US Primary Elections Offer Bleak Future

by Sean O’Malley, Associate Professor, DIS

Stormy Primaries_blogPrimary elections for potential presidential nominees of the Democratic and Republican parties in the United States are in full swing. In fact, the probability of who will represent each party is narrowing. The increasing probability seems to dictate a general election race between former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, for the Democratic Party, and billionaire real estate and business mogul Donald Trump, for the Republican Party. To the US expatriates with whom I’ve spoken, the most common claim is disbelief in the surreal nature of what is unfolding in their native country. Most simply cannot believe how low US democracy has sunk. The prevailing attitude seems to be that the US faces a bleak future under the next president, based on the choices and shape of the primaries. There are a number of reasons I agree with this assessment, and yet my trepidation is curtailed by longer term optimism.

First of all, one cannot escape the very real possibility that the next president will be a lame duck the day they enter office. This would mean a one-term presidency for whoever is elected. Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump both face very high unfavorability ratings, historically so for Mr. Trump. Either would likely face a Congress that will be highly obstructionist to any policy direction offered. There is no substantive reason to believe that down ticket races will be affected greatly by either nominee. The opposing party vitriol for both of these candidates, and the disaffection for both in their own parties, will likely result in voters sticking with their current representative in hopes of riding out a tumultuous four years. This could possibly mean heightened dysfunction and partisanship in the Congress, with Tea Party and so-called moderate Republicans flatly refusing to work with Mrs. Clinton, and nearly everybody refusing to work with Mr. Trump. One friend even proffered that either nominee may very well be impeached within two years of assuming office.

Secondly, would you like a Wall Street Republican or a Wall Street Republican in office? (That is not a typo.) Mr. Trump is quite obviously a man who is supportive of big money and the Wall Street banking establishment that continues to wreak havoc on the global economic system. Mrs. Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have actively courted Wall Street and its big money since his first run for the presidency. In economic terms, it is difficult to see much of a difference between the candidates and neither is likely to take on the big moneyed interests that have overseen the greatest continual decline in real wage income in the history of the United States. The only real difference is that nobody has any idea what kind of policies a president Trump would put forth. When a supporter of Bernie Sanders was asked whether they would support Hillary Clinton in the general election, the response was “I prefer chaos to stagnation.” That is a problem with which Clinton must contend. Many people feel she will simply bring four more years of economic stagnation and decline; a process of which she has been at center stage for a quarter of a century. Most of the people I spoke with said they simply will not vote for her, if they vote at all. It is noteworthy that Clinton’s greatest support is in southern states traditionally won by Republican presidential nominees. Clinton has yet to claim significant support apart from Bernie Sanders (an avowed socialist and her biggest competitor for the nomination) in states that traditionally go Democrat in the general election. In essence, Mrs. Clinton cannot shore up her own base, and there is no guarantee Sanders supporters will go to the polls for her.

Overall, it appears that either candidate would oversee a stagnant and declining economy with very little to offer in response. More than likely, they would exacerbate social inequality and spend four years bolstering the wealth of the top 1% at the expense of the 99 below. However, not all is lost.

The fact is that dominant powers like the US do not simply crumble overnight. The process tends to be gradual and take many decades if not centuries. The US is still the world’s largest economy and has the world’s largest military. It is a resource rich land with great influence around the globe. Either nominee, if elected, would likely serve only four years and although damage can be done in that time, catastrophic unrecoverable damage is unlikely. For the first time in its history, the US has a socialist running for president, albeit under the Democratic Party banner, and he is attracting significant votes among young people. This has mostly been brushed aside as insignificant by major media companies, but the Sanders ‘revolution’ is winning significant votes in traditional, Democratic strongholds. There is little reason to believe the desire for social welfare and equality will dissipate after this election. If anything, it will probably be more desired after a Clinton or Trump presidency. Often it is said that things must get worse before they get better – this is how I see this election. The US is in a for a bleak near future with either of these nominees as president, but it may very well be short-lived with a social revolution brought about by the younger generation.

(This post is the opinion of the author only and does not represent views of the DIS or Dongseo University.)