Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Political Scene

Politics isn't exactly one of my favorite topics, but the current situation in the U.S. seems extraordinary, so I'll continue to comment on it occasionally. The scene here in Vermont isn't dramatic and can even be amusing at times: in the Democratic primary for governor, a transgender woman just defeated a fourteen-year-old boy and two others to win the nomination. However, the conditions in Washington, D.C. aren't as sanguine. The recent death of TV personality Robin Leach reminded me of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," which I used to watch years ago. Adnan Khashoggi, the billionaire Saudi arms dealer, was a quintessential subject for the program; his grotesque lifestyle was said to cost $250 thousand per day. Khashoggi was no doubt a role model for Donald Trump, who also appeared on the program. Subsequent to a reduction in Khashoggi's wealth, Trump bought his yacht, and, of course, renamed it after himself. Looking back, you can also see how Trump had an affinity for the Gambino crime family, with which he had business connections. Although Trump seems to have been a shameless social climber, he never graduated from the ranks of con artists and crooks, and his self-professed business acumen doesn't stand up to close examination.

I don't have any special insights or information about Trump's probable fate, but it seems unlikely that his presidency will end well for him. He has the looming Mueller investigation, possible criminal charges in New York, potential impeachment after the 2018 midterm elections, and, if he survives long enough, the 2020 presidential election, which I doubt he would win. Before it's all over, we may learn that the Trump Organization is propped up by money laundering for Russian oligarchs. Trump held the illusory belief that he would somehow escape the close scrutiny that all presidents face, and that his indiscretions could be suppressed indefinitely. In most respects, Donald Trump is demonstrably stupid. On the whole, Trump merely seems like an anomaly to me, a sign of dysfunctional times. He is fundamentally less interesting than the conditions that allowed him to be elected. How, one asks, did voters elect to the presidency a candidate who lies constantly, surrounds himself with criminals, has little understanding of foreign or domestic policy, economics or law, and has never shown any interest in public service?

This plays into my narrative about the inadequacy of traditional democratic governmental structures in a capitalist society. The two critical parts that cause failure are the stupidity of voters and the amorality and greed of private interests. At the most basic level, what has happened is that corporate media companies such as Fox News have become proficient at convincing disgruntled white males that Donald Trump can improve their economic status. In a classic case of voter misattribution of cause and effect, Trump has been given credit for the strong economy in the U.S., which would have occurred anyway without him. The reality is that Trump's ideas are obsolete or discredited ones from the 1970's and 1980's, and that his advisers are amateurs and opportunists who lack both the ideas and the skills to produce the results that his supporters expect. Trump's tax cut mainly benefits the rich and will lead to larger deficits in the future, which will restrain economic growth. Trump's tariff strategy is reducing prices of agricultural commodities and hurting farmers, while raising costs in some industries and disrupting international commerce in a manner that is unlikely to benefit anyone. His support of the coal industry, which is economically doomed regardless, may increase global carbon emissions. Trump's supporters fall into two main groups: a majority who are ignorant and a minority who seek immediate financial or political gain from his policies. This is not to say that voters who dislike Trump and vote against him are making better decisions, but that voters in general are ill-equipped to deal with complex national and international issues.

For these reasons I return to the idea that self-governance ought to be replaced by an algorithmic form of government. A sophisticated algorithmic constitution based on principles of equality, fairness and protection of the individual could replace the current U.S. constitution, leaving no room for interpretation or manipulation. The current system of government permits a continuous assault by special interests, both domestic and foreign. Because human status or rank is always relative, people compete to own larger houses and properties, and there is no theoretical upper limit that would prevent them from owning, say, larger planets, if it were possible. If capitalism has in fact played a role in human progress, one can now almost safely say that it has outlived its usefulness. The current trajectory, with an incompetent American president like Donald Trump, is moving us toward a needlessly overcrowded world characterized by pointless competition, which in the long run may benefit no one.

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