Polls have shown that 6 out of 10 voters dislike both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Their paradoxical position as standard bearers of their respective party tickets is not because they represent a clear choice of political alternatives, but because of the perceived absence of them. Neither is a candidate in the traditional political sense. Anis Shivani at Salon puts it this way: “Hillary Clinton can’t defeat what Trump represents” which is a rebellion against “neoliberal globalization” that is looking for a leader.
Americans, like people everywhere rising up against neoliberal globalization (in Britain, for example, this takes the form of Brexit, or exit from the European Union), want a return of social relations, or embeddedness, to the economy.
His idea is that the election is really a referendum. The voters want their country and jobs back. They understand the status quo elites, left to themselves, are never going to give it back. Therefore they are turning to Trump not in the function of a leader but as a wrecking ball for what they don’t want.
James Taranto makes a very similar argument to Shivani’s. He writes citing an article by Walter Russell Mead that “Trump is the purest expression of the politics of “NO!” that I personally can recall. He’s the candidate for people who think the conventional wisdom of the American establishment is hopelessly out of touch with the real world. He’s the little boy saying that the emperor, or in this case, the aspiring empress, has no clothes. What energizes the Trump phenomenon is the very power of rejection: people who think the train is about to head off a cliff want to pull the emergency cord that stops the train even if they don’t know what happens next.”
The election of 2016 makes no sense unless it is judged from outside the system, because the system itself is on trial. From that external vantage this negation is not nearly as pointless as its critics make out. While it’s true that nothing Trump (or Hillary) has proposed will likely solve the major contemporary problems or repair the chaos Obama unleashed upon the world that is beside the point.
The reset with Russia which turned into a new Cold War; the pivot to Asia which morphed into a faceoff with China; the Arab Spring that became a tragedy of Biblical or should one say Quranic proportions are catastrophes that are largely irreversible. There is about as much chance undoing these blunders as unscrambling an egg or regaining an airplane once one has jumped from it. Nor is there much chance of “bringing back the jobs” fled to foreign shores in the short term. Protectionism is unlikely to do it because the cure for a hangover of excessive government spending, demographic collapse and too much debt can never be quick or cheap.
Thus to elect someone to fix things under those circumstances makes little sense. If the post-World War 2 era has been smothered in its dotage by an Obama administration which underestimated the difficulty of replacing it with something better, the more rational thing to do is redo the system rather than apply some patch. The “no” to which Taranto refers is simply a refusal to refuse to pour good effort after bad and is not nearly so negative as it seems. Perhaps the best metaphor for the 2016 election and the other upheavals that Shivani refers to is a that of billiard break or the reinstall of a virus afflicted operating sytem.
As both Shivani and Taranto note things have reached the point where people are willing to ask for the deck to be re-cut and a new hand dealt out. Crucially for the first time in 200 years the warmed over 19th century Marxist ideology of Sanders or Barack Obama’s first term is no longer the default template for the future. People may not know what they want, but they know what they don’t want. A genuine leap into the unknown is now within the realm of possibility.
This suggests the winner of the 2016 contest will likely be a transitional figure rather than a harbinger of a lasting tendency. The winner is more probably going to be overwhelmed by events in this period of flux. But that doesn’t matter. Their task is to stop “the train even if they don’t know what happens next.” And ‘what happens next’ is a question that can only be meaningfully asked once crucial missing piece becomes available. What exactly that is, is unknown.
Frank Partnoy’s “Wait: The Art and Science of Delay” is about the value of waiting. His examples range widely, and so does the time scale of the delay involved: the elite baseball hitter’s ability to wait the extra milliseconds to “find” a pitch; the comedian’s ability to wait a few seconds to deliver a punchline; the skilled matchmaker’s advice that blind daters suppress their snap judgments and wait a full hour before deciding whether they might want to go on a second date; the innovative company’s ability to hang on to creative ideas, for months or even years, until they pay off. “We are hard-wired to react quickly,” Mr. Partnoy says. “Modern society taps into that hardwiring, tempting us to respond instantly to all kinds of information and demands. Yet we are often better off resisting both biology and technology.”
We may be in one of those situations where we must wait for history to move. The situation is made somewhat more complicated by the fact that we don’t even know what we’re waiting for. The consolation is we’ll know it when we see it.
Follow Wretchard on Twitter
Recently purchased by readers:
Site Reliability Engineering: How Google Runs Production Systems, This collection of essays and articles by members of Google’s Site Reliability Team shows how Google actually works and explains the principles and practices that enable Google engineers to make systems more scalable, reliable, and efficient — lessons directly applicable to your organization.
Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman, the renowned psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, explains the two systems that drive the way we think — the fast, intuitive, and emotional one and the slower, more deliberative, and more logical one. He reveals where we can and cannot trust our intuitions and how we can tap into the benefits of slow thinking. Winner of numerous book awards including the National Academy of Sciences Best Book Award in 2012.
Sushi For Dummies, Tips and tricks to make maki-sushi (rolls) and nigiri-sushi (individual pieces). Over 55 recipes plus handy techniques to demystify the art of sushi making and make it fun!
American Exceptionalism: An Experiment in History (Values and Capitalism), How America’s geography, ideology, politics, and daily life set the new nation apart from Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, with political and civic cultures that had no counterparts anywhere else.
The Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America, Author F.H. Buckley offers the clearest warning about the alarming rise of one-man rule in the age of Obama.
Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
Tip Jar or Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the Belmont Club