Just when you thought the political scene was bright, now that the bad man has been banished from the Prime Minister’s Office, and the shiny new man has promised “sunny ways” ahead, reality has set in.
The Canadian gaze, ordinarily drawn to its own navel, begins to notice what’s happening to the south of the 49th parallel, where politics is a deadly serious, if tragi-comic, affair unfolding and ever-present, 24/7.
And these days it is looking dark indeed. Especially as one watches the Democrats and the Republicans, week after blessed week, casting for leaders to clamour for, leaders to bring their parties to the White House and the American Presidency.
It’s impossible to separate the two parties along the Left and Right political divide. Both parties have been utterly co-opted by trans-national corporate interests; both serve masters far more powerful than the majority of the American electorate, the benighted “People.” And both parties have almost nothing to offer Americans in the way of systemic change or economic reform.
You cannot blame Americans for fearing the machinations of “Big Government.”
Big Government has bullied and banished unions and thrown every farmer and worker to the corporate wolves. Big Government has instigated senseless conflicts in corners of the world that the average American can’t identify on a map. And when Big Government and America itself teetered on the edge of economic self-annihilation through its craven catering to the hallowed and unfettered Market, its instinct led it to bail out the very corporations that were the greatest corporate criminals in American history.
It’s not a record that either the Democrats or the Republicans can point to with pride. The results of the bailouts included bankrupted cities, abandoned and derelict, and an unsettling and heavily militarized matrix of security firms and pan-optical surveillance to keep a lid on things.
Of course, America has never lacked would-be, self-professed, saviours. What is more astonishing is the propensity for Americans to pay heed to the most self-aggrandizing among them.
Donald Trump came to our attention in the 1980s. At a time when Americans were beginning to feel the false growth of neo-liberal economics, and former baby-boomer champagne socialists were trading in their picket signs for American Express Platinum cards and cocaine, Donald Trump and his outrageous mouth were a part of the cultural wallpaper along with Anthony Robbins cassette tapes and the obscene rantings of televangelists.
We never imagined that a kitschy and crassly materialistic putz like Trump would one day be the leading contender in the leadership race for the Republican Party.
But America has evolved, in a way. Away from the social democratic ideals of the Kennedys and the Kings, anyhow. Somehow the crass materialism that made the 80s such a tawdry decade has become what Americans have aspired to all along. And, in the process, it has made itself a pariah in the eyes of much of the rest of the world.
Many Americans feel rewarded, confirmed, and even valorized by what Trump has to say. His cold view of America as a place where Winners are heroes and Losers are zeros is a view that one would think would be laughed at by a literate ten year old. And yet this ugly and undignified ranter is lauded by a majority (so far) of registered Republicans as just the kinda’ guy that can make America “better than ever.”
Trump’s message is essentially fascistic hate-mongering. It scapegoats the nearest amongst the nation’s most wretchedly placed and cheers when voices of dissent are pummeled and beaten.
Trump’s pathetic offering is to loudly bray what neo-liberal political economy has only been whispering for decades: a person’s value is only that which the marketplace values her productivity at. Profits before people.
Trump represents a post-historical world where his speechifying represents nothing less than the ravings of a ruthless robber-baron. There is nothing substantial in any of his pronouncements, nothing that points to statistical or historical realities. And this may be fine for those in America who value a good show more than what is good. But those that should be calling this interloper to account have fallen silent for the most part.
No doubt we are condemned to live in interesting times. And the year ahead promises to be one of the most interesting yet. But don’t expect the years following it, or America itself, to be better than ever.
— Jeffrey Loewen is a Kelowna-based writer who plays music by day and politics by night