2016 U.S. Elections, the Death of Representation and Millennial States
On Democratic and Republican candidates for the 2016 U.S. Elections
When it comes to the Democratic candidates for the U.S. elections, with Lawrence Lessig out of the race, Bernie Sanders seems the lesser evil in the upcoming U.S. elections, if only because his moral compass is more reliable and doesn’t conveniently change according to political expediency, unlike Hillary Clinton’s, who, in addition to her alleged involvement in several scandals1, seems to exhibit the behavior of a typical politician belonging to the establishment, and unsurprisingly has enjoyed significantly more media support than Sanders2.
However, just because your moral compass is more reliable, doesn’t mean you’ll be effective in implementing what it is telling you. There is no shortage of criticism with respect to whether the bold proposals by Sanders will ever make it past Congress, or even if they do, whether they will not unwittingly cause economic ruin3. Perhaps if Sanders recruited Michael Bloomberg for his economic advisor, he might, through discourse with someone so different yet undoubtedly financially and politically savvy, find unique and feasible ways of financing his policies or amending them in interesting ways to get past Congress with bipartisan support. But such an unorthodox political marriage seems highly unlikely while its positive results were it to happen, far from certain.
On the Republican front, given Ron Paul is not re-running in 2016 (yes, I meant Ron, not his son Rand, even though Rand recently left the 2016 race too) I fail to see any promising Republican candidate currently running. Perhaps if Bloomberg had decided to run for the Republicans, rather than considering running as an independent4, it might have provided Republicans with a relatively sane option, though I doubt Bloomberg alone, with a net worth of US$41.1 billion dollars making him the “6th-wealthiest person in the United States and the 8th-wealthiest in the world”5 thus firmly established in the global 1%, would change “business as usual” or lead to any fundamental changes in lifestyle for the majority of Americans. Chris Christie seemed promising at some point early in his political career, but over time revelations about his actions curbed that enthusiasm6 with the last nail in the coffin being his recent endorsement of Trump which other Republicans like Meg Whitman appropriately criticised7.
The Republican party unfortunately has long forgotten its own values and has become a shadow of itself hijacked by right-wing neoliberal extremists, and currently under the sad predicament of potentially being led in the elections by a narcissistic8 clown9 with no respect for truth. In fact, Politifact lists that only 1% percent of Trump’s statements are fully true, with another 6% being “mostly true” and 15% being half true. With respect to the majority of his statements, 78% are either, mostly false (18%), flat out false (39%) or “pants on fire” false 20%10. I believe Voltaire’s remark, “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities”11, is relevant here and I’m afraid in a sense, it is already happening. Such a person is universally recognized as dangerous12, divisive13, and unfit to be the Republican nominee14, let alone the president of the United States of America. Abraham Lincoln must be rolling in his grave.
Does it even matter who’s President?
Especially today, U.S. Presidents, irrespective of who they are, have limited power to change things. This is something explicitly admitted by Sanders himself, when he told us just that recently15. But does that really surprise anyone anymore? A recent study16 by Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern University supports that “economic-elite domination” (their term) is a reality in American political life:
“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. Our results provide substantial support for theories of Economic-Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.”17
I was hoping Lawrence Lessig, a true outsider without being a crackpot but a respectable and brilliant Harvard Law Professor, being acutely aware of that fact and having written a thorough book about the problem containing a proposal for its amelioration18 and running a single issue campaign on it, would perhaps, given the seriousness of the issue, gather enough support to get him the ticket to the presidency. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen given the Democratic party itself, along with the polling agencies that didn’t even include him on the questionnaires, attempted and succeeded in sabotaging his campaign19 which effectively excluded him from appearing in the debates and made him drop out.
Now that Lessig is out, Republican candidates being either crazy, subpar or both, Sanders seems to be the only candidate bringing up issues of concern to most Americans and pledging to do something about them while having a track record consistent with the values and policies he pledges. He even stated a willingness to do something about campaign finance reform, the major issue Lessig was rightly concerned about. But is he going to be effective, or is he going to lead us to an even bigger and fiscally irresponsible government?
Political Disillusionment and the Death of Representation
Ultimately, I find it impossible to fully endorse any candidate, because no major political figure or system – in any country – fully represents me. For representation itself doesn’t represent me. Outsourcing my political autonomy to representatives has concentrated political power to unapproachable and easily corruptible strangers in heavily guarded buildings to whom my voice and will don’t really matter. Strangers who affect my life with many decisions I would never make and practices I would never engage in.
We are born into social contracts we did not compose. Our signature is taken for granted even though it was never really given. We live in political communities, modern nation states, where it is very probable that you could spend your entire life attempting to change a single law and fail to make any progress, while everything around us seems to be changing at an unprecedented rate.
Atrocities, injustices or absurdities20 are being committed on “my” behalf through hundreds of policies I wouldn’t endorse. Voted by people who sometimes don’t even read them21. In short, I do not trust the nation state and its apparatus. Irrespective of where it is found. Its scale seems incompatible with individual liberty, disfiguring our agency to the agentic state22.
Perhaps what happened in computing needs to happen in politics. Just as we went from huge mainframe computers and local area networks to small personal computers and worldwide networks that can fit on the palm of our hand, perhaps we ought to go from huge, inflexible and oppressive states to small, flexible, and liberating states in a global federation.
Millennial States: Upcoming Self-Determinations
I have had the luck and privilege to be able to live and travel to multiple countries long enough to realize that talent, technical brilliance, moral stature, and above all the possibility and reality of friendship, are not determined by any geographical location or socio-economic status but are to be found everywhere, in human beings of every kind, irrespective of color, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity.
This realization is evident to thousands, if not millions, of the millennial generation. This is a realization not merely based on intuition but supported through empirical evidence, a lived experience that unites us and serves as the starting point for a journey of curiosity and the rediscovery of common truths in diverse traditions and rituals.
This journey has already gone far enough for countless people that the bonds that unite them with their friends from all over the world are stronger than the bonds they have with their fellow countrymen. This is why the notion of a tribe has been resurrected in contemporary times. Because many in the millennial generation realize that their strongest allegiance is to a shared worldview embodied in concrete friendships and validated by lived experience, and not to a fictitious mass society, propaganda driven consumer brand identities or to the artificial and abstract sense of belonging to a state, party or territory.
The new self-determination will be that of friends sharing a worldview they want to live together. Friends who demand to withdraw their consent from social contracts they never signed and reassert their liberty to live under ones they happily would – this being a possibility in their lifetimes and not in some distant hereafter. What will bind the new millennial states, will not be shared past traditions but present friendships and a desire to live a shared vision of the future in common.
See “From Whitewater to Benghazi: A Clinton-Scandal Primer”, The Atlantic.
See “Bloomberg, Sensing an Opening, Revisits a Potential White House Run”, New York Times.
See for example: “5 Chris Christie scandals that blow #Bridgegate out of the water”, Salon.
This is no mere casual characterization but based on the opinions of a number of psychologists including Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner; see: “Is Donald Trump Actually a Narcissist? Therapists Weigh In!”, Vanity Fair. In addition read: “A neuroscientist explains: Trump has a mental disorder that makes him a dangerous world leader”, Raw Story.
Inspired by his ridiculous antics and the title of the following article, “Donald Trump is the clown in charge: Sorry, GOP — you created him, now he’s the face of your party”, in which it is stated that even the head of the Republican National Committee urged him to tone it down.
All these percentages were accurate when accessed on March 1st 2016, however, given Trump keeps making statements, these statistics change. To get the most recent percentages go here.
See this New York Times Article. Even mainstream Republicans are warning us of that, see Mitt Romney and John McCain Denounce Donald Trump as a Danger to Democracy or Marco Rubio, let alone undoubtedly intelligent comedians like Louis C.K., or more serious sources like the Economist Intelligence Unit and reputable international publications, like Der Spiegel from Germany, a country forced to develop a particularly sensitive radar for dangerous leaders given its history.
President Obama recently spoke against “vulgar and divisive” campaigns obviously referring to the Trump campaign, while David Cameron, the leader of the conservative party and current prime minister of the United Kingdom, perhaps the strongest ally of the United States, called Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump “divisive, stupid and wrong” in Parliament after the discussion that was mandated by half a million Britons signing a petition to ban the entry of Donald Trump in the United Kingdom – source here.
Even mainstream conservative publications are now openly speaking against him. See for example, National Review Online Releases “Conservatives Against Trump” Feature.
See Bernie Sanders: “Let Me Tell You Something No Other Candidate For President Will Tell You”, Real Clear Politics. The fascinating irony being that Sanders’s video is preceded by a Goldman Sachs ad, doubly funny given Edward Snowden’s latest tweet; kept a screenshot of that instance for the record.
Ibid., italics mine
Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress-and a Plan to Stop It.
Details here: “Why Is Lawrence Lessig Missing From Tonight’s CNN Debate?”, Vice.
Recent example: “The U.S. Military Spent Millions Bringing Nine Italian Goats To Afghanistan”, Huffington Post.
You know something is wrong when Fox News (!) writes an article entitled: “Congress Should Read Bills Before Voting”.