By Alan Bean
I cannot recall another presidential election when both the official guardians of both major political parties were shocked and dismayed by the preferences of the base. The Republican establishment is scared to death that Trump or Cruz will win the nomination. Democrats are freaking out over a surging Sanders campaign.
But let’s face it, Trump and Cruz are serving up the kind of red meat the party base has learned to love. The elite might prefer a compassionate conservative, but the folks in the trenches want an America that looks and sounds like 1953, a blessed time when the electorate was overwhelmingly white, men ruled the national roost, American economic and military power defined the world and one-nation-under-God civil religion was the height of fashion. The Republican base wants candidates who promise a return to White Eden and Trump and Cruz promise to deliver.
However George Will or David Brooks might define the term, Trump-Cruz is what contemporary conservatism looks like.
Conversely, the Democratic base looks and sounds like Bernie Sanders. The prospect of a female president resonates, but economic populism is the driving passion of the Democratic base. Sanders needs a haircut (badly) and his unmodulated apocalyptic rhetoric is shrill and predictable, but we all know what Bernie stands for. Most movement Democrats, including many of those who think the man from Vermont is unelectable, agree with his economic analysis.
In fact, most Republicans agree with Bernie (so long as you don’t use the s-word). American politics is controlled by corporate America and Hillary Clinton, for all her political merits, would do nothing to change that fact.
Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and the rest of a dwindling Republican field, realize their political success demands fealty to corporate sponsors. They don’t wear corporate logos on their pin-stripes like NASCAR drivers, but they might as well.
Donald “you’re fired” Trump is the very face of corporate America. We might not like the guy, but if you believe his entrepreneurial passion makes economic magic, you are willing to bow the knee.
Ted Cruz has been a willing tool of the corporate community since he was in high school. All the constitutional blather boils down to cutting big business loose from federal regulation and taxation. The money people rub their hands together when politicians like Cruz talk tough on foreign policy. Militarism is as good for business as it’s bad for everyone else. So is a dysfunctional immigration system predicated on private prisons. Cruz can take an aggressively pro-life stance on the abortion issue because his corporate masters, being 98% male, have no strong feelings on the subject.
Social and foreign policy issues, from the perspective of those who own American politics, are a convenient distraction from the only agenda that really matters: the well being of the CEO class. They would have us believe that the rule of the wealthy keeps America strong, prosperous and virtuous.
To the extent that American business is still subject to government regulation, the American form of plutocracy is approximate, not pure. To the extent that the CEO class is taxed at all, the revolution is incomplete.
Most corporate types can live with a status quo that has them earning 500 times as much as their average employees. Hillary Clinton is their candidate.
Others will only be satisfied when the taxing and regulatory powers of government disappear altogether. They are bankrolling men like Cruz.
Donald Trump sees no reason to work through “conservative” surrogates when he could impose his will directly. Initially, perhaps, he just wanted to pump us his celebrity (and indulge in a little innocent merriment) by throwing a spanner into the electoral works. He never dreamed his crude antics would go over so well.
But they did and now Trump’s in it to win it.
The American electorate limps between two opinions. We resent and envy the moneyed class, believing they have far too much influence. Still, believing we’d be would be lost without the magnates and tycoons, we raise few objections when the political class calls for tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
Where you fall on this continuum largely determines your politics.
Should we placate the 1% a little, or a lot? That is the question.
Bernie Sanders is a socialist. He isn’t the kind of socialist who believes in government control over the economy; but he is challenging the suggestion that the average worker can’t do well unless the corporate class is doing 500 times better. He’s calling for balance. He wants more regulation and more taxation of the master class. Lot’s more. And he is isn’t embarrassed to say so.
And that’s why Bernie’s star is currently in the ascendancy. He ain’t pretty. He ain’t smooth. But he’s asking the right questions and jabbing his finger in the right direction.
The media (liberal and conservative) aren’t feeling the Bern. Americans don’t elect socialists, so Sanders is bound to fade sooner or later. If we ignore him, they seem to be saying, maybe it will be sooner.
But Bernie’s not going away. He may not win it all, but he has transformed a forgone conclusion into a genuine horse race. And that is a great thing for American political discourse.