This Stupid Election Campaign

My wife and I have been on the road since mid-August, trying to avoid what we were pretty sure would be the dumbest election campaign in our lifetimes. It went well at first, because we had little internet connection, and were out and about in other countries. Now we have settled in for October in a place with good internet and a bit more time on our hands, and this ridiculous campaign is washing over us in great gouts of ugly and stupid.

Along the way, we have talked to different people about the state of things in the US. A typical event involved two women from the UK, one of whom lived in Uzerche, a small town towards the south of France. When they found out we are from Chicago, they started in on Trump. What’s wrong with you people, they said, almost in unison. I asked what’s wrong with the UK, voting for Brexit and dumping on Jeremy Corbyn. In Menton, France, we talked to a pharmacist who asked about Trump; we asked about Marine Le Pen, and he started in on Hillary Clinton as a barely acceptable politician. So we asked about Hollande and the rising Sarkozy.

In one group I asked why there were no young politicians in France. People insisted that there were, but each person they named follows closely in the tracks of an old politician. Hollande has been a terrible disappointment to the lefties, adopting neoliberal policies and claiming that France needs massive labor law reforms. Some members of this group follow Canadian politics, and they made the point that Justin Trudeau looks more like Obama every day, as he reveals himself as a typical neoliberal now that he is in office.

It puts the election in a different framework for me. It isn’t just us. Everywhere we travel, people are fed up with politicians. But when we point to their own politicians, they all tell us that Trump is totally different from their right wingers. They think he’s bizarre, and the fact that he won the nomination of a major party is a sign that something is seriously wrong with the US.

Something is wrong with us as a nation. The scene in the video between Ted Cruz and a Trump supporter sums up the problem for me. Cruz thinks he is the leader of a movement, encapsulated by the Congressional Freedom Caucus, that wants to rip up the old ways of doing things and insists on the purity of its cause. He’s talking to a guy he thinks supports his Movement, and he thinks he can reason with the guy. But the entire point of the Freedom Caucus is to ignore facts and logic. That guy is the Freedom Caucus in a hoodie and dark glasses. There isn’t going to be a debate, and there is no interest in facts and logic.

Hillary Clinton faces that same nihilism in its pure form, Donald Trump. Facts are irrelevant, and logic is irrelevant. He says whatever comes into his head, just like those people berating Cruz. She predicts that there aren’t enough of those people to give Trump the election. She thinks that simply seeming more or less normal is enough to win.

It’s enough for her to act like there’s nothing wrong with this country that can’t be cured by a few tweaks. She doesn’t have to talk about the disasters of climate change, a job-dependent economy that doesn’t provide enough decent jobs for people who desperately want to work, a government that has lost its orientation, an economic discourse unwilling or unable to get past the failed ideas of the Chicago School, a system of justice that viciously beats up the poor and lets the rich walk with a wink and a fine, a police state in the making, a foreign policy dominated by killing people around the world, or any other real issue. She doesn’t even have to hammer the loons in the Freedom Caucus in the hopes of dislodging the worst set of obstacles to progress. And she certainly doesn’t have to talk about a future with many fewer jobs thanks to technology or a poisoned planet stripped of resources.

If the Republicans had nominated one of their saner candidates, we’d have seen the standard Republican answers to all problems: tax cuts and deregulation; and some dog-whistling on social justice issues. Clinton would have offered exactly the same policies she offers today. Both sides would act like nothing has changed since the last century; they’d pretend everything is just fine as the planet burns up. Neither side would acknowledge that we face serious problems that require radically new solutions and a radically different understanding of the society, the economy, and the state of the world.

This campaign is stupid. But at least it has clarified what’s wrong with us as a nation. We’re stupid enough to put up with it, and those that aren’t stupid enough to put up with it don’t have a clue about how to fix it.

Notre Dame undergrad (math); JD, Indiana University at Bloomington; 1st Lieutenant, US Army.; private practice in corporate and securities law; Assistant AG in Tennessee for consumer protection and securities; Blue Sky Securities Commissioner, Tennessee; private practice, bankruptcy and corporate law.

I have had a lifelong interest in economics. For most of my career, that interest was practical, focused on the problems in front of me. Lately I have been more interested in economics as a theory, especially its impact on the lives of people like those I met in my bankruptcy practice, and on the politics of money in the US. I also enjoy reading philosophers, starting in college and steadily expanding my reading ever since. I wrote at FireDogLake for a number of years.

Generally, I think the problem facing the US is the dominance of neoliberal discourse. I think it clouds the vision, and limits the kinds of problems that can be identified and solved. For example, the existence and danger of climate change can easily be identified in a scientific discussion. However, the problem does not fit the neoliberal discourse because science insists that the pursuit of individual and corporate self-interest will lead to devastation. In neoliberal discourse, the pursuit of self-interest always leads to Eden.

The neoliberal project has two prongs. One is the police function of crushing dissent and alternative views. The police function is provided by government agencies and private and institutional actors. The counterpart is the economic system , which is operated by government and by private and institutional actors. Some of these actors operate in both spheres. I focus on the second prong.

21 replies
  1. seedeevee says:

    Your evidence seems to show that your problem is not limited to the nation of the USA.  Your problem seems to be with all of humanity.

  2. Peterr says:

    Charlie Pierce has more than a clue about how to deal with it, but first a little background.

    From Charlie’s book Idiot America come the Three Great Premises that explain how things work in Idiot America:

    1. Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units.
    2. Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough.
    3. Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is measured by how fervently they believe it.

    Looks to me as if the 2016 election is confirmation of Dr. Pierce’s diagnosis. This is Trump and his supporters in a nutshell (so to speak).

    The prognosis is not necessarily fatal, though left untreated is surely would be. The prescription Pierce offered, in a book salon chat about the book when it came out, is this:

    I’ve given that a lot of thought and the best answer I can give [to the question of how do we get out of the “perception is reality” paradigm] is that we, as citizens, simply have to do better at self-government. We have to distinguish between entertainment and information. Our powers of discernment have to be sharpened. And, it should be said that, at many of its highest levels, my business has fallen green-room-over-teakettle on this very question. Any journalist who accepts “perception is reality” as axiomatic is committing professional malpractice. Our job is to hammer the reality home until the perception conforms to it.

    If nothing else, the Trump campaign has woken at least some citizens up about the difference between entertainment and information, and woken at least some journalists up to the malpractice that their profession has been far too guilty of.

    It’s a start, but there’s a long way yet to go.

  3. bloopie2 says:

    Ivanka is calling her father an “unbelievable leader”. What has he “led” recently? Much of his recent business activity seems to involve selling his brand name; no leadership involved there. Is it running the “Apprentice” shows? There’s tons of people who can do that. Casino development, no oops, that’s no good any more. Building golf courses? Nope leadership. Honestly, what (recent) “leadership” experience does Trump have?

    • Michael says:

      I uderstand “unbelievable” to mean “not to be believed”. That jibes with my estimation of Donald Trump; I don’t believe most of what he says. Ivanka probably meant that her father is a very good leader; if so, and if she insists on using “unbelievable”, she ought to have said “unbelievably good leader”.

  4. Ed Walker says:

    I don’t disagree with Charlie Pierce’s analysis or his solution. What I don’t get is how to implement that solution, or any other. When people believe that a system is working, they don’t feel any need to chage things up. Obviously a large number of people, say all the Trumpheads and the Bernieites at least, think we need massive change. Everyone else is satisfied. They are the majority. So, no change, and no discussion of change, and that’s HRC’s electorate.

    That’s all I have to say about this stupic election campaign. I’m reading Foucault and The Brothers Karamazov , and returning to underground.

    • Bitter Angry Drunk says:

      We’ll see what Corbyn can actually accomplish in the U.K. If there’s any way to rid ourselves of the neoliberals, that has to be the model, doesn’t it?

      The absolute only good thing about this election is that it’s made more Americans than ever willing to consider third-party candidates. But something has to form from that. Until there’s a large number of people in politics willing to actually serve the public, rather than line their pockets, nothing can change here.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      You can’t be neutral on a moving train.  But take a spell and recharge.  We and it will still be here when you return from underground.

  5. Evangelista says:


    I disagree with your assessment of the U.S. 2016 Election Campaign being ‘stupid’.  I find it the most intellectually interesting and intriguing since Andrew Jackson’s election campaign [start with the 1824 campaign, when he was denied the office he won, which he ascended to in 1829 (1828 campaign)].  But I agree that to waste your time on American politics while in Southern France is embarrassing and to be avoided.

    To avoid, if you are in the Menton area, answer queries that America’s is a young political system, and you are there to study the evolution of the politics of the oldest known area of human organization in Europe, in the caves, to see where the U.S. might be now, and what its possibilities to develop might be.

    Anywhere in France, but especially in the South, focus your attention to Eleanor, for a most interesting positive influence on Western history (especially civil, social, economic and legal).  Or, if you want to prognose possible American futures from study of negative past, focus your attention to Phillipe le Bel [Philip IV] and the alterations to history he and those around him perpetrated and perpetuated.

    Note that for political correctness I have advocated a woman, Eleanor, whose legacy segués toward a Trump American future, and a man, Phillipe IV, whose legacies segué to what Hilary’s would more likely be.

    Above all, avoid living at home abroad, or just marking time:  Use the resources where you are that you can’t use elsewhere.

    • Janet says:

      WE spent the time in Menton getting acquainted with the French medical system by repairing my shattered elbow in a small hospital where no one spoke English.  Did take our minds off the election.  No wifi in the hospital.   Cost of 4 days in hospital, ER care, 4 x-ray sessions, surgery, operating room, anesthetist, all meds (including my usual prescriptions) and casting the arm (Ed did have to go to a pharmacy and buy 15 Euro worth of acrylic casting tape or it would have been plaster of Paris) was 4500 Euros.   A friend at the same time spent 7 hours in a Chicago ER and had one CT scan — her bill was over $7000.

  6. Alan says:

    The problem with Jeremy Corbyn is that his party is divided. Labour spend more time on internal squabbles than fighting the Tories. Labour are also trying to curry favor with the English electorate with much of the same anti-foreigner and anti-immigrant xenophobia being peddled by the Tories. To win any future general election he may well have to depend on support from the SNP as the Scottish Labour Party, like the Tories before them, have been decimated in Scotland. This would probably be opposed by his own party who will correctly point out that any association with the SNP will be exploited by the Tories using every Scottish ethnic slur in the book to drive a wedge between Labour and English voters.  And this of course assumes Scotland is still in the UK when the next general election rolls around. Given that neither Labour or the Tories give a damn about Scotland and seem intent on catering to the fears and phobias of the Little Englander contingent of the English electorate, there’s a good possibility Scotland will leave.

    Notorious Tory election poster from 2015.

  7. martin says:

    evangilista said:

    “I disagree with your assessment of the U.S. 2016 Election Campaign being ‘stupid’. I find it the most intellectually interesting and intriguing since Andrew Jackson’s election campaign..”

    I bet you find watching a sexual assault… “intellectually interesting and intriguing” too, eh?
    sheeezus. Meanwhile, the USS Titanic slowly sinks to the bottom of the political cesspool, while some observers find it interesting. Fuck. No wonder the rest of the world thinks the US is the Dumbest Country on the Planet, notwithstanding myself.

    • Evangellista says:


      I investigate things.  So when I come across something I observe, listen, inspect, read and analyze.  I don’t jump to conclusions.  I define what is of essence and what is peripheral.

      listen to, or read the transcript of, the ‘controversial’ Trump ‘on the bus’ tape.  Note where Trump says,

      “I moved on her… Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look.”

      What does that say?  It says, in essence, “de-lockeroomed” and in paraphrase, “I found her attractive then (when is garbled out “this was [unintelligible]” in the transcript), and now she has made herself a sex-object.”  The implication is that the woman was attractive to Trump, she ‘phonied’ herself up and she is not.

      Note also that Trump does not say he groped or grabbed or did anything more inappropriate than ‘move on’ a married woman,  which, if you listen, or read, you should note he confesses in a manner indicating he perceived that, in 2005, inappropriate.

      Then look at, or listen analytically to his second reference:

      “Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.
      “Bush: Whatever you want.
      “Trump: Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

      All that Trump confesses to is kissing.  His “…when you’re a star they let you do it.” and “You can do anything.” statements are about the women:  The women allow “anything”

      Bush concurs.  Trump adds that they, “The women”, allow “anything”.

      Trump is not bragging, or confessing to groping or grabbing, martin, he is faulting the women who allow “stars” to do “anything”, including as far as grabbing “’em by the pussy.”

      The Main Stream and Liberal Alternative Media dive into cesspools they create for themselves.  Why, and how they can be so dense-headed, self-blindered, lynch-mob precipitate and lead-headed stupid (and represent themselves as intellectual) is bizarre, incredible, and with the influence their wrong-steering and hysteria-mongering has on populations who respect them and accept their interpretations, and on directions of human interaction and development, is of interest to me as an analyst.

      Today, in the behaviors of our 2016 election’s ‘intellectual’ interpretors we have a real time example of Rolling Stone’s rush to naíve-believe a sensational 2012 UVA sited “gang-rape” story, whose perpetrator’s justification was that the subject is ‘so important’ it is OK to lie about it, a real time example of the German people revving up to Nazism in the 1930s, of lynch-mob after lynch-mob rushing to lynch for one after another liar’s “honor”.

      If the U.S. is the Dumbest Country on the Planet it is for doing the same old rushing to judgment despite being a supposedly ‘educated’ population, and, to do it having to each time run rough-shod over a carefully researched, argued and discussed and designed system to provide the means for, and to require, cautious consideration and reasoned adjudication, to prevent histrionics and hyperbolé and fanning up of hysteria from overrunning.

  8. Desider says:

    Not sure if I read this right, but Hillary is supposedly *not* addressing the serious issues we face & pretending it can all just be tweaked?

    If not what it said, apologies. If yes, suggest looking at her many policy papers she’s issued on a multitude of issues on her website that get ignored with the continuing infatuation over Benghazi, her email server, the Clinton Foundation and the latest outrageous Trump comment. You may disagree with her approach, but she isn’t ignoring much of anything even as Republicans continue to treat the election like it’s a Master’s Program in Romper Room.

      • bevin says:

        And they all need to be examined in the context of her extraordinary-and deeply racist-campaign against Russia which is now at such a level of intensity that we must seriously consider the possibility of a nuclear war breaking out.

        Nothing that Hillary’s campaign claims or promises compares with the commitment she is making to the key US allies in the Middle East: Israel, with its commitment to reducing surrounding states to anarchy ruled over by evil minded militias, and the wahhabi states, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, intent on preventing the development of secular democracy in the region.

        Hillary is promising both Israel and the wahhabis four more years employing the power of the United States to promote their appalling, anti-social, plans to inaugurate a dark age of totalitarian tyranny over the cradle of western civilisation. A return to the worst aspects of medieaval religious rule with the aid of modern technology to ensure absolute obedience.

        It is difficult for a foreigner to understand how any American can conceive of voting for a candidate as dangerous to the world as Clinton has shown herself to be. The hundreds of thousands of dead in Syria and Libya, to make no mention of the victims of the chaos she midwifed in Honduras and Haiti, should deter, at very least, the uncritical enthusiasm which her supporters (many of them claiming to be forced by Trump’s candidacy to support her) are demonstrating.

        At the very least now is the time for progressives supporting Clinton to put her on notice that they will not countenance neo-conservative foreign policies and will oppose further attempts to revive the Cold War, which she appears to have liked so much.

        • bmaz says:

          in the context of her extraordinary-and deeply racist-campaign against Russia which is now at such a level of intensity that we must seriously consider the possibility of a nuclear war breaking out.

          This is unhinged. First off, it is the intel community that is facilitating the attribution of the hacks to Russia, and feeding of it to Wikileaks, not Clinton per se. Secondly, the evidence does lend itself to that being correct. Now we can argue over whether it was the Russian state itself as opposed to merely some Russian elements and servers within Russia, there does seem to be involvement.

          Hanging this solely on the head of Hillary is the epitome of Clinton Derangement Syndrome, and it is laughably bogus.

          And if cannot envision “how any American” could vote for her, take a gander at Trump. And consider the direction of the Supreme Court for the next three decades. And a host of other factors.

      • Desider says:

        “Minor tweaks”?

        Disabilities – “Today, Hillary recognizes that there is still much work to do, including improving access to meaningful and gainful employment, as well as housing in integrated community settings, for people with disabilities.”

        Rural communities “Too many rural communities aren’t reaping the rewards of our nation’s economic success—despite their critical role in our economy. Unemployment and poverty rates present a real challenge to these communities while accessible health care and education are too often out of reach.”

        Taxes – “It’s outrageous that multi-millionaires and billionaires are allowed to play by a different set of rules than hardworking families, especially when it comes to paying their fair share of taxes.”

        Climate change “… is an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time. It threatens our economy, our national security, and our children’s health and futures. We can tackle it by making America the world’s clean energy superpower and creating millions of good-paying jobs, taking bold steps to slash carbon pollution at home and around the world”

        Health care – “And frankly, it is finally time for us to deal with the skyrocketing out-of-pocket health costs, and particularly runaway prescription drug prices.”

        Racial justice – “America’s long struggle with race is far from finished.”

        Police – “Bringing law enforcement and communities together to develop national guidelines on the use of force by police officers, making it clear when deadly force is warranted and when it isn’t and emphasizing proven methods for de-escalating situations.”

        And so on….

        None of this sounds tremendously easy or just “tweaking” and trimming around the edges.

  9. bevin says:

    “…Now we can argue over whether it was the Russian state itself as opposed to merely some Russian elements and servers within Russia, there does seem to be involvement….”
    There is no evidence whatever that Russia was involved in the “hack” of the DNC. As to the charge that Wikileaks was fed the fruits of the hack- that is not just unfounded but a US state inspired attempt to discredit a service which has performed invaluable service to the public-internationally-by publishing authentic information regarding the activities of the oligarchs.

    “Hanging this solely on the head of Hillary is the epitome of Clinton Derangement Syndrome, and it is laughably bogus…”
    You really ought to learn to argue with more temperance- your angry and hyperbolic outbursts do your clientele no good.
    In this case I made no attempt to ‘hang’ neo-con foreign policy solely on Hillary’s head. She clearly shares the responsibility of promoting such policies with the rest of the machine behind her candidacy.

    • bmaz says:

      Uh, I cited your own words. Nice try to throw some collateral bunk in there as an avoidance mechanism though. And, yes, there IS evidence of Russian involvement. If you even bothered to read this blog, you would have seen instances cited. It has not only been stated by independent researchers, but has ever more been stated by govt. actors. Heck, even Mike Pence substantiated the validity of Russian involvement in the last 24 hours.

      If my words indicating that you are engaging in bogus argument that bears a striking resemblance of CDS are too tart for your sensitive eyeballs, then I am sorry. And, thanks, I will tend to my own “clientele” without your insincere and impertinent assistance.

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