David Brooks reaches the obvious point about the state of American politics. It’s either dead or very close.
There are the usual suspects. Certainly, cable news and the evident need to fill the airwaves with something all the time and round the clock contributes. Rising inequality, as mentioned often on these pages, tends to sunder society; how could the plutocrat sympathize with the peon? Some have suggested that the Republican Party produced its own Frankenstein monster, which it can no longer control. If you’ve read Jane Mayer’s book Dark Money, you’ll appreciate another, and perhaps most important culprit: the Koch brothers and the rise of the angry billionaire.
It is the Kochs, with their staunch libertarianism and obscene bank accounts, that did their best to orchestrate America’s demise, or at least its political culture. After all, they do not want government to begin with, but are surely content to have one that doesn’t work. Dysfunction is clearly a second-best result. Brooks:
Over the past generation we have seen the rise of a group of people who are against politics. These groups — best exemplified by the Tea Party but not exclusive to the right — want to elect people who have no political experience. They want “outsiders.” They delegitimize compromise and deal-making. They’re willing to trample the customs and rules that give legitimacy to legislative decision-making if it helps them gain power.
Ultimately, they don’t recognize other people. They suffer from a form of political narcissism, in which they don’t accept the legitimacy of other interests and opinions. They don’t recognize restraints. They want total victories for themselves and their doctrine.
Yet, Brooks doesn’t mention the Koch brothers or Jane Mayers’s book. The Kochs have systematically unravelled the political economy, pouring millions, if not billions, of dollars into “a vast, right-wing conspiracy” that has succeeded in reddening most states, the Congress, the Supreme Court, and, they hope, the White House. Mayers writes:
…the influence of the Kochs and their fellow “radicals for capitalism” extended well beyond just zeitgeist. They still might not have been able to take credit for many positive legislative accomplishments, but they had proven instrumental in obstructing those of their opponents. Despite the radicalism of their ideas, which had developed in a direct line from the John Birch Society, the Kochs had fulfilled Charles’s 1981 ambition not just to support elected politicians, whom he regarded as mere “actors playing out a script,” but to “supply the themes and words for the scripts.”
By 2015, their antigovernment lead was followed by much of Congress. Addressing global warming was out of the question. Although economic inequality had reached record levels, raising taxes on the runaway rich and closing special loopholes that advantaged only them were also nonstarters. Funding basic public services like the repair of America’s crumbling infrastructure was also seemingly beyond reach. A majority of the public supported an expansion of the social safety net. But leaders in both parties nevertheless embraced austerity measures popular with the affluent. Even though Americans overwhelmingly opposed cuts in Social Security, for instance, the Beltway consensus was that to save the program, it needed to be shrunk.
Where Brooks is headed is right to Donald Trump. It is the reality-TV host of utter bombast and sleaze that now stands a very good chance of claiming the Republican nomination. The so-called “establishment” regulars appear to be helpless in stopping this fractious fake.
What I find interesting, aside from The Donald himself, is the law of unintended consequences. The Koch brothers succeeded in supplanting the Republican Party, as Mayers chronicles. In so doing, the erstwhile leaders of the GOP, the ones who wanted Romney and the Bushes, have no levers to pull. They have lost control. But neither the Kochs nor the party operatives envisioned the crown going to a clown. Trump is not part of the Koch program. He’s an anomaly who, he says, answers to no one. He cannot be bought, or so he says, not even by the Kochtopus.
Nevertheless, there he is, with all his blustering blather, stoking the nativist fears of a dwindling white majority, promising oblivion to those who dare speak ill of the U.S., while guaranteeing that he, and he alone, will make America “great again.” Brooks:
And in walks Donald Trump. People say that Trump is an unconventional candidate and that he represents a break from politics as usual. That’s not true. Trump is the culmination of the trends we have been seeing for the last 30 years: the desire for outsiders; the bashing style of rhetoric that makes conversation impossible; the decline of coherent political parties; the declining importance of policy; the tendency to fight cultural battles and identity wars through political means.
Trump represents the path the founders rejected. There is a hint of violence undergirding his campaign. There is always a whiff, and sometimes more than a whiff, of “I’d like to punch him in the face.”
It’s quite possible, ladies and gentlemen, that we are in the midst of the end times. Forget Washington. Forget Lincoln. Forget the Roosevelts. Heck, even forget Reagan, who at least understood that half a loaf was better than none. We may now give ourselves The Donald, along with completely corrupt political and economic systems. Hey, we’re all just a bunch of losers, anyways.