Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the Understatement of the Year, from New Yorker Staff Writer and Dean of the Columbia University School of Journalism Steve Coll: American presidential elections reduce the country’s complexity to a binary choice. This year’s is not the happiest one.
Or as my Grandma might have responded: “Feh!” There are other expressions, Ugh, Yuck, bleep, bleep and bleep, but few are as onamata-poetically communicative as that bit of Yiddish –“Feh!”
On the one hand, Hillary Clinton, who with her running mate Tim Kaine are the quintessence of more of the same class warfare of the rich, the powerful, the best-educated, the successful against most of the rest of us. They represent the Democratic part of bankers, brokers, and hedge-funders, innovators, plutocrats and professionals which has turned its back on its former base, the middle and working classes, the people who run genuinely small businesses and wage-earners.
On the other hand, there’s Donald Trump, who with his silent partner Mike Pence also celebrate a world divided, if more forcefully, and along different lines: White versus Black, Brown, Red, and Yellow…Christian and Jew versus Muslim…American versus foreign, and Pence’s vicious specialty, gay versus straight.
Trump himself also represents even worse dichotomies: between fear and reason, between division and co-operation, between ignorant self-indulgence and factual analysis.
This is why, for me, he is the far worse, completely unacceptable alternative to Clinton.
But there’s one more difference between the candidates, Clinton represents continuity and Trump represents change, to many people, that sums up the choice.
The Democrats actually saluted in as many words our once-genuine national motto, E Pluribus Unum, out of many – one. Of course, they never owned up to their role in instituting its functional replacement, which I vulgarly call – Fuck ‘em. Or to put the essence of meritocratic ethics more civilly: you get what you deserve. Now — buzz off.
No one has written better about this decline in Democratic Party values than our guest today, Thomas Frank, whose book Listen, Liberal contains some of the best political analysis of 2016. And no one has better framed the definitive changes Donald Trump’s candidacy has forced on the Republican Party. As he wrote recently in The Guardian: “The party of free trade and free markets now says it wants to break up Wall Street banks and toss Nafta to the winds. The party of family values has nominated a thrice-married vulgarian who doesn’t seem threatened by gay people or concerned about the war over bathrooms. The party of empire wants to withdraw from foreign entanglements.”
Thomas Frank is a political journalist and a historian of culture and ideas. He analyzes trends in American electoral politics and propaganda, advertising, popular culture, mainstream journalism, and economics. His most recent book is Listen, Liberal.