I have to wonder if we are on the cusp of a watershed election next year.
I do not mean watershed as it pertains to a stupendous change in the form of big new government programs; Obamacare will likely go down in history as the last of its kind. Whoever is elected next will be busy trying to keep the lights on in the face of ever increasing national debt that will be the dead weight of American political and economic life for decades to come.
I suspect the greater likelihood is that “confused” Americans–also known as those who are confounding the elites by rejecting the approved wisdom and supporting the likes of Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and Ben Carson–are preparing to gleefully extend a middle finger to all those whose jobs consist of demanding our mute compliance with rules, regulations, “voluntary” guidelines, laws, and international trade agreements that strip us of all basic control over our own lives and livelihoods. Watching grass roots movements from the Tea Party to Black Lives Matter seize the national podium on a daily basis and drive the discussion past the boundaries of what was once considered acceptable or reasonable, one cannot help but note that the connection between those who have ruled from on high for the past half century and those who are trying to work and raise families has frayed beyond all repair.
I suppose the question that might naturally follow is how is this different than other times of discontent in our nation’s history? We are, after all, not on the brink of a civil war, no cities or government facilities are aflame, and we have, more often than not, continued to re-elect the very politicians we so claim to hate. Therefore, isn’t this all just a bunch of fairly typical complaining amplified by social media and the 24 hour news cycle?
I must admit that I believe something fundamentally different is happening now, but to paraphrase Upton Sinclair, those whose paychecks depend on maintaining the status quo are simply unable to see it.
First of all, given how gerrymandering and campaign finance law are explicitly designed to protect incumbents, it is little wonder that so many legislators are re-elected. However, the bolt out of the blue, big name defeats, such as that of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor last year seem to provide some bit of evidence that voters are just a tad annoyed with those in charge and ready to rumble if given the opportunity, which they will most certainly have in a Presidential election year.
In addition, the breathtaking influence of government in our day-to-day lives provides plenty of opportunity to anger the electorate. If you sit down to think about it, there is scarcely an hour in our lives anymore when our mundane daily routine is not being monitored, regulated, or recorded by some level of government. Given that we are all being reduced to data points to be controlled instead of citizens with the right to determine the courses of our own messy and unpredictable lives, it is sometimes difficult to remember that there was a world before Big Government / Big Brother. Moreover, because marginally capable government functionaries and their contractors tend to kind of stink at the business of monitoring, regulating, and recording our lives in a manner that respects both our privacy and personal beliefs, opportunities abound to keep on stoking voter anger.
Finally, there is that pesky problem of debt. For the last half century the deal has basically run as follows: We give you anything you want while allowing our buddies to (legally) skim a bit off the top, and you keep re-electing us with the promise that more goodies are yet to come. However, now that virtually every level of government is laden with debt and unfunded pension and retirement obligations that beggar all belief, this business model is strained to the breaking point. Indeed, the very notion that steep cutbacks in services and programs are on the horizon combined with the suggestion that promised pension and retirement benefits might need to be adjusted in order to keep those systems solvent seems to have been sufficient to drive those with a vested interest in the status quo into a tizzy of righteous indignation.
It should be an interesting year ahead.