The 2020 election horse races have begun! And with no one challenging President Donald Trump in a primary so far, the horse race is all on the Democratic side. Everyone and his brother on Team Donkey’s side is running to be president.
One can’t help but see some metaphorical parallels with the 2019 Kentucky Derby—it’s a muddy race and will get muddier, horses will soon get into each other’s lanes, a lot of people in fancy hats are betting on this or that horse, and the poor horses will slog and get whipped into shape by their bases and donors.
But here the metaphor ends. Hopefully, the eventual winner, like Maximum Security, won’t get disqualified. Meanwhile, animal metaphors abound. For some of us voters and political junkies, the 2020 horse race is ultimately a multibillion-dollar dog-and-pony show.
At one time, I’d have been excited and engaged. I’m still engaged, but cynically and disinterestedly. Our election process, and all the excitement about finding the perfect Democratic (or GOP) candidate and rallying around him or her, seems a little futile.
Legions of voters are excited about this or that candidate, and they are donating, volunteering, attending rallies, waving placards. Good for them. It’s good for civic engagement. But don’t they know that our democracy and democratic processes are coming to resemble smoke-and-mirrors?
There are several reasons to be legitimately cynical about our elections and political process. To put it in a nutshell: It’s not about how good the wedding is, but how good the marriage will be.
Half the Country Considers the President Illegitimate
In the last 20 years or so, each president has been outright denied legitimacy by the other party and its members. President George W. Bush was seen as an illegitimate president especially in his first term (some would say rightly so). President Obama was, of course, seen by millions of conservatives as un-American and as born outside the country.
And now President Trump is seen as illegitimate by half our electorate, due to Russian meddling in the 2016 election. This doesn’t bode well for our democracy. You can dislike a president, and vehemently disagree with his or her policies, but seeing the president as completely illegitimate isn’t healthy.
Opposition Has Turned Into Sabotage
Behaving as a loyal opposition is so 20th century now. Opposing the ruling party in some areas, while working together in others for the good of the country—that left the barn a long time ago.
When parties and their bases can’t even agree what is good for the country, how can they work together? And the ante keeps getting upped. President Obama’s agenda was (merely) obstructed heavily and his right to nominate a Supreme Court justice denied.
Fast-forward a few years, and in President Trump’s case, we have a weaponized FBI and national security apparatus trying to undermine, sabotage, and remove a president they hate. And we have a Congress that doesn’t just obstruct now. Instead, they want to tie up, smear, and undermine the president’s agenda through interminable, bogus investigations.
Where will it all end?
The Political System Is Rigged for the Elites
It doesn’t matter how decent, charismatic, and intelligent a candidate is or how ambitious her agenda may be, if elected president she’ll be stymied by a system that is broken and urgently needs to be fixed. Yes, elections matter and have consequences, but some things have to be recognized first.
We have a broken political system in which the economy is rigged in favor of the wealthy, and powerful corporate interests and special interests get their way. To make matters worse, we have a national media apparatus that shills for corporate interests and profits mightily from it.
I wish millions of ordinary Democratic and Republican voters would understand one fundamental political truth: the essential contest isn’t between Democrats and Republicans, but between the elites (corporate, governing, and media) and the rest of us. All the other divisions are red herrings and less important.
At some level, the 63 million voters who went for Trump in 2016 understand this vital truth, and hence voted for a rank outsider, perhaps thinking “What the h-ll do we have to lose?” (one of Trump’s signature lines).
So, to those millions who see Joe Biden as the Great White Savior of 2020, here is the political quote of the year from Hawaii Sen. Tulsi Gabbard: “What does it matter if we beat Donald Trump if we end up with someone who will perpetuate the very same crony capitalist policies, corporate policies, and waging more of these costly wars?”
Congress Doesn’t Do Anything But Grandstand
Our divided Congress ensures that Nothing. Gets. Done. No matter who wins a general election, corporate interests, our rabid bases, and their take-no-prisoners approach will not allow much action to be taken on the people’s business.
Ironically, there is both a good and bad side to this. The good part is that a divided Congress curbs the worst impulses of either party. To put it jokingly, Grandma won’t get pushed off a cliff (if the GOP had both Houses of Congress) and we won’t have illegal immigrants voting (if the Democrats have total control).
The sad, bad part, of course, is that sane, much-needed legislation that a plurality of the country wants doesn’t get enacted, such as an infrastructure bill, comprehensive immigration reform, health care cost reductions, moderate gun control, etc.
The one thing that’ll get passed, however, is support for new military adventures in ever-new theaters. Because of the roving AUMF (Authorization For Use of Military Force) and a highly efficient military-industrial complex, new wars will always be a fixture, fueled by both parties.
This all makes one think that our continent-sized country has increasingly become ungovernable from DC. Increasingly the right approach is demonstrated more in state politics, with more solution-orientedness and more bipartisan compromise.
Governing by Executive Order Doesn’t Work
In the last decade, presidents have increasingly enacted their agenda through executive orders. A divided Congress, obstructionism, rabid bases that’d rather cut the country’s nose off to spite its face than compromise—all these make legislation well-nigh impossible, hence the executive orders.
But this is troubling for many reasons, including increasing executive branch power, policies-by-fiat that seem ad hoc and are essentially written in sand. So, just as Trump could undo Obama’s executive orders and legacy, the next president can and will do the same with Trump’s actions.
This is especially troublesome for global treaties and deals. It leaves allies and other countries in a state of insecurity and frustration. In 2005, there was jubilation in American political circles at the Iraqi election. All those long lines to vote; all those raised purple fingers! But it didn’t ultimately amount to much, because there wasn’t much power-sharing, compromise, or working together after the election.
It’s the same here: What the heck happens after this much-ballyhooed 2020 election? Will there be any compromise, will anything get done? We know the answer to that.
So excuse me for not being excited about Beto or Mayor Pete or Biden or Elizabeth Warren. If I could, I would ignore the whole thing, but I can’t. I just want to enjoy the spectacle merely for the crazy surrealness of it all. There are millions of us voters who are disgusted about the whole process, cynical about our so-called representatives, and don’t want to listen to one more platitude about democracy from one more pompous D.C. elite.
When it comes to elections and voting, I increasingly count myself a conscientious objector.