Just say it: America no longer trusts the Democrats or the Republicans. Or go further: The Democratic Party and the Republican Party are unlikely to survive into the 2020s.
Was that so hard?
For Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, The New York Times, National Review, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and most of the rest of the mainstream media, the answer is yes: they can’t or don’t say what I just said. Why?
It’s not the end of the world, it’s just the end of these two parties. It’s not like they’re written into the Constitution. They’re organizations concerned with earning money and power, or what we typically call “businesses.” What other American businesses have survived since before the death of Abraham Lincoln (151 years ago today)? Levi’s jeans? Not many.
I’m sure Blockbuster Video and MySpace wish they had a mainstream media so unwilling to contemplate their obsolescence.
Though I expressed Americans’ disgust with both parties a year ago – back when Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump were little more than footnotes on front pages – I remain somewhat surprised that the media has been so slow to catch on, with scattered exceptions, one being John Kass at the Chicago Tribune.
Maybe you have to be from Chicago to have a well-paid job in the press and feel something other than loyalty to the Democrats, loyalty to the Republicans, or loyalty to the duopoly. (Oh yes, this last one gets articulated, for example by Jill Lepore. Not that she can come up with anything the parties have done for us in this century.)
Generally, the mainstream media doesn’t paint this year as an existential crisis for both parties, though it has come around on the Republicans…yes, that party is in trouble, the left-wing and right-wing press is finally admitting. But pieces showing the same sword of Damocles hanging over the Dems, like Steve Almond’s in Salon this week, are still woefully rare. Instead we hear it’s “the year of the outsider,” like it’s the year the Indianapolis Colts win the Super Bowl, some kind of one-off. We hear that people are fed up and disgusted with wage stagnation and fealty to special interests and corporate welfare and other 1%-oriented policies, which is true.
What we don’t hear is just how angry Americans are about both major parties leading us from 9/11 to the Patriot Act to the Iraq War to the financial system collapse to the bailouts to government shutdown after government shutdown to the absolute abdication of their roles as lawmakers. We don’t hear how sick people are of partisanship, of party over people’s problems.
Perhaps the media doesn’t want to report the full extent of people’s anger at the failure of the establishment because the (aforementioned) media doesn’t want to admit that it’s part of the establishment. “Hey we reported Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill didn’t we? We report failures!” Yep. And you help return them to Congress every two years.
When certain media writers – by not naming them, I’m being polite – throw up their hands in bafflement at the popularity of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, there’s often a sort of “are these voters really paying attention?” vibe.
Hey reporters: what if voters are paying just as much attention as you are? Ever think of that?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are imperfect messengers for populist frustration. Neither has a clue how to pay for what they’re proposing. That gives the media the excuse they need to write what they already were thinking: only centrists can save us, only compromises between Democrats and Republicans can move the country forward. The reporters are lucky that way. America in 2016 has demonstrated it’s fully ready for a populist who is less partisan and has real budget ideas, in the Huey Long mold, but until that happens the media can cling to these parties and the access that they grant.
Leaders matter. If we didn’t know that before, we see more evidence of it today. Despite that, you have people like David Remnick asking why these populist insurgencies didn’t happen in 2012, when the economy was just as dire, when Tea Party- and Occupy-inflected rage was just as potent. Message to David and others: you may have missed this, but in 2012 neither party was running a candidate who vilified both parties. You’ll be happy to hear that the media still has some power: because you guys utterly ignore the Libertarian Party and the Peace and Freedom Party and the American Independent Party and every other minor party, most Americans don’t consider their candidates viable. However, given the level of exposure you do give to major-party candidates, when you give anyone a microphone to say “those two parties have failed us for 16 years” – surprise! Americans have proved quite open to that message.
Because the national media still has power, and because it has been so bad at understanding ordinary Americans, we’re caught in a very unfortunate negative feedback loop between the antiestablishment Trump/Sanders (T/S), the mainstream media (MM), and ordinary people (OP) who have, through no fault of their own, lost jobs to outsourcing or robots. The loop goes something like this:
- T/S says something that the MM considers “bad politics” while remaining on side of OP
- MM predicts worse poll numbers for T/S
- T/S poll numbers rise
- MM have no problem keeping their jobs
- OP wonder if anyone from obviously job-secure MM can really understand them, appreciate T/S more
- Cycle begins again
All that said, yes, Hillary Clinton will probably face off against Donald Trump, and Clinton will probably become President. Well, she’s lucky she’s not running to be the second female President. The minute she’s no longer running against Sanders, most of her billion dollars will go toward telling you how bad the Republican guy is. She’ll have learned nothing about how sick Americans are of partisanship, because the papers she and her aides are reading aren’t discussing it.
Wait a minute, how can I say Hillary’s going to win when she’s the epitome of the Wall-Street establishment and I just said Americans are against that? Well, many, many Americans are. But society is more complex than that. People have also shown that they will sometimes split the difference or choose from the best of bad options, as with “Batman v. Superman” earning $300 million at the domestic box office the other day.
I can’t help but remember when the Joker told Batman (in the first scene to come up on youtube when you type “great acting”) “I don’t want to kill you! What would I do without you? You complete me.” There’s a lesson there for Democrats who consider themselves dark knights. By November, the jokers may be vanquished. But at that point, will people still need caped crusaders?