Saturday, March 12, 2016


What we are witnessing in the 2016 election year is a lot of pent-up anger and frustration with the failure of the public sector (the federal government in particular) to acknowledge and address the worries of the average American citizen and now, like eight years ago, people are looking for a ‘fresh face’ promising to finally give them some satisfaction.

That is why Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders get so much traction and following.

But are our malcontents barking up the wrong tree?

If you think about the things that our malcontents are upset about, it is not clear at all that a simple change of face at the White House can provide the desired relief. After all, Barack Obama was going to offer change that we could all believe in, but after two almost complete terms it is clear that not much of substance has changed. At least not in the plight of the average American citizen.

What is it that our malcontents are most upset about and fearful of? It may not be the same for everyone, but it will definitely include:
·         The lack of income security combined with an ever increasing burden to pay taxes, medical and educational expenses and to save money for retirement, for children’s tuition and weddings and for elder care for parents; the money pool is shrinking and cost is inexorably rising.
·         The anxiety about the increasing prevalence of addictions, obesity, depression and other mental disorders affecting their lives and the lives of their children.
·         The widening gap between their living conditions and the affluence of the wealthiest Americans.
·         Dissatisfaction with their elected representatives who promise the world but fail to deliver on their promises or hold political/ideological beliefs they don’t share.

The malcontents have yet to come to grips with the fact that the world has irreversibly changed as a result of technology driven global competition. They have good reason to feel let down by their government for not preparing them for the changed environment and for not offering them the cushioning effect of retraining and income support programs. So, they are suckers for anything and anyone offering them the nirvana of a better future. And for someone who promises to go after the perpetrators of their misfortune. Unfortunately they are almost certainly setting themselves up for another disappointment. The ancient Romans already had an expression for this phenomenon: “Mundus vult decipi, decipiatur ergo” which translates to “the world wants to be assuaged by deception, so let it be deceived”.

If the malcontents manage to challenge their furor into the election of a radically different, non-conventional, president of the United States—like Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump would be— they are in for another huge let down. They fail to recognize that the problem is not with whoever happens to occupy the White House but with the intransigence of the American political system. Notwithstanding all the campaign promises, a new president can’t bring about a Wall Street revolution nor can he wave a magic wand that will make America great again by curing it of all the ills afflicting it today. Do we ever learn? With each transition from one presidency to the next, particularly when it shifts from one to the other party, comes the promise and the hope that things will fundamentally change, but all we ever get to experience is tinkering at the margin. What stands in the way of real change?
1.       The US Constitution which has carefully crafted a balance of power between the three branches of government.
2.       Two parties dividing congressional seats, as long as they have roughly equal support from the voting public.
3.       The election system, including the frequency of elections, the terms for office holders, the electoral college and some archaic rules of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
4.       The influence of money in politics.

Suppose for a moment that one of the ‘mavericks’ gets voted into the highest office of the land. How will he convince Congress (against the will of the special interests) to begin to roll back the income- and wealth inequality, to simplify the tax code and eliminate most if not all of the exemptions, to shore up the major entitlement programs, to come up with a comprehensive immigration reform plan, to provide relief for the exorbitant cost of healthcare and higher education and to deal with criminal justice reform? The other party, after missing out on control of the White House, will engage the help of the ‘money men’, and not allow the newcomer to steal the show.

There is nothing in the works to change the American political system as we know it. That has some merit, because it protects against an ideologically driven, authoritarian, push by a populist president. But it also stands in the way of badly needed policy adjustments that would put America back on the right track. All the demagoguery of the populist candidates in the election campaign to the contrary, the next president will not be able to do more, or better, than his predecessors unless the gridlock in Washington DC is broken by fundamental changes in the political system.

In the meantime it is alarming that the two populist candidates, as far apart ideologically as they and their parties appear to be, are fanning the flames of the anti-immigration and anti- free trade sentiment expressed by the malcontents who fail to see that import of talent and youth and free and fair global trade are crucial to growth and prosperity for future generations of Americans. In that respect too, the malcontents are barking up the wrong tree.

Friday, March 4, 2016


When the 2016 presidential election campaign featured its first GOP debate with 15 candidates and two sessions because no stage was big enough to hold them all, you had to wonder “do all these people fit under one tent?”

Our political spectrum has outgrown the comfort of two party control and it shows in both the republican and the democratic election campaign. Most clearly on the GOP side, where only a few months ago the party bosses went out of their way to make Donald Trump declare his unfailing loyalty to the party and now find themselves openly toying with the idea to find an establishment representative to run a third party candidate in case Trump wins the GOP nomination. But also on the democratic side where Bernie Sanders represents such a far left position that the center and the  traditional liberal positions have to be covered by one and the same person, Hillary Clinton. Now, admittedly, she is eminently suited to play that role because she has proven that she can change color faster than a chameleon and she will say or do just about anything to get elected. In that sense she is a superb politician.

As we all know, crises are too precious a thing to waste. If anything good is to come out of this year’s messy and distressing election campaign, it may be the splintering, the shattering, of the republican and the democratic parties. The end of the antiquated two party system that has outlived its suitability and no longer reflects the reality on the ground. Going into the 2016 elections the number of voters registered as Independent is larger than the number of registered Democrats or Republicans. In fact, Independents may represent as much as 42% of the voters in 2016. If that is the case, how much sense does it make to ask all these people to make a choice between one candidate anointed by the Republican Party and another candidate anointed by the Democratic Party? If more than 40% of the voters does not want to be identified with, or committed to, one of the two traditional parties and wants to be free to base their vote on the merit of the person or the issue in front of them rather than on party affiliation, what sense does it make to try to put them back in the straightjacket of the two party system? Let’s face the facts, the toothpaste is out of the tube and there is no way to push it back in. The modern world is too complex to be captured in a simple duality that was devised centuries ago.

The only feature of our current political system that is more detrimental to good public governance than the existing two party system is the stranglehold of money in politics.

It may, therefore, turn out to be a blessing that we see the big tents collapsing under their own weight. There is no roof large and strong enough to shelter all the big egos of republicans as disparate as Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Paul Rand, Ben Carson and John Kasich (not to mention Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum or Chris Christie). The RNC has lost the capacity to build a platform that seriously addresses the needs of the nation and that all these so called republicans can subscribe to. It leaves the voters no choice but to let go of their party affiliation and go to the ballot box not to vote for the party and the program of their choice but for the candidate or person of their choice.
It is the incapacity of the RNC to articulate a conservative platform for the 21st century that creatively and effectively deals with free and fair trade, with measures to reduce inequality and mitigate the effects thereof, with a humane and smart immigration policy, with tax and entitlement reform, with criminal justice reform, with reduction in the cost of healthcare and higher education and with the gradual slicing of the national debt, that has enabled a rogue, opportunistic and populist puppet like Donald Trump to steal the show.

If the Republican Party can’t offer constructive solutions for the future let’s see a new party (or parties) emerge that will offer the voting public a clear ideological and practical platform to move forward on.

On the democratic side the situation is not much different be it somewhat obscured by Elizabeth Warren’s decision to stay out of the melee and by the lack of traction that centrist democrats like Jim Webb and Martin O’Malley were able to get in a year where the party had long committed to give Hillary Clinton the opportunity that she was denied by the meteoric ascendance of Barack Obama in 2008.

Why is the republican establishment scrambling to find a white horse that can pull them away from the abyss (of their own making), that has suddenly opened up in front of them by the phenomenon of Donald Trump? Because they begin to realize that they have allowed the party to be gored at the center, to be eviscerated of the stable core of its constituency that has traditionally provided its flag bearer in national elections and that has, more often than not, placed a republican in the White House. What happens to the party influence in Congress and the State Capitols when the party of Lincoln now becomes the party of Trump (the brand identity elevated to the man’s highest ambition)? Where will the loyalties go of the republicans who were elected governor, State representative or State senator? Interesting and important questions. Here is my take: I think that we will be facing a reconstitution of the political landscape in the USA where the time for big tents will have come and gone. It may be tough for party loyalists to accept, but it may be just what the doctor ordered if we finally want to break gridlock in Washington DC caused by a stalemate between two archaic, retrogressive and polarized parties of our forebears.