Mikhail Tillman, Rise! Magazine
The headline is repeated again and again as the election cycle moves along, something along the lines of: “Bernie Sanders overtakes Trump in national polls as Clinton declines” Anyone seeing these poll results is made painfully aware of the woeful state of a political system that is nominally democratic. As Clinton wins state after state and talk grows louder about the system being rigged, about the nefarious behavior of those who run the vote collecting and nominating, it becomes more and more obvious to the people what this political system does and who it does it for. Still this story is reported as if it makes sense in the context of a democratic system. People talk of the support of Sanders overshadowing Clinton not as a sign that he may get the nomination, but as a threat when Clinton inevitably runs against Trump. The three candidates stand as three poles of the ruling class’ response to the growing unrest and disaffection of the masses and it seems it’s been decided what path is going to be taken. None dare to critique the economic system, but each rail against the political one. They divert each in their own way the growing anger of the working class into channels that are safer. Any discussion of the election as an election is farcical; it can only be analyzed as if it were a corpse or a crime scene.
Sanders is not the Messiah, and I won’t go into that great of detail as to why in this article. Whether or not his reforms would save the human race though is not the issue. His failure to be incorporated into the political system despite broad support is an open wound that makes us all grimace as we watch the election limp along. One method of stifling change is to concede small pittances to the proletariat. The reform politician will stand on his podium and promise to the mob that they will make the system more tolerable if they agree in return to let the bourgeoisie keep most of their privileges. This was the result of the working class struggles in Europe in the last century. Militancy dies as concessions are made. Once the concessions are made, of course, the bourgeoisie works to slowly roll them back, but for a time the workers are left more comfortable than before. Sanders offers this strategy. He is not a threat to those who run the system, he is their ambassador. If disaffection grows too hot the ruling class has no choice but to back away from the fire. He is a candidate of last resort. His failure speaks volumes. They are not afraid enough of the torches and pitchforks to give that inch. The mild reforms are ground they don’t think they have to lose. Instead they push him to the side and put away the carrot, though not yet take out the stick. Their next offer is to keep things more or less the same as they have been.
The phrase “establishment candidate” is on everyone’s lips when they speak of Hillary Clinton. Everyone from the corporate news media to the man on the street knows what she represents. Clinton stands for further stagnation. She is a place holder for same old same old. It’s almost shocking to hear the role she plays being proclaimed so openly and callously by the very people who support her. She plays another role we’re used to, that of the lesser evil. She is the only one who has a chance of keeping Trump out of the White House. That seems to be the only enthusiasm anyone can muster to support her. Even that motivation, keeping a clown away from the helm of the political world, isn’t enough to make much of a difference. Support keeps on fading away and dying. Trump isn’t becoming more convincing to the people; his increase in percentage of support comes from support for any of the candidates disappearing. Only the fanatical are left to vote, the more moderate or progressive staying home in disgust. Clinton runs in the name of the establishment at a time when the establishment is without even the marginal support it once could boast. We should thank Clinton, as she has served to convince more people than we could have ever hoped to that there is nothing worth voting for. She is a clear and simple illustration of a political and economic system that does not work in the way it’s supposed to.
Finally the clown comes on stage. The idea of Trump becoming the president started out as a kind of joke, but we all stopped laughing a long time ago. It’s easy to see where his support comes from. The bourgeoisie like him, after all he’s one of their own, or at the very least put up with his pomposity in order to further their interests. The working class gets behind him not only because he’s an exciting divergence from the candidates they’re used to seeing, but because his brand of right-wing populism is appealing to the increasingly fearful and angry mass of people. He points his finger at the alleged enemies of the people and loudly proclaims that he’s against them. He’ll stop the Mexicans from coming over and taking the jobs, meanwhile he’ll do something that’s never explicitly stated to wrench back the jobs from China. He’ll stop the Muslims that want to hurt you, who he says are flooding into the country. He’ll stop the government itself, eliminating restrictions on the rich and corporations, which will somehow benefit the people. He has set up an army of straw men to knock down and with masterful theatrics he wins the mock battle again and again. He plays into the idea that there are enemies all around us and says he can stop them. Even if the voters don’t necessarily believe him, they are growing more willing to take the chance. Trump is an exotic dish when they’ve had to put up with bread and water for so long. Sure, the country may shortly be hunched over the toilet bowl, but that’s a risk that they’re starting to think is worth taking.
So we’re given our three, make that two, choices. The US brand of democracy lets your vote decide between sickness and death. Still we’re expected to put our faith in this system. We’re expected to take an election that is so far rigged that it goes beyond dishonesty. This election is a spectacle that has become aware of itself, hamming it up for the audience and playing like reality television. Donald Trump shouldn’t feel too out of place. People, like always, are refusing to turn out in any force. It’s not worth their time to cast their ballot and they’re too fed up to hold their nose and choose the lesser evil any longer. We’re all sick of the promise of concessions, the constant and never answered call for change. The apathy is sensed by the ruling class and they act accordingly. We haven’t frightened them sufficiently to give us what might soothe us, but enough that they’re breaking out the stick. The choice is clear, it’s either the establishment or they bring out the strong-man to work us over. So why should we feel any enthusiasm? Why should we line up at the ballot box as if it’s going to make any sort of difference? This farce of an election illustrates beautifully that democracy is not the checking of boxes or buying of stickers. Democracy is action. We have to do more than let ourselves be corralled.
What then should we do? First off we need to stop deluding ourselves into thinking that we’re doing something by voting in these national elections. We’re putting up and down our thumbs in the amphitheater hoping the emperor will take notice. Casting a ballot and having faith that you’ve changed things is washing your hands of responsibility. It’s tricking yourself into thinking you’ve done all you can. We need to discuss these political questions outside the parameters set by the establishment. We’ve been trained to think of choice as an issue of this-or-that. The result of the recent World Values Survey question to Americans shows that nine out of ten are “disillusioned with democracy”. The truth is that they’ve never experienced democracy. It’s not an issue of direct or representative, because the only people that have a representative form of government are the bourgeoisie. We pick out of their ranks. The people are disillusioned with what the United States calls democracy and the reason is apparent. A buffoon with enough money has a chance at the presidency yet a hugely popular reformist has none.
Now that the race has become one of the establishment against a lunatic, one might be fooled into thinking the establishment is going to walk away without any problem. Clinton is dangerous, there’s no two ways about it. Even though she is a dishonest and war mongering capitalist shill, though, she’s still orders of magnitude better than Trump. Despite this, I don’t think people are going to have the energy to vote for her to stave off his ascension. Nor do I blame them. Most people would much rather be served what they’re disgusted with against their will than to have ordered it themselves. There’s talk of Sanders running as a third party candidate, but anyone with any sense knows that he’d only act as a spoiler and widen the margin of Trump’s victory. No politician, no matter how popular, is going to be able to break through the confines of the system. The political system is the outer wall of capital, and even if it was breached it would leave us in a moat. Now the farce has become a reality. In November Trump is going to be giving his victory speech and there’s nothing we could have done to prevent it. The system is totally and in all ways broken, and broken by design. The election is a charade. A puppet show meant to entertain and distract, nothing else. The problem is not the three people running, it’s the fact that they’re all we’re looking at.