Summary: Many Americans have lost confidence in the candidates we are offered, and in elections. No trend puts the Republic in greater peril. They have good reasons for this. Here is why. But we can fix this. It takes only our wit and will.
Vote for me. Don’t see the ship!
Perhaps the top reason people have difficulty successfully predicting political trends is that they look at the pageantry of people. Which is, after all, how the news media presents the election: a group of lone rangers running an obstacle course while yelling sound bites, with the media providing commentary (not analysis) about who is ahead, about their form when running, and the current betting. None of this tells us what any of the candidates will do when elected.
So we elect people who ignore their campaign promises. Such as Trump, the bold outsider who has followed standard GOP policies: tax cuts for the rich, giant fiscal deficits during expansions (when we should be paying down the debt), deregulating corporations, waving through mergers, boosting defense spending (i.e., more money for giant military contractors), crushing unions, and (to the extent he can) cutting spending on the social services.
Sometimes we get candidates who do the opposite of what they promised. FDR ran as a conservative in 1932, attacking Hoover for his big fiscal deficits. He ran as a peace candidate in 1940 (while he was ramping up for the war). These policies were wise, but his lies short-circuited national debate about them – and encouraged our elites to treat us like unruly children. LBJ continued this tradition, running in 1964 as the love and peace candidate while his team was preparing to ramp up the war in Vietnam. Nixon ran in 1968 as the candidate who knew how to end the war, then continued it (geographically expanding it) for four more years.
There are more effective ways to see the candidates. First, turn to Robert Heinlein’s 1956 science fiction novel Double Star (written for young adults), in which he explains that …
“A political personality is not one man; it’s a team. It’s a team bound together by common purposes and common beliefs.”
Looking at the bios of the people on the candidates’ teams tells us more about the candidates than their white papers and speeches. As the ancient adage says, people are policy.
Second, look at the institutions that most strongly support the candidate. Most serious candidates – i.e., not the billionaires running vanity campaigns and unknowns preparing for future book deals and speaking tours – emerge from an alliance of institutions. Their goals are the candidate’s goals. For example, Wall Street did not spend all that money on Hillary Clinton without expectations of future benefits.
Journalists seldom do the research to provide either of these perspectives. Reporting the ephemera is easier and probably gets more clicks. We get the news we want. Journalism is a business in a free-market economy. When we want better news, we will get it.
A more important perspective
As I wrote in Vote for your ideal figurehead in 2020!, the leading candidates are both elderly white men running in a party focused on overturning patriarchy and white power. There is no contradiction. When preparing to stage a revolution (non-violent), even a slow-motion one, it is essential to have a reassuring frontman. Someone who looks like grandpa, comfortingly paternal, non-threatening, saying pleasant words. Like Biden and Sanders. (A fast-talking frontman is also effective when planning to run the nation in ways its people no longer trust, as the GOP did in 2016.)
Best of all, neither of these men will last long. Sanders would be 79 at his inauguration. Biden would be 78. Nobody that old will be a strong presence in the White House. Competent leftist staff will run the government. And they will prepare the path for a hard-core leftist woman (perhaps even a woman of color). The pundits will proclaim that she will broaden the appeal of the white-bread-male candidate and add “energy.” She won’t lose votes because few care about the VP. That is, until the president dies in office or retires due to ill health – likely outcomes for either Sanders or Biden. So we get the Left’s dream candidate without the tiresome bother of convincing the voters to elect her.
And if they survive their term, their VP will run as an incumbant. Win – win!
Our elites see us much like street hustlers see the tourists eagerly waving cash at their three-card monte games. As marks fooled by simple games.
But we can do better. We could work early, before the primaries, supporting strong and experienced candidates able to lead America without pandering to the fringes. Instead of complaining about the menu, we can go into the kitchen and prepare the food we want and need.
The political machinery bequethed us by the Founders remains decisive, needing only our energy to make it work.