Monday, May 2, 2016

Populism Is A Symptom

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines populism as "a member of a political party claiming to represent the common people." That is, 1) a politician who asserts that the interests and concerns of voters should be the driver of the political agenda, and 2) is by default anti-establishment. Thus the rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the United States presidential campaigns. The popularity of both are fueled by populist sentiments to the right (Trump) and the left (Sanders). 

As has been discussed before, the rise of these populist candidates is not by chance. Americans have discovered that the political process does not work; that it does not serve their interests, and it has been co-opted by America Inc -- the large businesses and special interests of corporate America, which we could put in a nutshell as the industrial-military complex. 

And I'm convinced that it is not going to get better anytime soon. I've written before about how polarized Congress has become and how this entrenched political polarization has generated a systemic impotence for real reform. What does the future hold?

I've also commented in the past how I've become convinced that this Congress is the most divided since the Civil War. Now I have some evidence. I recently read an article from the Department of Economics of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- Working Paper, "Patterns Of Congressional Voting," by Keith T. Poole and Howard Rosenthal, Sept. 1989 -- that examined voting patterns of every Congress from 1789 to 1985. Here's what they discovered: 

  • "[L]egislation is shaped not only by the 535 members of Congress and attendant thousands of staff, but also by influences rising in the executive, organized lobbies, the media, and from private individuals." (No revelation here, but it is nice to see it observed and noted.)
  • "The spatial structure uncovered by the [computer] model is very stable and it breaks down precisely when the political system breaks down; first, from 1815 to 1825, after the collapse of the Federalist party, and, second, in the early 1850's upon the collapse of the Whigs and the division over slavery." (I suspected the second example, I neglected to consider the first.)
  • "[I]n contrast to earlier historical periods, political change must now be accomplished by the selection of new legislators through the electoral process rather than by the adaptation of incumbent legislators to changes in public demands." (In other words, even by 1985 -- if not earlier -- party loyalty had ossified the political process, as compromise becomes a non-option.)
  •  "[T]he possibility of major political change has been sharply reduced because the average distance between the two major parties has fallen dramatically in this century." (This is not what it might first appear, as the distance that the authors are describing here is not distance in political ideologies, but that both parties have been co-opted by vested interests: they're both equally corrupt. Remember, this was published in 1989!)
At least by this measure, my suspicions have been confirmed: the US Congress has ceased to function as an institution of democracy, but has become simply an agent of the industrial-military complex. The American democratic process has become a fascade of a real, functioning democracy, at least at the federal level. Subsequently I'll state it again: Hillary will win the next presidential election, as she is the choice of the vested interests. They will tolerate the current campaign only to 1) insure their candidate's success and 2) to discredit any opposition.

These are unprecedented times.   

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Emphatic language can be couched in kind words. Let's all be adults here and use our words constructively.