Even though so many people are upset by the outcome, it’s still somewhat of a relief that our circus-like presidential election is mercifully coming to a legally mandated close. (A joint session of Congress with Vice President Joe Biden presiding as ceremonial President of the Senate still has to formally recognize and certify the Electoral College vote on Jan. 6. So it’s not quite over yet, folks. Look for a few more media driven theatrics to come.) Every four years, partisans and nominally objective observers robotically call our current presidential cycle the most important election-ever. That normally hyperbolic statement seemed to ring more true this time than ever before. It certainly was the most surreal. We’ve never had two major-party presidential candidates who have been more loathed by so many people-even by many of those who ended up voting for them. Each candidate, of course, had their passionate core of desperate supporters. But many objective voters, who swallowed hard as they chose Clinton, did so only to avoid voting for the dangerously megalomaniac Trump. Likewise, so many others who grimaced as they cast a ballot for Trump did so only as a means to stop the ethically bankrupt, multi-baggaged Clintons from re-entering the White House.
It’s fair to say that most people in the country, even many of those who ended up voting for Trump, are profoundly disappointed by the result of this election and by the obverse (not to mention perverse) “Sophie’s choice” they were forced to make. The truly sad thing is that this may be the new normal in American politics.
It was futurist Alvin Toffler, who wrote in the 1970’s that the rapidly improving technology that was bound to occur in the coming decades would produce such profound changes in society that it would put people into a kind of “Future Shock”. It’s exactly that “Future Shock” that seems to have people suffering from a toxic detachment from reality. This is what drove the appeal of Trump to his core supporters and to only a slightly lesser extent-Clinton to hers. As a secondary affectation of “Future Shock”, people also seem to have acquired a desperate yearning for the (mostly imaged) stability of the past. Drill a little deeper into the appeal of Trump and Clinton and you will see that despite their stylistic and somewhat substantive differences, they essentially offered the same thing to their core believers. Thus, we had an election between the virtual reality star who promised to “make America great again” vs. the truth challenged ‘back to the good old days of the Nineties’ Clintons. The Clintons also offered the additional millennia-old falsely comforting continuity of rule by family connection. And this may be the newest, disturbing, and ominously dangerous, trend in American democracy-the apparent appeal of a modern day monarchy to the American electorate or at least a crude aberration of one.
Americans used to have a healthy suspicion of electing immediate family members of former presidents to the presidency because it smacked of the royalty that they rejected. It’s actually quite extraordinary that prior to the election of Bush the Younger in 2000, it’s happened only once before in our long history (the one-term John Quincy Adams way back in 1824-only as a compromise candidate by the House of Representatives due to a stalled Electoral College) compared to how often it’s happened in much shorter-lived democracies around the world. (Of course, that’s also exactly why so many of them were shorter-lived.) Today, rule by family connection is something that many Americans seem to want, even desperately desire. It’s no mere coincidence that the governors of two of our most populous states, Jerry Brown in California and Andrew Cuomo in New York, are also the sons of former governors of that same state.
Trump, for his part, also represents, in his own quirky way, a crude aberration of a monarchy. For years now, people have been referring to him in the third person as “The Donald.” He may even end up conducting most of his presidential business from his own palatial “Trump Tower”.
Mainstream media such as The Washington Post as well the Twitterverse are all already salivating about the possibility of Michelle Obama running for president in 2020. Barring the U.S. electorate coming to its senses or some type of timely legislation or even constitutional amendment explicitly prohibiting it, the day will undoubtedly come in the not too distant future when a US president (Republican or Democrat) will be directly succeeded by his or her spouse, sibling, son, or daughter. Unfortunately, that may also signal the day that this democracy has ended.
These are the Scylla and Charybdis of the new political order we’ve created as a reactionary by-product of our rapidly changing technology-a dangerous detachment from reality (mostly manifesting itself as a blurring between reality and virtual reality) closely followed by an deep desire for some real stability to the point where we are willing to settle, even yearn, for a crude aberration of a monarchy.
In four or eight years we’re likely to be faced with a presidential primary contest between Kanye West, Michelle Obama, and Caitlin Jenner on the Democratic side and between Jeb Bush and Ivanka Trump for the Republicans with conservative rocker Ted Nugent thrown into the mix to add to the goofiness. (Thank goodness Arnold Schwarzenegger is legally prohibited from running.) This circus of absurdity does not have to be our destiny. We can do better. But first we’ll have to become master rather than a mere tool of the technology that we’ve created.