions, hijack the political agenda, immiserate those caught in the margins of society, and generally diminish our freedom of expression through their PC dogma.”
Perhaps nowhere is the pressure to conform—and the censorious response elicited upon failure to do so—more concentrated than on American college campuses. O’Brian draws attention to universities’ commitment to the undermining of Western civilization since at least the 1990s (but likely going back to earlier decades), and he cites as a contributing factor conservatism’s gradual abandonment of the university. The repercussions of unchecked illiberal fetishes— excuses for censorship and coercd conformity—are widespread. Examples of curtailment of freedom of speech abound, whether they manifest in the heckling and shouting down of invited speakers with views and opinions that are entirely legitimate and inoffensive but run counter to the neo-orthodoxy, or the dis-inviting of such speakers simply to avoid debate and ameliorate the incipient threat of violence. While it’s true that some audiences have found some campus speakers insensitive to their feelings, the shutting down of free speech is not only illiberal (and undemocratic and un-American) but also anti-intellectual. Campuses have become the marketplace of ideas only in a superficial sense, and then only if they conform to the neo-orthodox “requirements” of diversity, equality and inclusion in which are devoid of inherent value.
Yet these same campuses are content to shut down pro-Israel perspectives because they do not please the social-justice warriors of the Left, who only tolerate views on the subject that echo a pro-Palestinian narrative. In a recent incident, UCLA reprimanded the former (non-Jewish) president of its Graduate Student Association for threatening to withhold funding for an event if it promoted the cause of the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement against Israel. This action forced him to exit the university and pursuehis law degree elsewhere. In a letter to UCLA chancellor Gene Block, Milan Chatterjee wrote:
“Your administration has not only allowed BDS organizations and student activists to freely engage in intimidation of students who do not support the BDS agenda, but has decided to affirmatively engage in discriminatory practices of its own against those same students. Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, the fact is that the UCLA campus has become a hostile and unsafe environment for students, Jewish students and non-Jewish, who choose not to support the BDS movement, let alone support the State of Israel.”
While American university campuses assert that all speech is free, in an unwitting homage to George Orwell’s dystopian Animal Farm, some speech topics are clearly more free than others. Campuses also have not been spared from more contemporary fictions, such the PC-inspired mythology that past racial injustices perpetuate ongoing racism in American society: there are several instances of decisions made by campus administrators to rename buildings because the names they have borne were those of slave owners. In an ironic twist, the cognitive dissonance of the Left now fosters racial isolation and balkanization on campus in an effort to counter “white privilege”. Traditional educative philosophy, which determines the value of curricula based on the merits of its works, has now acceded to the demands of a “social justice”, whereby value is apparently evinced if the curriculum reflects “diversity” and avoids overrepresentation of literature and other works that are “too white” or “too Western”. In summary, America’s universities—both public and private—have become left-wing indoctrination centers that venerate identity instead of inquiry. In this they represent the very spirit and essence of cultural decay.
A disturbing manifestation of this identity politics that has developed more recently is increasingly common anti-patriotic behavior, even overt anti-Americanism, ginned up by the country’s racially divisive president, discussed in detail here by Daryl McCann. The “Stars and Stripes” and The Star-Spangled Banner are now seen by some—particularly young (and impressionable) professional footballers and other athletes—as symbols of a racist USA — an America so racist, apparently, that individuals (and in some cases entire teams) are refusing to sing the national anthem at major sporting events—notably in the case of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, at a recent NFL pre-season match. While his choice to remain mute is an expression of his First Amendment right to free speech—which should not be challenged—many have judged his decision in a positive light. In that context of approval, it is not surprising that this unpatriotic display has been echoed by others (horrifyingly so on a recent Sunday which just happened to be the 15th anniversary of 9/11.
SUCH ANTI-PATRIOTISM is an act of startling hypocrisy, or more likely, an intended consequence of brainwashing by a leftist narrative that tells people such as Kaepernick that they are a part of a society which oppresses blacks (never mind that Kaepernick is of both black and white parentage, adopted by a white family and is paid an average annual salary of $19 million by his team). And while the NFL also values free speech (having issued no penalty to Kaepernick and others for “kneeling” during the national anthem), it does not prioritize the avoidance of hypocrisy: when three of the more patriotic players decided to break the NFL’s strict team uniform compliance requirements by wearing cleats emblazoned with pro-American imagery at the matches held on the 9/11 anniversary, they were fined $6,000 each by the League.
But there is a larger point to be made here. Probably unwittingly, but certainly ironically, the method through which Kaepernick chose to vilify his country—his right to freedom of speech—is perhaps the most celebrated aspect of that country’s original uniqueness (i.e. American exceptionalism). This is surely a perverted understanding of liberty. A more charitable view of Kaepernick might be that he has misunderstood patriotism and the meaning of national symbols. As articulated by conservative lawyer and commentator Ben Shapiro, a love of America doesn’t mean one has to love everything about it; rather it is a love of America’s unique founding philosophy—something that Kaepernick clearly appears to cherish (whether he knows it or, more likely, not).
America has become a victim of its own political correctness in the ultimate manifestation of expressive individualism (occurring not surprisingly in the country that gave birth to it). A country that has curiously but shamefully opted to undergo such internal combustion can no longer even rely on the symbolism of its flag or its anthem to ensure national unity. As Shapiro correctly states, Americans now have nothing left holding them together.
By taking control of America’s cultural and societal institutions (Hollywood, music, media, schools and universities), capturing a judiciary and a political party that consistently appeal to people’s worst instincts (the promotion of identity politics), defending unions at the expense of the public they are supposed to serve, and running a government that imports unlimited numbers of poor and uneducated immigrants for self-serving interests, the left has successfully destroyed America from within, as Abraham Lincoln is said to have warned. As suggested by columnist John Hawkins,
“once the system becomes self-sustaining as young Americans are no longer taught what made their nation successful, become obsessed with their feelings, come to believe that character doesn’t matter and buy into the destructive notions they see and hear every day on the big screen, on radio and in the papers, the disease that afflicts America will become so far advanced that it may never be cured.”
Although data from Pew Research Center polling have documented an aversion to the notion of America as “the world’s policeman” within a large majority of the American public, President Barack Obama has done his best to consolidate this isolationist feeling and destroy American Exceptionalism, both conceptually and in reality. His 2009 assertion “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism” is most illustrative of this attitude. Perhaps the most frightening consequence of this is America’s metamorphosis from its once-perennial status as the leading force for good in the world to a nation that is increasingly being treated with contempt. That’s not to say that America has not made any mistakes; it most certainly has. But it is not for these reasons that the US finds itself—to an increasing and alarming extent—on the periphery of the world stage. Despite much publicized (and mostly ineffectual) “pivots” to new theaters of US engagement and “resets” with its long-time adversaries, America under Obama has exchanged its foreign-relations policy of deterrence to one of deference, explains military historian Victor Davis Hanson. Hanson’s argument highlights Obama’s non-realist and otherwise heterodox international-relations theories in relation to conflicts with China, Russia, Iran, Turkey, North Korea and Nicaragua (although one could also cite similar genuflection to several other countries, notably Cuba). We have seen him draw “red lines” (in response to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s threat to use chemical weapons against his own people) and do nothing when they are crossed. This has become one of the defining metaphors of the Obama administration’s foreign policy posture. Bret Stephens, of the Wall Street Journal, mentions potential and real repercussions of Obama’s sycophantic attempts to appease Iran and his recent management of relations with Turkey’s Islamist dictator, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and uses another metaphor to describe the emerging alliance between these three foreign actors: The New Dictators’ Club.
Meanwhile, the President has regularly downplayed the threat of Islamic State despite terrorist attacks on the US homeland that have been conducted or inspired by them, and despite warnings from his own CIA chief. Despite San Bernardino, despite Orlando, and despite three separate likely Islamism-fueled (non-lethal) attacks this past weekend in New York City, New Jersey and Minnesota. Yet, despite mentioning that bombing in New York injured “more than two dozen people” he failed to describe it—and the New Jersey pipe-bomb—as acts of terrorism. To what end, one can only wonder.
Victor David Hanson makes the astute connection between Obama’s promotion of domestic anti-patriotism with view likely to be held internationally:
If an elected leader will not defend his own country to [Nicaragua’s Manuel Noriega], a tin-horn communist dictator, or will not suggest that all Americans, especially pampered multi-millionaires like Colin Kaepernick, should at least stand up for their national anthem, then why would anyone else defend such a country? Does the president grasp that he is giving a mini-lesson to observers on the erosion of deterrence: A green-lighted Kaepernick would only encourage others… to the point that the anthem would be rendered a farce.
IN THE twilight of the Obama presidency, the nation is to be left to its own devices by a man who will be remembered more for his narcissism than his achievements. Despite a paucity of reasons and evidence to venerate his legacy, Obama remains intoxicated by a cocktail of pathological hubris and narcissism. Only a few days ago (September 17th) he told the Wall Street Journal: “After we have achieved historic turnout in 2008 and 2012, especially in the African-American community, I will consider it a personal insult—an insult to my legacy—if this community lets down its guard and fails to activate itself in this election. You want to give me a good send-off? Go vote!”
But vote for whom? America has chosen two presidential candidates that are probably the least popular and most odious in its history. Support for either candidate is animated essentially only by a much stronger desire to see the other lose. Indeed, it is frequently said that Hillary Clinton is very probably the only Democratic candidate who could lose against Trump. Remarkably, it has been widely posited that of all the seventeen original GOP candidates, Trump is almost certainly the only one who could lose against Hillary Clinton.
Mrs Clinton is thought by most Americans to be remarkable for the deep distrust she evokes, her secrecy, her mendacity and, most recently, her potential health concerns, and by the fact that she would in effect be a “third term of Obama.” Should she be elected, she is indeed likely to continue her predecessor’s largely failed progressive agenda, while dragging its contours even further left-ward (a legacy of her nomination battle with Bernie Sanders) on matters to do with international trade, immigration and possibly individual rights such, a tightening of gun legislation (but with perhaps a more hawkish foreign policy tone)—all of which can be expected to plunge the nation deeper into crisis, danger and debt. Certainly the judiciary can be expected to be nudged with executive nominations to the left, with even greater intrusion of government into Americans’ lives.
Trump’s nomination may be interpreted as a sign of the GOP’s desperation to win the White House. He is a demagogic outsider with no political experience, but who, over several decades has changed his political-party affiliation no fewer than five times. He has few or no true conservative principles, has little or no interest in US history or world affairs, and has little or no interest in policy details. As described quite accurately by Yuval Levin recently, “when Trump is given a chance to reveal something of himself, he without fail reveals a terrifying emptiness. The idea that such a man would be improved by being handed immense power simply refuses to be believed.”
Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal has a good name for what America is about to throw itself into: a kakistocracy—meaning government by the worst persons, by the least qualified or unprincipled. With the country’s once-durable political, cultural and social framework now in tatters, American exceptionalism is no longer. This bizarre and evolving breakdown of the United States and jettisoning of its many virtues can best be described as national schizophrenia; an Insanitas Americana. From its ashes, the next presidency will have to decide how—or if—the country can be rebuilt. This next era will necessarily be defined by a uniquely American neo-fundamentalism. What form that will take is anyone’s guess.
Andrew Lowy is an Australian-trained physician now living in the United States, where he is a freelance writer. His primary interests are in US domestic politics and in populist revolutions