By Andrew Levine. This article was first published on Counterpunch.
Politicians lie; like her husband, Hillary Clinton lies more than most.
Donald Trump lies too, of course; but most of the false claims and nonsense assertions he makes aren’t lies. Lying requires awareness and intent; Trump says whatever pops into his head.
Nevertheless, as from the mouths of babes, words of truth do sometimes come forth from the Donald’s out-of-control rants.
An example: his contention that “the system is rigged.” He is right about that; it is rigged. But not in the way he seems to think.
The Donald’s Dilemma
It would be difficult to imagine a more implausible tribune of the people than Donald Trump.
It is harder still to think of him as an elected official of any kind, much less a President.
But the man does have certain strengths. He is shrewd, for example; and to be shrewd, he must be at least somewhat in touch with reality.
To the extent that he is, he has to be wondering what the hell he was thinking when he threw his hat into the ring.
My guess is that he thought of a run for the White House in the way that, years ago, he thought about becoming a TV personality. He saw it as a way to promote himself and his brand.
Had his campaign foundered from the start, as everybody thought it would, he might have been right. But, egotist that he is, he must also have thought about what would happen if his campaign somehow took off.
Did he take the unrelenting scrutiny he would then have to endure into account? Did he stop to think about what it would be like to be demonized by America’s political, economic and media elites?
We will probably never know.
Perhaps he couldn’t pass up a chance, however remote, for adulation. But how could he not have been wary of the harm that his campaign could do to his reputation and his brand?
A wiser Donald would have gotten out while there was time, but wisdom is not Trump’s forte.
If it were, he’d have gone back to building over-the-top pleasure domes, flaunting his wealth, and parading around with his trophy wife, relying on tabloid journalists to tell the world of his exploits.
Instead, he unleashed a process that has he can no longer control.
Could it just be that he cannot stand to lose – especially to a girl?
Losing to Hillary must really get his goat. The Donald has known the Clintons too long, and dealt with them too many times, to have any respect for either of them.
So the poor bastard is stuck.
To motivate people to vote – for Hillary, but also “down ticket” — Democrats want people to think that Trump could actually win. Because it is good for their ratings, media moguls are helping them all they can, calling on Washington “insiders” too dense to know better to make their case.
But Trump is on track for losing big in November; and, at some level, he must realize what lies in store.
Losing big must seem even more galling to him than the fact that Hillary will be the one to bring him down.
Therefore, his best recourse, even at this late date, might just be to drop out.
Surely this thought has dawned on him; it has dawned on everyone else. Now that the conventions are over, rumors that he will drop out are cropping up everywhere.
This may be nothing more than wishful thinking on the part of revanchist Republican grandees, or the desperate hopes of down ticket Republicans. Even so, where there is smoke, there sometimes is fire.
Call it “the Donald’s dilemma”: should he go forward with what he started and get trounced? Or should he defy his nature, buck up, and cut his losses?
From where he stands, both options are unthinkable.
Trump has had a lot of experience with real estate deals gone sour. He knows how to come out all right when they do — how to use bankruptcy laws and legal intimidation to impoverish others and enrich himself.
But there is no working this system: losers are just losers; and quitters are losers too. Whichever horn of the dilemma he opts for, Trump will not end up looking good.
There is a slight chance that Republicans, facing disaster, will somehow force him out of the race; the more outrageous Trump becomes – when, for instance, he calls on “Second Amendment people” to solve the Hillary problem or when he says that Obama founded the Islamic State – calls for ousting him mount.
But there is no way he could be ousted, with or without his consent, without wrecking the Republican Party even more than Trump already has. Trump will either persevere or quit; there is no third way.
And so, with no other recourse, there is nothing now for Trump to do but fabricate excuses – as he keeps on digging his own grave.
Calling the system “rigged” is a fine excuse, not least because it is true. But, again, it is not true in the way that Trump thinks.
He says that it is rigged against him; in fact, the opposite is the case. Trump got where he is because of a system that favors wheelers and dealers with political influence and inherited money, and that generates wealth through harmful and unproductive activities like gambling and real estate speculation.
However, the system is rigged against the kinds of people for whom Trump purports to speak.
The Donald could care less about that; he has no quarrel with that “system.”
His concern is just with the coming election, and his claim is just that it is rigged against him.
It is, or rather it was – unsuccessfully.
As it became clear that Trump was doing better in the primaries than anyone had expected, the Republican establishment did try to derail his campaign — in league with the plutocrats who back them and Fox News. They failed spectacularly.
They were unable to rig the election because too many of the people that used to listen to them finally realized that they were being used, and refused to go along.
The only candidate who can rightfully claim that the primary elections were rigged against his candidacy is Bernie Sanders. Circumstantial evidence of this had been overwhelming from Day One; the DNC emails that Wikileaks published established the point definitively.
No wonder that Democrats don’t want to talk about the content of those emails; that they’d rather deflect attention to unsubstantiated allegations about Russian hacking.
Expect to see a lot more of that sort of thing once Hillary moves back into the White House. When events turn sour for her, her first instinct, neocon that she is, is to demonize Vladimir Putin.
Hillary’s fondness for all things military and her Cold War instincts constitute a clear and present danger. This, not Trumpian “fascism,” is our future.
It is our future because the Democratic Party establishment succeeded, where their Republican counterparts failed. They held onto their power; at least, for now.
What about the general election coming November 8; could that be rigged?
Barack Obama nailed that one: talk about rigging a Presidential election is nonsense because elections are organized on state and local levels, making coordinated efforts to rig them impossible to organize.
Neither “the system” nor the coming election is rigged against Trump, but claiming otherwise serves his purpose. Insofar as he is resigned to accept reality, he needs excuses, and this one is the best around.
We can therefore expect Trump to spout off about it more in the weeks ahead, and for as long after that as anybody still cares.
But the System is Rigged
Regardless what Trump meant, what he said, taken literally, is true: the system is rigged – against democracy, against government of, by and for the people.
It was designed that way.
Real democracy involves more than competitive elections. In a real democracy, basic rights and liberties would be shared equally and to the greatest possible extent, and citizens would be equally empowered and therefore, in principle, equally influential.
American “democracy” is not like that at all.
In America today, the main, but not the only, obstacles in the way of the genuine article are economic inequality and institutionalized racism.
This has always been the case, though the impediments are not as transparent as they used to be.
At first, only white property holders could vote, then only white men, then only men, then finally women too; but it was not until 1965, when Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, that most African Americans in the South could finally exercise the voting rights that were theoretically theirs.
It took a very long time, as Martin Luther King said it would, but the arc of history did indeed slowly “bend towards justice.” Even so, voting rights for people of all hues and genders are still, in many respects, more theoretical than real.
Paradoxically, the closest the United States has ever come to implementing the ideal was in the early days of the republic, when citizenship rights were most restricted.
It was the same in Greek antiquity. For democratic theorists, Athenian democracy has always been a model. But the majority of adult Athenians were women or slaves, not full-fledged citizens. Only a tiny fraction of Athens’ inhabitants enjoyed any semblance of citizenship rights.
In the American case, legal and extra-legal restrictions on the franchise are not, and never have been, the whole story.
The republic’s founders also contrived institutional impediments of various kinds to keep democracy at bay. The most important is the legislative branch’s upper house, the Senate, in which each state, regardless of size, has the same representation.
There is also the Electoral College, which effectively makes the citizens of all but a dozen or so “swing states” passive observers of presidential elections.
The founders wanted to safeguard private property. They were therefore loath to empower the propertyless masses. It wasn’t until several decades after they drew up a Constitution for the republic they founded that their successors came to appreciate how useful elections could be for sustaining private property regimes.
The founders also wanted to join together states whose economies depended mainly on slavery and states whose economies depended more on commerce and “free labor.” Even after the Civil War transformed that situation fundamentally, the institutions they contrived continued to bear the mark of their origins.
Thus we still accord inordinate power to sparsely populated states; the half million or so citizens of Wyoming have the same number of Senators as thirty-nine million Californians. And yet we claim that American institutions are “exceptional” in their respect for democracy – and uphold them as models for the world.
All this drags our politics to the right – effectively guaranteeing outcomes that favor the status quo. One of many ways it does this is by marginalizing voices that come from outside what Tariq Ali has aptly called “the extreme center.”
Thus the system is indeed rigged – against efforts to democratize it, and otherwise change it for the better.
What Northern merchants, many of whom were involved in the Atlantic slave trade, and Southern slave owners started, Democrats and Republicans went on to perfect.
The duopoly party system they concocted has effectively replaced public deliberation and debate with manipulative marketing campaigns in which candidates vie for votes in the way that Coke and Pepsi compete for shares of the soft drink market – but with the difference that the Dr. Peppers of the sugar-water world stand a better chance of doing well than independent or third party candidates.
Not long ago, the situation seemed hopeless. However, we now know that it is possible, after all, to break through the duopoly’s stranglehold; both the Trump phenomenon and the Sanders insurgency demonstrated that.
Trump ran as a Republican; and he won the Republican nomination. But, in doing so, he struck a blow at the Republican Party; one from which it may never recover.
“Combinations” in restraint of trade or political influence are, like chains, only as strong as their weakest links. For his own warped and self-serving reasons, Trump inadvertently damaged, and maybe even broke, one of the links on the chain that disables democracy in the United States.
Were he not now supporting what he ostensibly ran against, Bernie Sanders could have achieved a similarly historic breakthrough. Deliberately and for democracy’s sake, he could have split the Democratic Party. And had he accepted the solicitations of Jill Stein and others, he could have helped move the Green Party out of the margins of American political life.
In other developed and not-so-developed countries, especially ones with parliamentary systems, it would be almost expected that someone in Sanders’ position would bolt from a party that treats his views, and those of his supporters, with such contempt, and that is on such a god awful course.
But our Democrats and Republicans have seen to it that independent and “third” party initiatives are non-starters.
The election was rigged against him, more effectively than it was rigged against Trump.
But had he somehow won the nomination even so, the rigged system, the one from which Trump has always benefited, would have come after him too – not because he was proposing anything more radical than many Democrats of the pre-(Bill) Clinton era supported, but because, his campaign took on a “people power” aspect that could, if unchecked, relieve them of the good deal they have going for themselves and the plutocrats they serve.
Republican elites have it in for Trump for much the same reason. But the Donald is, in the final analysis, their class brother. This is why if efforts to oust him prove unavailing, as they surely will, and if he won’t drop out on his own, as he probably won’t, most of them will end up siding with him – at least officially.
The Sanders campaign, on the other hand, threatened more than just one political party’s leaders and backers; it threatened the entire power structure of the United States. As of the time Sanders defected, the threat was still too milquetoast to threaten elite interests, but there was a danger of radicalization that defenders of the status quo could hardly ignore.
What would the power elite have made of a Sanders versus Trump contest? Would the riggers of the system complain that the system is rigged? We will never know.
We can be confident, though, that the unalloyed venom of the titans of finance, industry, and corporate media will fall upon the Green ticket of Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka, the moment it starts to look as if they could do well enough to matter.
The wrath of God, or rather “the billionaire class,” will come down upon them not so much to help Hillary against Trump — she doesn’t need help with that because Trump is more than capable of defeating himself — but to keep forces that promote real democracy, socialism, and meaningful environmentalism from becoming important factors in American politics.
If ideas were what mattered, the Stein-Baraka ticket would pose a more profound threat to the status quo and therefore to the few who benefit from it at the expense of everyone else than the Sanders campaign, at its zenith, ever could.
Their proposed Green New Deal is every bit as egalitarian and ecologically sound as Sanders’ “democratic socialism,” and, unlike Sanders, Stein and Baraka are not liberal imperialists and military hawks. They oppose what Sanders supports: the course American foreign policy is on.
But the Greens have been around seemingly forever and gotten nowhere. Even today, talk to people about Jill Stein and the most likely response will be “Jill who?”
Maybe, though, with the right kind of jolt, they, like Trump, could do what no one would have thought possible. How ironic it would be if Sanders’ endorsement of Clinton had that effect! And how wonderful!
It has been clear for a long time that the Democratic Party is beyond redemption; it is even clearer now. By supporting Clinton and therefore Clintonism (neoliberalism, imperialism and war) Sanders is making himself beyond redemption too.
But, like God, History works in mysterious ways.
Sanders relinquished his role in moving the arc of history forward when he went over to the enemy side.
But after the resistance his supporters demonstrated at the Democrats’ Philadelphia convention, and now after the Greens’ convention in Houston, the idea that the movement that got going under the aegis of his campaign can survive Sanders’ tragic – or was it treacherous? – defection is starting to look more like a serious possibility than an idle hope.
If that comes to pass, then “the system” may finally become less rigged than it presently is.
Unless and until a real revolution – not the kind Sanders talked about, but the real deal – comes back onto the agenda, a revolution that would transform “the system” itself, not just humanize it a little, this is about as good as our politics can get.
Capitalism with a human face is still capitalism, but it is way better than the Clintonite version; and the larger the role of Stein-Baraka politics in American political life, the better the prospects become for moving beyond its horizons.
ANDREW LEVINE is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).