Wednesday 18 May 2016

Martin Wolf on the Elites in US Elections

One conversation I have been having more and more frequently these days is whether the US political system, having been so decisively broken, can ever be put together again. 

The role of money in politics; the revolving door between the administration and the private sector; the obviously wasteful public spending policies; the real lack of basic common sense; the distortions introduced by shibboleths such as gun control = independence or government = bad; the highly sophisticated voter targetting techniques; the willingness of political operatives to do "whatever it takes" to distort a message or an opponent; the very obvious disconnect between political rhetoric and reality: all these are factors that suggest to me that the American Republic is quickly becoming an Empire in the same way the Roman Republic transitioned first to a "national security / political effectiveness" empire, then into a simple hereditary empire. 

On this subject, Martin Wolf had an absolutely brilliant article in the Financial Times today on the role of elites in the US election. Failing elites are to blame for unleashing Donald Trump - 17 April 2016. 

A very quick extract: 

In addition, elites on both sides promoted economic changes that ended up destroying trust in their competence and probity. In this, the financial crisis and consequent bailouts were decisive.

Yet by then the middle classes had suffered decades of real income stagnation and relative income decline. Globalisation has brought huge benefits to many of the world’s poor. But there were significant domestic losers. Today, the latter believe that those who run the economy and polity impoverish, exploit and despise them.

Even Republican elites have become their enemy and Mr Trump has become their saviour. It is no surprise that he is a billionaire. Caesar, aristocratic leader of the popular party, brought forth “Caesarism”, the rule of the charismatic strongman that Mr Trump wants to be.

A healthy republic does not require equality, far from it. But it does require a degree of mutual sympathy. Sudden wealth from new activities — conquest in ancient Rome, banking in medieval Florence — can corrode social bonds. If civic virtue vanishes, a republic becomes ripe for destruction.

Well worth the read. 

It is very obvious that the rise of Donald Trump is only the latest manifestation in a long and sorry history of political action over the past 20 years. Even if he will be defeated (and I cannot claim to support the Democratic alternative), the tactics he has left behind will live on. 

(c) Philip Ammerman, 2016 

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