Re the 2016 presidential election
My immediate political concern is the current atmosphere. Poisonous rhetoric swirls around both major-party candidates like a toxic dust cloud. It comes from both of them and goes at both of them. It comes from their allies and supporters, both sides, and is directed against their allies and supporters, both sides.
My concern is that there is a particular danger this year. If the two major-party nominees are a ‘charisma’ candidate (Donald Trump) and a ‘bureaucratic’ candidate (Hillary Clinton), as the terms are used in political science, then–not to be morbid–the lethal danger is to the charisma candidate.
Defining terms here: calling a nominee the charisma candidate is not the same as calling a private person charismatic. The charismatic, the bureaucratic, and the feudal/traditional were Max Weber’s classification of modes of authority. This tripartite classification was drawn upon in 1969 by Lewis Chester, Godfrey Hodgson and Bruce Page, in the best book on U.S. politics that I have read–American Melodrama, about the 1968 election.
Of course, the poison is also aimed at and swirls around the major ‘third-party’ candidates–Gary Johnson and Jill Stein. At a time when death threats are an Internet commonplace in conversation threads, it would be almost odd and distinctive if a third-party candidate were not perceived as a threat and treated as such–i.e. with threats–in the dynamic that psychologists call projection.
I have seen and heard the trend on a macro level–national politics, national television, large daily newspapers–and at a micro level–un-neighborly spats and back-biting, sometimes motivated by envy, generally not checked by self-awareness, never from individuals one would characterize as brilliant.
From whatever combination of historical causes, there is a really lethal poison cocktail being passed around this year. (The historical causes will be a later topic.) Any time a sizable group of individuals feels that it has both a) the moral high ground and b) the upper hand, things are destined to get bad. And by ‘bad’, I mean fascistic. This one is hard to guard against, too: after all, most of us would prefer to have the moral high ground. And most people must have moments at least when they would like to have the upper hand, although that one might be harder to confess.
The cocktail of high ground and upper hand gets deadlier when distilled in our concentrated-in-a-few-hands news media.
It doesn’t sit well with me that raving about Trump as a ‘Nazi’ or a ‘fascist’ often comes from the very same people who helped get George W. Bush into the White House. They went along with the invasion of Iraq. They contributed to changing the Republican Party from anti-slavery in the 19th century to pro-segregation, pro-racial-disparities death penalty, pro-redlining, pro-economic inequality, etc., etc., in the 20th century.
Not that I’m not used to media hysteria. It happens every time a presidential candidate comes along who is not controlled by the insider-media types. Secretary Clinton is eminently controllable. Thus she has a lock on The Boys on the Bus, including female boys on the bus. The reverse has been true of Mr. Trump.
Thus any fair criticisms of Trump’s candidacy end up part of an amalgam of hysteria that we have seen before–about candidates not remotely like Trump. The common denominator is that any time a candidate comes along who is not controlled by a few major media outlets, he/she is hysterically represented as a threat. Does anyone remember what the insider media said about Jesse Jackson, even while he was the candidate who received by far the most death threats?* Remember how they treated Ross Perot with blatant cross-cultural stereotyping? If your hatred of either Jackson or Perot is still so engrained that you can stomach any conjecture against them, however false, what is your excuse about Howard Dean?
Remember what the insider media did to Howard Dean, who was showing strong potential to take on the incumbent President George W. Bush? They represented him falsely as having an affair with a female staffer, for one thing. One of the most talented, capable, professional political candidates to come along in years–a successful physician and a candidate who had been elected repeatedly to office in Vermont–and CNN among other outlets ran a continuous loop of Dean supposedly screaming at a rally, with the crowd noise suppressed in the video so that he seemed to be making noise all by himself. Ridicule rampant. Stupidity, envy, and gratuitous ill-will ditto. To make matters worse, most of the media personalities who pulled no punches ridiculing a candidate with character and intellect pulled all their punches when it came to evaluating Dubya. If they’re getting anything right about Trump now, it’s too bad they cried wolf so often.
Some of them probably still tell Jimmy Carter jokes. Oh, yes–a reminder, in case you didn’t know. Some old-fashioned bigot ‘jokes’ previously aimed at African-Americans were converted, in the Carter years, into anti-Carter jokes. I decline to provide an example.
In the immediate future, there is not only an election at hand. Before that, and after, there is also a crucial need to rein in the blood lust. All hands. The Clintonistas may represent all the negative rhetoric as coming from one direction. Some Clinton supporters may honestly believe that it is. If so, they are mistaken.
A word to the wise is sufficient.
*It was Dan Rather, then on CBS News, who reported that Jackson received more death threats than the other candidates combined. Probably one more reason the suits couldn’t wait to fire him. Another badge of courage for Rather, in my opinion.