Two ways of looking at the race for the American presidency

By Richard Falk

#1: as an incredibly dumbing down of the political process, turning the presidential campaigns for the nomination as heavily financed shadow shows, hiding special interests and money management, all about selling the candidate by boast and bluster;

#2: as pre-revolutionary ferment, mobilizing the young, and confronting the established order, finally, with non-establishment choices between the radical right of Trump & Cruz and the moderate social democratic left of Sanders.

This tedious struggle for political prominence and historical name recognition is being played out against a backdrop of the three pillars of America’s global role: the Pentagon, Wall Street, and Israel.

No candidate has managed to shake the pillars, although this time around Sanders has at least launched a genuine attack on the Wall Street pillar, and Trump has gestured toward what might be a mild push against the Israel pillar. This alone makes Sanders and Trump the first outsiders to compete seriously for a run at the White House.

Of course, since Sanders has done so much better than expected, Clinton makes some noises as if she is also taking on Wall Street, but as her unreleased transcripts of her gilt talks at Goldman-Sachs no doubt confirm, no one think she means it, and she doesn’t. This is her way of harmlessly sparring with the man from Vermont until she locks up the machine-driven nomination.

When we look at the candidates from a Hollywood central casting point of view, we have to wonder who is running the show, especially on the Republican side.

Senator Ted Cruz appears to be a credible reincarnation of Tomás de Torquemada, Grand Inquisitor of Spain (1484-1498), grimly ready to deal harshly with the infidels whether within the country or without. He also seems to have a liking for ‘carpet bombing,’ and all out war with ‘the enemies’ of the United States wherever they might be in the world.

Then there is Marco Rubio snapping at the Cruz and Trump heals as if a scrappy dog seeking an evening meal. Rubio reminds one of a high school debating champion, articulate and self-assured, yet so lacking in political gravitas as to be irrelevant.

And I almost forgot John Kasich that redoubtable former governor of Ohio who repeatedly tells his audience in a conversational monotone that he has already solved all of America’s problems in microcosm while he brilliantly managed the public life of Ohio from the state capital in Columbus.

He pledges to do the same for America as a whole, and puts himself forward as the only candidate with the experience and track record. It is not surprising that there is a tendency to forget Kasich as he has so far managed to stay on board the train only because of the listless competition.

Then there is Donald Trump who is hardly in danger of being forgotten. He is leading the pack into some wild terrain of which he is only dimly aware. Trump’s idea of international politics boils down to hard driving real estate deal making backed by an larger, all powerful military machine.

Without exhibiting much command of the political domain there are some mildly encouraging takeaways that almost lost in the bigoted noise – skepticism about regime-changing interventions, opposition to neoliberal international trade agreements, and even casting some doubt on the special relationship with Israel. Of course, it is the Trump thunder that excites his followers and energizes his crowds. He wins his mass following by demonizing Muslims and Latinos, promising to end all Muslim immigration, deport 11 million illegals, and build a high wall along the Mexican border, and send the bill to Mexico.

His reputation for repudiating what liberals espouse as ‘politically correct’ earns him a reputation for talking right-wing nonsense to power, and being perceived as dangerously politically incorrect. The Trump appeal is based totally on the politics of emotion, tapping into resentments, prejudices, and racism, unleashing a venomous tide of proto-fascist activism that should be, but isn’t yet, scaring Americans as much as it seems to be frightening and startling the rest of the world.

The Democrats seem to be doing a little bit better, but only in comparison to the current crop of Republican alternatilves.

Hilary Clinton, running needlessly scared as frontrunner, seems to have that ‘deer in the headlights’ look every time her ‘core beliefs’ are probed or challenged. The unclassified, yet disclosed, truth, is that she doesn’t seem to have any, or at least not yet. Or maybe she had, but lost track, and now can’t find them or lost them along the way.

As an ambitious opportunist par excellence, it seems that her least laundered credential is her steadfast recognition that the three pillars as the absolutes in American politics.

Hence, Hillary is fully credible when promising to improve upon current U.S. relations with Israel and can be trusted never to let down either the Pentagon or Wall Street, or to go wobbly when given the chance of backing a new military intervention.

What more could the Democratic Party establishment want from a candidate, and this is the point that has seemed to resonate so strongly with the so-called superdelegates (elected officials and party luminaries who can vote for whomever they wish, neither being selected by voters or pledged to a particular candidate) who stand shoulder to shoulder with Clinton and virtually extinguish the slight hopes of Sanders however many Michigan style upsets he manages to pull off.

And then there is Bernie Sanders, as genuine a proponent of a decent American society as the political system has produced since FDR, and maybe more so, but he only knows melodies with only a single note, and while it is a high note, pushing hard against the Wall Street pillar, it exhibits too narrow a grasp of the American political challenge to make him qualified to lead the first global state in human history.

His views on the other two pillars seem unthreatening to the mainstream, he goes along, perhaps reluctantly at the margins, seeming to accept the defense budget, alliances and alignments, and unconditional support for Israel.

Of course, shackling Wall Street while universalizing health care and providing free public education at college levels would give the country a vital breath of free air, but it is not enough to validate the claim of delivering ‘a social revolution.’

Let’s ask where all of this leads?

The probable short term result is either Trump or Clinton, with Trump navigating the ship of state through turbulent waters fraught with danger and unpredictability or Clinton sailing full speed ahead as if Barack Obama was still the real president, but somehow has grown more macho while aging.

Either outcome is, of course, problematic. If Trump, the beast of fascism slouches ever closer to Washington; if Clinton, the gods of war will be dancing through the night.

There are a few silver linings that may be merely wishful thinking.

It may be that the Republican Party will implode, or reemerge for what it is becoming in any event, that is, the party of discontent and revenge, shedding its pedigree as the sanctuary of privilege and big business.

For the Democrats, the Sanders defeat might give birth to a break with party politics on the part of the left discontented, adopting an anti-three pillars agenda that expands upon what Bernie began so resolutely initiated.

It this possibility that seems plausible given the extraordinary strength of Sanders’ support among voters 18-25 who will be bound to feel more bitterly frustrated than ever by the dynamics of ‘normal politics.’

The country can again become hopeful about the future if a progressive vision of a better America prevails among the young and is fought for by a strong consensus that gives rise to a militant nonviolent movement for drastic change at home and abroad.

Of course, I may be wrong, my imagination trapped in what now seems most likely.

It is possible that Trump will be stopped and Sanders will prevail, or that some kind of third party will be insinuated in the political process to save the established order from shipwreck. If it happens, then the shape of the future will be different from what is conjectured here, but I doubt that I will have to eat many of these words.

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