The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Stop the Train

I have noted on numerous occasions that Richard Fernandez is one of most perceptive commentators on the political and world scene. In a recent post, he addresses a question that has become a cliche: Why has Donald Trump ascended so quickly to become the GOP nominee? Those on the hard left brand Trump as they always brand anyone who challenges their tired narrative—as a "racist," and a "bigot," and a misogynist." Some have become hysterical and branded Trump as the next "Hitler."

More thoughtful writers have written; ""Hillary Clinton can’t defeat what Trump represents" which is a rebellion against "neoliberal globalization" that is looking for a leader." (Anis Shivani in Salon) or from James Taranto in the WSJ:
"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."
There's truth in both of these statements, but it takes Fernandez to distill it to its most cogent form. He writes:
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 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 system.

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."
The train started long before Barack Obama took office. "The smartest guys in the room" have populated every presidency for many decades. They have no feel for real world problems and even less for the struggles faced by small businesses in the private sector. They suffer from the hubris inculcated at places like Yale, Harvard, or Princeton. They populate every important government department, almost all advisory positions for every administration, and most cabinet positions. The results of their work has been—in the main—abysmal. The Obama years have done nothing more than amplify all of this, adding a strong dose of dishonesty, more than a whiff of corruption, and an undercurrent of incompetence to the hubris that has always existed. Many people have had enough. They want to stop the train, even if they don't know what happens next.