In the childhood of most millennials the year 2020 would foster wonderment about the future, a future that seemed consistent, pacing forward and bestowing upon the starry-eyed a sense that flying cars would dominate the world we would live in. At present, society has had many technological upgrades, the most revolutionizing for day-to-day life being the introduction of high speed Internet. As amazing it is to live in an era of high tech solutions for everyday life, from coordinating travel to finding a certified neighborhood handyman, it has become increasingly clear that the traditional norms of every day politics in America has regressed.
Election 2020 will be about fighting over who we think we are as a nation instead of debating about what we want to become as a global player in world affairs. Americans have taken a radical turn inward; dividing ourselves into competing sub-groups overlaid with the flawed patronages of either identity politics on the left or populist nationalism on the right. Both are crude, divisive, and extreme as both seek to carve out power from within the Democratic and Republican Party. They both focus on the victimization of their adherents while viewing the political opposition as an uncompromising flaw that has the ability to upend whichever left-leaning or right-leaning bubble they idealize as a perfect society.
Let’s take a look at the Democrats. Ever since Donald Trump’s 2016 win, the Democratic Party has been investing in socialist-leaning candidates. With Bernie Sanders at the helm, the progressive faction of the Democratic Party had some notable wins in the 2018 midterm elections, gaining back a Democrat majority in the House of Representatives. The most popular and outspoken of the freshmen class of progressive lawmakers are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). Each is a self-styled progressive that seek to use their newfound congressional platform to radicalize the Democratic base by advocating for socialist policies such as the Green New Deal, tuition-free college, and Medicaid for all. Although these are grand ideas, many Americans are unsure about the practicality of the progressive agenda and are wary about centralizing government’s power to enforce laws in contentious areas like the environment and healthcare.
Although economics will play a large part in how Americans will vote in the 2020 election, the progressive agenda is not only about having the wealthy pay their fair share to equalize goods and services throughout society. The Progressive faction has also advocated abolishing ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), the Senate filibuster, and the Electoral College. These are quite contentious stances and have been deemed so radical that mainstream media talking heads have asked Democratic presidential candidates if they are willing to define themselves as capitalists. By torpedoing such radical approaches to hard pressing problems in American society, progressives are attempting to have Americans embrace a narrow criticism that pits people into categories of the haves/ have-nots, while seeking to define institutional problems and its solutions through the lens of race and class.
While convictions of justice are at the forefront of progressive ideology, it is important to remember that attitudes on morality range within a wide spectrum, as it is very difficult to direct policy on ideological understandings of morality. As such, Bernie Sanders and his progressive colleagues may speak the language of economic reform and justice, but their ideas are more radical revisionist than traditional reformist.
Many who advocate for Democratic Socialism aim to create a classless society, one where the means of production is highly regulated by laws decided by the federal government. While there is definitely corporate greed and government corruption that needs fixing, these are problems that are unlikely to find a tenable solution by applying the principles of hard-left ideology. America’s problems are not because capitalism doesn’t work and we are in need of a centralized economy, but because of corrupt Wall Street bankers. Their practices have led to the financialization of the economy where wealth is engineered by making money from money rather than from building and exporting industrial goods. Thus, the most important question of our generation and for the 2020 Presidential election is how to moderate and regulate Wall Street practices that attribute to financial malfeasance.
One such issue that needs to be reviewed and reformed is financial speculation, where the health of the economy is wrapped up in financial instruments that are used to prop it up and inflate economic growth rates. These factors aggravate the boom and bust cycle of capitalist economies, which to an extent may allow the economy to self-regulate, but has led to the drastic reduction of wealth for poor and middle-class Americans whose jobs rely on the health and stability of traditional industries that are tied to the workings of the market economy.
We should seek to regulate financial practices that tie up the barometer of whole economies to the speculation of future wealth creation, where miscalculation can led to interconnected crises and globalized recessions. If we can start with cleaning up bad practices it might lead to a better form of financial productivity in the market, that can lead to more wealth creation, and thus building a better chance for a more equalized society.
On the Republican side, President Donald Trump has trained his supporters to view the mainstream media as the enemy of the people and to believe that Washington D.C’s vast bureaucratic institutions, which make up the backbone of U.S government operations, should be weakened or destroyed. A populist in name only, Trump has filled his Cabinet with many former Wall Street bankers and Goldman Sachs alumni, the most notable being Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
Many of the men who are now “America’s bankers” have facilitated or attributed to the complex set of financial practices that led to the Great Recession of 2008. With much of the populist anger stemming from wage stagnation, unaffordable housing, and job insecurity caused by the recession, it becomes more difficult to believe that the Trump presidency will be able to reform or deter corrupt Wall Street practices that siphon from the income of middle-class Americans.
A more worrying trend is Trump’s ability to informally align his presidency with the health of the economy. President Trump has repeatedly interjected his opinion (via Twitter) in an attempt at persuading Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, most recently influencing Chairman Powell to halt any further interest rate hikes. Although the President claims he doesn’t have any power over the decisions made by the Federal Reserve, which is independent of government control, Trump has been successful at creating the perception that he has the last say in the Fed’s decisions, and thus reaping political rewards at the expense of an artificially inflated stock market. Accordingly, whatever happens to the stock market so goes Trump’s presidency. This will keep his base cheerful, maybe even becoming a good selling point to influence a portion of non-ideological voters in his 2020 reelection campaign.
One of President Trump’s most precarious strength is that he carries no political ideology. Although he remains an ideological void, he has outsourced his foreign policy to the combined forces of the Christian-Right (Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo) and the Neo-conservatives (National Security Adviser John Bolton and Special Enjoy to Venezuela Elliott Abrams). President Trump may have campaigned on minimizing America’s footprint in unrelenting foreign wars and occupations, but his cadre of foreign policy power players have been embarking upon interventionist and prudently ideological adventures in their attempted and publicized desire to overthrow the governing regimes of Venezuela and Iran.
The principle behind these actions and their potential outcome will foreshadow the status of American hegemony in the future. As America’s unipolar moment continues to fade, it is important that we question foreign policy decisions that seek to intervene in other countries, where the only end point is regime change. If we continue to define national interests in such a way where we favor coups over international law in order to install ideologically aligned foreign regimes, we will find ourselves in the perilous realm of imperial overreach.
As such, America’s internal divisions have weakened the core of Washington. The fracturing of our internal politics has perpetuated an identity crisis within our national ethos. The more American political culture is fractured by the cultural dictates of a Red state – Blue state divide, the more Washington will feign its power and mask its weaknesses by grandstanding the last reserves of American influence on the world stage.
This next election will very likely be the one that exposes Washington’s ruling class as a weak, fractured elite that is prime to be manipulated by outside money that is funneled into think tanks, media, lobbying organizations, and even real estate. This will allow corporate interests to gain more power to influence important policy decisions on issues like taxes, giving more tax breaks to profitable organizations while leaving average Americans struggling to pay for the increasing cost of living. Furthermore, campaign finance laws have become so deregulated that money in politics has become akin to legalized bribery, where both domestic and foreign groups compete to buy up politicians whom can deliver policy that will benefit their bottom line. Examples of such can be helping American oil companies gain leverage in a foreign country or allowing the American military apparatus to be merchandised and outsourced to the highest bidder.
Are these the preconditions that will facilitate the unraveling of America’s hegemonic power? The unfortunate reality is that we have a president who is unable and unwilling to govern, decreeing executive orders that usurp the traditional powers of the legislative branch. Since the beginning of his presidency, Trump has passed no meaningful legislation that has received a stamp of approval by the Democrats. No successful negotiations and no significant concessions have been made. The longer this goes on, the more the power of Congress will become similar to that of pageantry.
The traditional role of the presidency as top executive and bureaucrat has waned in modern times, becoming more powerful in its ability to decree the confines of the law to the will of the ruling party or even to personal whims. The danger of a more powerful presidency portends the probability of expediting the rise of a plutocracy, government ruled by the wealthy. This usually necessitates the creation of totalitarian laws that help to legitimize the power of plutocrats to define their interests as that of the state.
The success of the extremes of both the Left (the progressives) and the Right (populist nationalists) mean that dueling national myths are now competing for the spirit of the nation. Currently, we are not sustaining on unified principles because the moral universe of each group is so culturally all-consuming it is almost impossible for a group’s adherents to live with the idealized rules of the opposing group. If we continue to see each other as the enemy of the state, we will not be able to see the warning signs of more perilous times ahead. In an era where the old international order is dissipating and the power of other countries is increasing (notably Turkey, China, and Russia), Americans will have to be able to define what they want the nation to be in order for us to solidify our place in the new great game of power politics. And thus the forthcoming question: what are we?