Still in Denial: Parties, Congress, and the Media:
What Part of System Failure Don't You Understand?
Language has been the terrain of the 2016 presidential election. Trump's blasphemies--his language on immigration, about his rivals, about Republican Party mischief, the terms he used to describe Megyn Kelly and the stuffy news media establishment, and now about Paul Ryan--have been newsworthy in the colorfulness of his in-your-face insults hurled at the established political order. Every time the political class concludes Trump has "gone too far this time" with his language, his numbers shoot up another notch.
Sanders' blasphemy, not as colorful as Trump's, is in its own way just as shocking, and in-your-face: The system has recently been "rigged" for the rich by the rich. Campaign finance law, supported by the Scalia Court, is part of this corruption, which and has left 99% of us standing in the dust. We need a "revolution." If you fall within the lower 99%, and you aren't doing as well as you expected, he seems to say, it isn't the fault of immigration enforcement or gay marriage or Liberal policies: building a wall will not stop the rigging of the system in Washington in favor of the One Percent.
These blasphemies, targeted at different audiences (Sanders' is younger and more upwardly mobile, Trump's is more insecure) have reinforced each other, and neither, probably, would have succeeded as dramatically without the other. Just as you think a Trump insult, say, about Megyn Kelly, is about to turn you off, Sanders reminds us she and her network are part of a gilded political class that indeed has rigged the system, including much of the electoral machinery. The targets of his strongest insults tend to be iconic stand-ins for The Establishment: Fox News, Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, Paul Ryan. And just as Sanders is about to bore you with one more soundbite about the "one percent," Trump reminds us that "we don't win wars anymore," suggesting there is a serious national cost we've paid for allowing this to happen.
While Trump tends to be more respectful toward the institutions of America (these will Make America Great Again) he mocks the arrogance and pretension of people in charge. Sanders is more polite about the people, it is the corruption of the institutions that need fixing. But these are after all two sides of the same coin: both candidates cry out at us: System Failure! System Failure! System Failure! Both agree: the rich have bought off politicians; Congress is dysfunctional. Our wars are not bringing security; our national infrastructure is crumbling. Corporate America should not be allowed to shelter income abroad at the expense of the working class. The system has failed us. This is the message the parties, congressional leaders, overpaid talking heads in the media, for all their consternation about Trump's language and Bernie's preaching, don't seem to get: They have become living symbols of system failure.
For four decades presidential elections have been steered toward a competition between True Conservatives (including debates about what that means) and Almost-True Conservatives. The underlying blasphemy of Trump and Sanders is that they ask us to reflect on just what this debate has done for the county. The dirty little secret of campaign 2016 is that the twenty million voters who have voted for Trump and Sanders have voted to reverse course. This means dumping the political class; changing the rigged rules that have left Bubba and everyone else fighting each other instead of paying attention to the underlying game. Above all--and this is what Trump and Sanders each understands: you cannot reverse course without changing the formulaic, deceitful language that has become the currency of political discourse. The political establishment is entirely correct in fearing either candidate, and it is their language that they most fear.
Paul Ryan is the latest member of the gilded political class of Democrats and Republicans who refused to see what was in front of their noses. Paul Ryan has been assiduously nurtured by the Republican political class, and it turned to him instinctively, as Trump got closer to winning. Trump didn't blink at the bluff: Ryan doesn't have to support me. When was the last time Ryan got ten million votes? the logic, after all is said and done, is unassailable. Isn't this supposed to be a country where votes count? And isn't Ryan a bigwig in a Congress that stopped solving national problems years ago?
This election is likely to be fought on the battlefield prepared by Trump and Sanders: it will be about system failure and what to do about it, not about which of two flavors of conservatism do you prefer. Above all, the election will likely go to the candidate who creates the most persuasive language to talk about system failure, something Americans have rarely had to talk about in the past, but is now front and center on the political agenda.