The very brutal politics to elect the next U.S. president has left millions of people in the U.S. and around the world spelled bound. It’s been especially rough on the battlefield where the Republicans (GOP), and Democrats to a lesser extent, are waging a new kind of politics.
Also, it’s been said that this is a consequential election in American history, with ramifications that touch on many areas of public life, domestic and foreign. As the process heads into the next phase, the drama, as some have called it, is getting intense, interesting, and full of suspense.
When Two Elephants Fight The Grass Takes a Beating
The elections remind me of the African saying that when two elephants fight it is the grass that gets hurt. The grass, symbolized in the democratic process–law and order, an independent and critical media, the elections process, etc., is hurting.
I’ve written about how media in the U.S. is an enterprise with an unbridled appetite for profits, to the detriment of news that benefits the community. What is happening in the elections, at least from the reporting, confirms these concerns. The media continues in feeding a cycle of misinformation, greed, propaganda, and fear.
With some examples that have piqued my interest, I’ve embedded links to the original sources within this post, and for others; I’ve included a reading list at the bottom for you to check out to learn more.
Advanced Democracy or What?
But let’s begin with this question: Is this the advanced democracy that America is supposed to be or is it craziness on the part of the candidates and the U.S. electorate? Is this “the government of the people, by the people, for the people,” we often hear about?
The U.S. often prides itself to be exceptional. That is true. But some of the ingredients of that exceptionalism, its democracy, elections, and the independence of the media, are under scrutiny because of the “bigotry” we’ve seen in the 2016 campaign.
If American democratic standards have deteriorated, one might ask, what more of African democracies, the ones who often get lectured about democracy and elections by American politicians?
It’s not just “Trumpmania” that is plaguing America, we’re hearing and reading, but a lot of Western countries are now faced with authoritarianism that is symbolic of a larger problem, according to this piece from the Washington Post.
It’s not clear who the referee is supposed to be here– the media, the American voters, or the international community. The terrain where the war is taking place has been soiled, massively, and is in need of cleansing.
Journalism and Elections
Journalistically–the reporting of the elections can be framed from the perspective of language, and the choice of words by reporters, writers, politicians, and analysts, who have expressed many points of view about what is happening. The process has led to the production of some of the most interesting journalistic literature imaginable.
What exactly do the writers mean, what are they saying and what conclusions can we draw from what is happening?
From the start of the primaries in 2015, there were an estimated 11 candidates in the GOP slugfest, and three candidates on the Democratic side, battling for the nomination of their respective parties. Everyone; Republican, Democrat, Independent, participant or spectator, has been muddied, if not bloodied, as the field winnows down.
Emotions continue to run high!
The elections have been presented, to varying degrees of success and failure, by the analysts and pundits, on social media, in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and The New York Times, and on broadcast news, radio and TV. The descriptions shown in this post, and many others, it must be noted, come from all shades of the political spectrum; left, right, center, and what have you.
Trump and the GOP
Writing in “What Republicans Can Learn From George Orwell — It’s Not What You Think,” James Lang, a professor of English at Assumption College says Orwell’s novels, Animal Farm and 1984, help explain the phenomenon of Donald Trump.
In the satirical novels, Orwell, a British writer, and democratic socialist wrote to lambast Stalin, tyranny, and a reign of terror in Russia during the early 20th century.
One description from The New York Times calls the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency a “Danger for democracy.” “Historians could not recall another time in the last century when the Republican Party’s previous nominees had so harshly attacked a would-be successor.”
In a March 7 editorial, Charles Blow describes the March 3 GOP debate in Detroit and what took place as “the zenith of a carnival of absurdity.”
“The country is still a military superpower and an economic and innovation powerhouse, but so many of our institutions are proving to be either fundamentally flawed or deeply broken,” Blow writes.
Michael O’Hanlon, a specialist on defense and foreign policy issues at the Brookings Institution writes:
“The GOP presidential primary process has taken us to places we couldn’t have dreamed mere months ago. Donald Trump’s apparently ever-growing lead—and the foundering of more mainstream candidates like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich—carries serious implications for America’s role in the world,” In the piece which focused on the purported dangers of a Trump foreign policy, “America’s role in the world,” O’Hanlon was in favor of a ticket pairing Marco Rubio, who has since dropped out of the not just the GOP primary race, but out of politics, with John Kasich, the governor of Ohio.
The editorial pages of the Washington Post wonder if Democracy is in retreat.
While pointing to some recent democratic bright spots, including a “peaceful transfer of power in Nigeria,” the writers believe the U.S. has played a role in the diminishment of democracy that we are seeing.
It is interesting to note that Nigeria is considered a bright spot as far as democracy is concerned. Good for Nigeria!
“Autocrats and even some Western politicians openly traffic in fear, xenophobia, and paranoia. The enemies of democracy are growing bolder by the day. The United States is partly responsible for letting this happen. It should step up to the autocrats of the world and confront their dangerous illiberalism.”
Along the way came surprises, such as the sudden demise of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. And then the battle for his replacement emerged, further intensifying what now seems like an eternal quest for the U.S. presidency.
Writing about the consequence of the death of Scalia, George Will, an analyst for Fox News as well as a columnist for the Washington Post, states, “The United States today is one Supreme Court vote away from a radical truncation of the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech.”
The writer is worried that, with Scalia gone, the Democrats will make attempts to kill “freedom of speech” which he says, is enshrined in the U.S. constitution. Will’s interpretation of free speech, in this case, is the right and ability of people and corporations in America to contribute unlimited sums of money to political campaigns.
At the heart of this is the 2010 Citizens United V. Federal Elections Commission verdict handed down by the Supreme Court. That decision is under enormous threat, is the argument that Will seems to be making.
“A Democratic president in 2017 would nominate to replace Scalia someone pledged to construe the amendment as permitting Congress to regulate political campaign speech, which would put First Amendment jurisprudence on a slippery slope to regarding all speech as eligible for regulation by the administrative state.”
It is Citizens United, that 5–4 Supreme Court verdict which many say, opened the floodgates of “Dark Money,” in the American political system.
Democratic candidate, Bernie Sanders has pitched his campaign on this subject to a resounding response from millions of his supporters. Sanders and his followers have raised plenty of objections to what they say is a vast amount of money that has been used to influence the election process. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner has faced a lot of questions about her ties to Wall Street.
Money in American Politics
Super PACS, special interest, and the corrupting influence of money in American politics are also the subject of “How Dark Money Boomeranged on the GOP,” written for Newsweek by Kurt Eichenwald.
Meanwhile, Norm Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and Thomas Mann, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, present a stinging critique of the current U.S. democratic process:
“To a large swath of Americans and most of the rest of the world, American politics have careened out of control, lurching from a role model of sensible policymaking and civil discourse to gridlock over even modest proposals with bipartisan buy-in, and to a presidential campaign with the kind of angry populist bluster, coarse language and sectarian division formerly associated with Peron-style banana republics.”
What is noted here is the use of the word “Banana Republic,” to describe this turn of events in America.
Banana Republics, often associated with brutal, corrupt, and failed regimes in South America and parts of Africa, are symbolized not just by a failing middle class, rising poverty, police brutality, and other ills, but also by torture, and corrupt alliances.
Trump Wrecks Havoc
Ezra Klein, the founder of Vox, a news website that aims at dissecting the news, posted this piece to explain the damage which Trump has wrecked on U.S. democratic norms.
On Trump, Klein states that “Trump is the most dangerous major candidate for president in memory.”
Klein sounds an alarm bell and warns about Trump: “He’s a man who could soon be making decisions of war and peace, who would decide which regulations are enforced and which are lifted, who would be responsible for nominating Supreme Court justices and representing America in the community of nations. This is not political entertainment. This is politics.”
Trump continues to lead the GOP field, even while his utterances have offended and alienated many. Yet, he is being embraced by many followers, who think he is anti-establishment. Anti-establishment to these followers is the equivalent of saying no to corruption by many U.S. politicians and business people on Wall Street. It’s the equivalent of a repudiation of politics as usual.
While the reporting is fascinating, some of it is depressing and full of emotion as Raevyn Goates has pointed out. Some of the writers have decried whatever happened to the U.S. media establishment.
Journalism Takes a Beating
While the American democratic system is reportedly being undermined, American journalism is taking a beating from the distractions and manipulations by politicians. The fourth estate, which is supposed to hold the candidates accountable, may have been hoodwinked by the candidates, especially by Donald Trump.
Jack Shafer, a media critic for Politico believes Trump has “put a spell on the press.” Shafer cautions journalists and producers who have been hypnotized by the candidate’s speeches to find way to break the spell.
“Cable news has been hypnotized into believing that any willingness by Trump to appear—on camera or remote via telephone—amounts to news,” he writes.
“As for the hundreds of working reporters who have been covering him for the past eight months, my modest advice is to maintain your patience. Journalism is long, politics is short.”
Writing in The Nation magazine about how the U.S. media got Trumped, John Nichols states that “The past 20 years have seen radical changes in the American media: the pandemic downsizing of newsrooms, sweeping layoffs of journalists, and a desperation for clicks and ratings that guarantees that civic and democratic values will always be trumped by commercial and entertainment demands.”
Conservatives Criticize Fox News
Another casualty of the infighting among Republicans is Fox News. The media giant which is controlled by Rupert Murdock is under fire for helping create Trump, according to Jennifer Rubin who writes the Right Turn for the Washington Post. In “Heal Thyself, Fox News,” Rubin, a conservative, castigates Fox News for “endless hours” that have been spent “spinning for him.”
“If Trump is out of control, it is in large part because Fox News’s media entertainers have built him up and turned over their programming to him.”
Others have compared Trump to Germany’s Adolf Hitler and Italy’s Benito Mussolini, because of his campaign style and tactics. The two European leaders, because of their leadership in the 1930s, are largely blamed by historians for starting Second World War II.
The candidate himself is unabashed and glories in the attention he garners from media around the world. Others in the #Stop Trump and #Never Trump movements are predicting dire consequences, such as the collapse of the GOP if he prevails.
So—we’re learning, that the Trump drama has diminished American democracy as we know it, and challenged the media in America.
U.S. Elections 2016: An Africa Agenda Reading List