No matter who staggers first across the finish line, the Election 2016 is unlikely to end well because reigning elites linked to both parties self-servingly misdiagnose what ails the body politic and persist in advancing wrong correctives.
Both parties are captive to monied interests, media cheerleaders, and technological wizardry. Both are beneficiaries of doing nothing much. Whether flooding the zone with ads or draining individual bank accounts with ersatz movement enthusiasms, they prosper regardless of outcomes.
The reality is that both parties are broken, shells of their former selves, re-formed in the image of a new patronage that only major monied relationships can buy. As a set of self-appointed mediating institutions, they are tin soldiers for the common good and institutional breeding grounds for ongoing gridlock.
None of this would matter if it all comes down simply to games people play for power and money. But it doesn’t. The consequences are life threatening.
Both parties have concluded that it is better to simulate or manipulate a “movement” than it is to struggle with the real time challenges of making communities better places to live, the world safer, and individual lives happier and healthier. Most voters believe the nation’s leaders and networked elites have ignored their interests. More and deeper disappointment looms.
Little has been made of President Obama’s inability to deliver on a central campaign message of 2008 - Not Red or Blue America but the United States of America. “One America” as a promise failed. If a healthier, more robust civic life is the standard by which the Obama presidency is judged, his administration has fallen short.
Jason Horowitz reported in the NY Times that the Obama effect inspired few to seek public office. On April 13, 2014 he wrote: “For all the talk about the movement that elected Mr. Obama, the more notable movement of Obama supporters has been away from politics. It appears that few of the young people who voted for him, and even fewer Obama campaign and administration operatives, have decided to run for office. Far more have joined the high-paid consultant ranks.”
Far from advancing local community engagement in civic affairs, the President pivoted away from “citizen organizing” while abandoning, or being forced to abandon, his One America thematic. As a consequence, what ails the body politic remains unaddressed as the President’s second term comes to a close.
As of now I see no evidence that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump has either the will or skill to successfully confront the continued erosion of democratic habits and practices.
In November, the temptation of the pundit class will be to exhale with relief that the nation did not humiliate itself by electing a person who is nothing more than a punk in his public and private spheres. Likely left unexplored will be the disturbing truth that the Trump phenomenon is NOT an aberration but yet another expression of the erosion of responsible mediating institutions – religious, civic, labor, business – and the emergence of untethered, but endlessly wealthy, movements of monied interests that see the presidency as a way to insulate themselves from any accountability to the larger population or any responsibility for the well-being of the nation as a whole.
If rebuilding the institutional fabric of a healthy public life is central to the national interest, what the next President of the United States does is important but more important and ultimately more hopeful is the work of ordinary citizens in reweaving the fabric of the communities in which they live.
Frank C. Pierson, Jr.
Frank Pierson retired after forty years of work with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) as a professional organizer. He began his career in 1971 in Chicago, moved to Queens, New York City and migrated west to work in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado. He resides with his wife, Mary Ellen Kazda, in Oracle, Arizona. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org