Things That Go Trump In The Night

Only one party even has an “officially presumptive” nominee so far, but both sides in this acid-trip presidential campaign of 2016 keep managing to undercut even the lowest expectations, like a political game of limbo.

In some ways, everything is going predictably. Hillary Clinton continues to explore the full extent of her powers of anti-inspirational anti-charisma, while Donald Trump continues to explore new depths of Machiavellian brilliance and to revel in the virtuosity of his media necromancy. But there have also been shocking developments.

Just a couple weeks ago, cooler heads were guessing Trump would face a contested convention, and that his nomination would be a disaster for the Republican Party–assuring all-but-presumptive nominee Hillary a lock on the Oval Office, as well as down-ballot carnage and intra-party schisms. At the Correspondent’s Dinner, Obama slyly joked that “we don’t know who will be elected president next, but whoever she may be…”.

But then, as Indiana proved a humiliation too far, Cruz and Kasich bailed–and with the Donald as last man standing, the tone of the commentators quickly turned more solemn. Maybe he has a path to victory after all, however narrow, murmured the wizards at such fine outlets as the NYT and Washington Post.

Narrow, my foot. From the latest polls, Trump seems already to have grabbed the momentum and erased his all-but-presumptive all-but-invulnerable opponent’s lead. He’s essentially tied Clinton nationally, according to both Rasmussen and Reuters; he has also pulled even in battleground states like Ohio and Florida.

Meanwhile, turns out it’s not schism season after all. Paul Ryan and most other “principled” Republicans, after blowing off a little steam, have nearly all rolled over in the name of party unity. When the siren song of authoritarianism rises on the wind, our intrepid Republicans are not the type to let mere principle stand in the way.

But when there are bankers and billionaires to be wooed while working people squirm, our gallant Democrats are loath to turn aside those huddled masses–of cash. Clinton’s campaign revenues have begun flowing not only from the usual mix hedge funds, energy lobbyists, and Wall Street giants (the last with redoubled enthusiasm), but also from supporters of the erstwhile Cruz campaign. That’s not to mention Charles Koch’s recent sly hint that President Hillary might not be so objectionable to his goals after all.

Then there’s the way the FBI investigation into her “damn emails” has begun to suggest something fishy, from the immunity granted to staffer Brian Pagliano, to news that Clinton herself will be interviewed soon, to the mysterious disappearance of a number of critical emails sent by the aforementioned immunized staffer, to the (Republican) FBI director’s rebuke of the Clinton campaign’s description of the proceedings as a mere “security inquiry”, and so on.

I still don’t like the term “crooked Hillary”, but as a counter-proposal, “New Gore” has a nice ring to it. Much like in 2000 (or 2004), the Democratic Party is about to put forward an insider more devoted to turgid, mealy politico-speak and thunderously uninspired campaigning than to victory or principle.

I’ve been generally amazed by the Democratic Party’s blindness to the clear weaknesses and flaws of Hillary as a candidate. Leaving aside her stultifying public speaking style and previous policy missteps, or the fact that her unfavorables are unsurpassed in the nation’s polling history (excepting Trump’s own), her strange lack of conviction or authenticity, as Jon Stewart recently put it, continues to drag.

On the other hand, for those inclined to think Trump’s general incoherence and deceit makes him a priori unelectable, I’d gently remind them that a) those qualities have largely fueled, not hindered, his massive electoral success so far; and b) the last Republican president-to-be seemed almost as ludicrous in his time (our liberal commentators’ razor-sharp mockery sure showed him).

Yes, much though we like to pretend the shadow of bête noire George W. never darkened the sunny panes of the Oval Office, our country did give this notoriously foot-in-mouth Texan the nomination and two presidential terms–largely thanks to blatant lies about Saddam Hussein’s links to 9/11, and because folks felt they would rather have a beer with him.

Elsewhere, I’ve used the term “inverse reform” to describe a condition where a system is so gridlocked and corrupt that it can only react to its problems with actions sure to make them worse. I think this condition is all too apparent to the 2016 campaign.

Trump, peerless in the ability to divine what others want to hear and to wholly believe it just for the moment he’s saying it, is inverse reform personified. I think his presidency would likely be disastrous, and I’ll never support it in any way.

But for all the breast-beating and vitriol over the “Bernie or Bust” people, or Johnny Depp‘s grimly amusing prediction that Trump would be “the actual last president of the United States”, I remain unconvinced that Hillary would be much better. Though she dons the calming guise of the status quo, this guise is deceptive, exactly insofar as that status quo has shown itself to be bankrupt and dysfunctional. As such, she offers little more than a somewhat more conservative flavor of inverse reform.

Through the lens of inverse reform, the historically high unfavorables of the candidates (except Sanders) are clearly no coincidence, any more than the rock-bottom popularity of Congress. The choice of a third party seems less like the act of an addle-headed idealist, than the pragmatic reaction of any voter with basic standards of rationality and efficacy.

It still may not come to that. Though no one is talking about it much, the possibility of Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders “parachuting” in at the last moment is getting more plausible, as the gray mystery-meat of Hillary’s candidacy and dealings grows too unpalatable to the electorate, or even the most clueless insiders, to ignore. Whether it would help as much as it’s needed to, is another question.

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