I can think of no more succinct statement of the ethical bankruptcy of the American political process than the fact that regardless of which major party candidate is declared winner of this election, come January 2017 a man accused of multiple sexual assaults will be living in the White House.
Supporters of Hillary who object to associating her with her husband’s misdeeds might take a few moments to consider the legal theory around what’s called an “accomplice after the fact.” It is not, in short, a state of innocence. In fact, the presumption of Hillary’s innocence is premised upon a sexist denial of her agency as a woman; particularly and especially, a wife, those poor creatures who lose even their own names in the act of marriage.
I, for one, find the idea that Hillary Rodham ever lacked agency implausible, in addition to it being at variance with her every statement on the matter, going back over 25 years to her initial I-am-not-Tammy-Wynette declaration. In any case, if she was a prisoner of marriage for the last forty-plus years, that hardly qualifies her for the presidency, except as a tacit admission of the impotence of the office relative to the real powers behind the scenes. In that case I will admit, she’s the most qualified candidate ever.
The horror of it all wouldn’t be nearly so infuriating were it not for the fact that Bernie was not only a vastly stronger candidate against Trump, but also a figure who might have actually helped stem the tide of social disintegration which is currently lowering all boats in a unified race to the bottom. It should be obvious to even the most stalwart defender of either candidate that regardless of which one wins, the other half of the electorate (“the electorate” being that fragment of the enfranchised population who still bother to vote) is going to resolutely regard the victor as illegitimate in the extreme. I will not be at all surprised to see impeachment proceedings begin in the House soon after inauguration, and on solid legal grounds.
The old and unassailable argument about practicality, that touchstone of the Democratic Party’s shift to the right, has this year been turned completely on its head. The ruling elite was already losing its grip across the political spectrum of opinion, before this outpouring of hacked emails and documents that will finally destroy all pretense to ethical legitimacy. It is little wonder that Trump is getting so much traction out of declaring that the whole system is rigged. Everyone not willfully asleep on some level not only knows this, but is nearly sick to death of all professional and amateur pretense to the contrary. The finest clothes of punditry are rapidly turning to rags.
And all this makes for an extraordinarily dangerous time. Loss of confidence in the basic fairness of institutional authority en masse is the natural manure, to borrow Jefferson’s pungent phrase, of demagogues. A society that rewards crooks and liars will — surprise! — breed increasingly virulent crooks and liars. The rot will not be contained in the center of power.
We are, in fact, in such a state that the best thing for the country would be for people to cease to treat the people put forth by the two major parties as leaders, which is to say, models of behavior and opinion.
As a step in that direction, I offer the observation that experience and success within a corrupt environment does not make a person able to lead others toward the good. It seems to me that there is widespread intuitive understanding of this. Or at least, people are vaguely aware of the conflict between success in the world as it is in relation to capacity to lead the world toward what it ought to be. Both campaigns have fashioned narratives in order to bridge the profound gaps.
Trump’s narrative is explicit, made by the candidate himself when, for example, he talks about how brilliantly he used the tax code, or how he is the only person who can clean up the crooked game of buying political influence, because he’s a past master of that very game. As a billionaire whose bought untold numbers of politicians, exploited every trick, and screwed every creditor, no one is more equipped than Trump to take on the rigged system. And now, Trump wants to work for America, not for Trump.
Hillary’s narrative is more subtle. To my knowledge, she only laid claim to it once, in vaguely claiming to be an outsider to the system she’s been embedded in for the last 25+ years by virtue of her gender. Her surrogates, particularly her covert surrogates and amateur admirers, have been left to articulate just how her gender has insulated her from becoming adapted to the corrupt system Donald Trump had mastered from the other side of the public/private divide.
The short answer here is not that she didn’t adapt, but the adaptation wasn’t Her fault, and so doesn’t amount to a deformation of character. As a woman, this thinking goes, Hillary had no choice but to play the game, because as second class citizens in the upper echelons of power, abject conformity is the price of admission. To put it in another way, as a woman, Hillary wasn’t privileged enough to have scruples.
So, this theory weakly holds, Hillary’s virtue is uncompromised within Her, just waiting for that time when she shatters through the Glass Ceiling and finally has the power to act as a fully moral agent.
As utterly implausible as both these stories are in, you know, the real world, they’re still profoundly powerful mythical structures, written, we might say, in the vernacular of culture.