If history teaches us anything, it’s that the best analyses of political conditions within a nation usually come from outsiders, with Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America the shining example.
Consider this excerpt from Volume II of the French nobleman and diplomat’s magnum opus, written in 1840 and foreshadowing not only the Civil War but the divisions surfacing in Campaign 2016:
The weak rarely have confidence in the justice and reason of the strong. So the states that are growing less quickly than the others cast a look of distrust and envy on those that fortune favors. From that comes this profound malaise and this vague uneasiness that you notice in one part of the Union, and that contrast with the well-being and confidence that reign in the other. I think that the hostile attitude taken by the South has no other causes.
The men of the South are of all Americans those who should most hold on to the Union, for they are the ones who above all would suffer from being abandoned to themselves; but they are the only ones who threaten to break the bond of the confederation. What causes that? It is easy to say: the South, which provided four Presidents to the confederation; which knows today that federal power is escaping from it; which each year sees the number of its representatives to Congress decrease and those of the North and of the West increase; the South, populated by ardent and irascible men, is getting angry and is becoming uneasy. It looks at itself with distress; examining the past, it wonders each day if it is not oppressed. If it comes to find that a law of the Union is not clearly favorable to it, it cries out that it is being abused by force; it complains ardently, and if its voice is not heard, it becomes indignant and threatens to withdraw from a society whose costs it bears, without getting any profits.
The socialist analysis
One group of outsiders, Americans with socialist sympathies, cam surprising close to capturing the Democratic presidential nomination.
Supporters of Bernie Sanders were, by and large, young and alienated from a system which has seen wealth concentrate to unprecedented levels, with millionaires and billionaires controlling national and state legislatures and the White House itself.
[In the present campaign, we are seen one candidate worth a nine-figure fortune battling another with a fortune estimated in the ten-figure range. Meanwhile, the college-educated young are facing a lifetime of indentured servitude simply to pay off the costs of their college educations.]
And now for an excerpt from a trenchant analysis of America’s political duopolistic impasse from the World Socialist Web Site:
Both campaigns insult the intelligence of the American people. Trump appeals to raw anger, denouncing his opponent as a criminal who should be put in jail. Clinton and the Democrats alternate between portraying Trump as a sexual predator and smearing him as a tool of Moscow. Neither offers any serious program for improving the living standards and social conditions of the working class, the vast majority of the American people.
The election campaign is one more sign of the profound dysfunction of the US political system, in which two corporate-controlled parties, each defending the interests of the super-rich, enjoy a political monopoly. . .The two-party system leaves working people disenfranchised.
The recourse of both campaigns to personal smears and scandalmongering is a means of evading any discussion of the urgent issues that confront the electorate—above all, the worsening social crisis and the mounting danger of a third world war.
Each of the candidates, in different ways, seeks to direct social tensions within the United States along reactionary lines.
Clinton is the candidate of the status quo, representing the alliance of Wall Street, the military-intelligence apparatus and the complacent and self-satisfied upper middle class, where identity politics holds sway. Her program, were she to state it honestly, is to outwardly direct the social crisis in the form of intensified US military violence, first in the Middle East, but ultimately against Russia and China, both of which possess nuclear arsenals.
Trump represents an attempt to direct social tensions along extreme nationalist lines, appealing to racist and fascistic forces. While he claims, falsely, to have opposed US military interventions in the Middle East, he glorifies the US military and promises to unleash unlimited violence on any country that resists US demands. In the end, his pledge to “Make America Great Again” is little more than the English translation of Hitler’s slogan, “Deutschland Über Alles.”
That these are the alternatives presented to voters on November 8 is a product of the protracted decay of the US political system. It is more than four decades since the sharp shift to the right began in both parties, in the aftermath of the mass social protests of the 1960s and early 1970s against the Vietnam War and for the extension of civil rights.
The Democratic Party abandoned its former commitment to economic improvements for working people and began to restructure itself as the party of Wall Street and identity politics, appealing to newly privileged layers of blacks, women, gays, etc. The Democratic Leadership Council, under its chairman, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, became the vehicle of this transformation. In Hillary Clinton, this rightward movement has reached its culmination. The Democratic candidate has become the consensus choice of the political establishments in both parties.
The Republican Party incorporated the former defenders of Jim Crow segregation and became the dominant party in the South, while maintaining its traditional ties to big business and the military. Ronald Reagan kicked off his 1980 presidential campaign with a rally in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers had been murdered 16 years before, and gave a ringing defense of the Jim Crow South’s slogan of “states’ rights.” Trump’s embrace by the KKK and the white nationalist “alt-right” is not an aberration, but the logical conclusion of a process that has paved the way for the emergence of an outright fascist party in America.