Trump, Clinton, Sanders and the American Moment of Truth

I believe that Donald Trump may just be what America needs. He is the bright shiny object Obama was talking about, not Sanders. He is a mirror we don’t want to look into. He at once speaks to our avaricious, greedy consumerist society, and our deeply held hatred and fear of otherness. He, as some have put it, is our id. Maybe it is time that we look into the mirror, and the abyss, and finally see who we are. This is not to say that Americans are all bad, or even any worse than other peoples of other nations, but we want to believe we are the best.  That is some serious denial.

Until we come to terms with and address the problems that are the result of the original sin of America-it’s founding on racism, exploitation, genocide and forced labor-we will continue to replicate our errors and horrors. We became the richest nation in the world on the backs of others, and denial has only served us badly. Many Americans want to be better, and have limited options for how to do that. We are told to vote for the least objectionable of the two choices, and hold our noses if necessary (I am told specifically this quite regularly).

In our desire to be better we have elected Obama twice. Here was a choice we didn’t have to sugar coat. Electing Obama was a great way to tell ourselves and the world that we have matured, as a nation. Barack Hussein Obama, what an utter embrace of otherness. Black with hints of Arabian exoticism. Tall strong wife and two daughters growing up to be liberated women. But we should have known, and on some level knew, that he was reassuringly the product of the same institutions that created our previous leaders. We were embracing a simulacra of otherness without confronting the real problems with America. And we so wanted this to be a turning point.

I think we all still tread lightly when it comes to Obama, especially when we can see what comes next. But despite his highly aspirational rhetoric, almost 8 years later we have what we have today: endless war, drone murder, poverty, no longer even veiled racism, and all systems in decline (please, don’t start on Obamacare, which is a mandate to support insurance companies), and deeper cynicism. This is from Signs of the Times:

“Seven years on and the disappointment felt by many when it comes to Obama is impossible to deny. In fact, the gulf between the promise of his presidency and the reality has arguably been wider than it has with any other administration in recent memory. And while there have undoubtedly been objective factors that have made the challenges he faced upon entering office considerable – the worst economic recession to hit the country since the 1930s, the power and influence of vested interests in Washington, and a Republican controlled congress in his second term that made his tenure more difficult than many presidents have experienced – Obama nonetheless failed to live up to the expectations he sowed in the hearts and minds of those who believed in him, not only in America but across the world.”(Signs of the Times)

It’s a testament to this desire to believe we can be better that we have now cast our aspirations on another candidate that promises hope. Americans elected Obama because we could see the corruption in politics, but we just wanted a fix for it, an adjustment, a realignment. The idea that the system is so corrupt that it is beyond fixing, or worse, is just congenitally defective, is not something we wanted to face. Now we have hope in a new candidate who says that the cancer can be beaten, or at least brought to remission. Who really wants to believe that the American Political System is terminal and invasive?
If Sanders were elected, and if he is what he claims, which is a rarity in politics, he would be faced with the machinery of a Congress that is utterly controlled, despite the efforts of a few, by the triumvirate of the corporate, financial and military industrial interests. His agenda could not move forward, though its failure would be another chink in the armor of belief in the machine. Obama was thwarted in whatever good he might have offered, and he was way more centrist and compromised that Sanders ever could be (I think, at least).

So in 2016 we have Bernie Sanders, representing the impossible aspirations of some, Donald Trump representing both the deep seated animosities and anger, as well as the deluded memory of a triumphal past for others. While Clinton is the cynical reality. I know the psychoanalytically inclined political thinkers are parsing this one.
We are being led to the abyss that is American politics and looking in is terrifying. I have for years had doubts about my own beliefs about America, thinking myself too cynical and injured, and thinking I am projecting my own existential anxieties. But it is proving to be that bad, and I don’t find a shred of relief in having been right.
I would like to end this on a prescriptive note. But I can’t. There are no nostrums to offer, no palliatives or programmatic fixes. We are in the end stages of a declining empire, struggling to soften the blows. Will corporate driven neo-liberalism prevail? For how long? Will the collapsing environment drive us into a post-apocalyptic post-state anarchy? Am I being too catastrophic? I don’t think so, but I do hope so.

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