Some Thoughts on the 2016 Presidential Election with Respect to Authority and Perception

Like most things, the election of 2016 comes down to a question of authority and choice, or at least the perception of choice. There is the notion, from both the right and left, that their candidate (however much the American Right wants to co-opt or claim Trump at this point) represents a form of subversion to the dominant authority of American society, a mix of patriarchal structure and mythohistorical structure. While both notions are somewhat misguided, it is the desire to subvert what is believed to be the dominant ideology that more plagues both parties in this election.

Trump is seen as a subversion to the ideology of American political might. While the Republican Party nominee for President in title, Trump has run the ultimate outsider campaign, one designed to subvert each step of the traditional process to which most Americans have grown accustomed throughout the Twentieth Century. He is, as his followers often repeat, not a politician, but a businessperson and, whatever his failures and successes are in that realm, ultimately, in the non-words of Calvin Coolidge, the business of the American people is business.

But it is precisely for this reason that the notion of Trump as subversion to the dominant political machine is false. There is a disavowal among Americans (in a generalized sense) that business is somehow separate from politics, that politics exists as an autonomous structure above and rather controlling the economic forces within the country. This is just wrong. As clearly evidenced within the last fifty years, the economic realm is the dominant force in American society, the structures and ideologies of capitalism playing a much greater role in society than any individual or party or political ideology. For better or for worse, business has been the chief business of this nation in the Twentieth and Twenty-first centuries.

And in that sense, Trump’s ascendency to the top of the Republican ticket is not surprising. In a way, he represents the ultimate acceptance of the American Right of the marriage between politics and business. However, that is hardly a subversion but rather a lean-in on the idea that there is not political structure without the forces of capitalism behind it.

But how is this a question of authority? The answer to that has to do with the perception of who has been leading the country and who will be leading the country. In his invented state as subversion to political structures, Trump’s authority lies in the belief among his followers that capitalist forces are somehow divorced from the political system. This is, obviously, untrue, as profit mechanisms have been the dominating force in American legislative procedure since the end of World War II. Even ideological stances, some religiously-based or otherwise ethically-based, are directed more by forces of capital than they are of other ideology. The persistent myth that the religious or humanitarian forces within society will ever subvert the profit-driven ideology has more to do with the desire to keep these groups at odds with one another, to keep them constantly struggling even when there is no fight that can be won.

However, the left is no less susceptible to this notion of candidate as subversion. While completely accepting of Clinton’s political stances, Wall Street-backing, neoliberal ideologies, the subversion she inhabits is her gender. This breaking with the tradition of all men, in the same way that Obama’s subversion was that he was not white, has little to do with how actual governance occurs but rather has to do with perceptions of the office. This is not in anyway to diminish the amazing step forward for the nation to not only have a woman at the top of the major party ticket— or the major step for women to have such a role model— but rather to say that it is not Clinton's politics which are subversive and rather her identity, which is. There is more or less an acceptance that Clinton’s politics are by no means radical or different and, in many ways, she is more right-leaning that the current President, especially when it comes to military matters and other significant portions of the job.

The difference, however, is this question of what kind of authority makes sense at this time in America. One side is under the misguided belief that business is outside of the political realm while the other side is aware that their candidate’s subversion is one of identity and perception. In this way, the answer is clear: choose the authority that is best known because the other authority is operating under false pretenses. While Clinton’s activities may well be criminal and, at the very least, unethical, her candidacy is not driven by false perceptions of anything other than “business as usual” politics that have dominated the last sixty years. However, the belief that Trump is somehow above that, or apart from that, is misguided, when in reality American politics and forces of capitalism have been working together the entire time.

This false perception about Trump carries with it an indeterminacy and, in many ways, a suicidal urge— a desire merely to see what is going to happen as a result of sociopathic lack of empathy towards the very real outcomes of the election. This is not surprising in a culture where the ideology of some towards gun ownership usurps the very real lives being lost. This too is a lack of empathy in that it is based in a belief that one’s right to arms is greater than another’s right to life.

Ultimately, America will lean in on a form of authority that is acceptable, but not unlike the election of 1964, it will take time for the results to be known. As George Will wrote in 1980, the election of 1980 was really the ascendency of Goldwater’s politics, if not Goldwater himself. In a similar vein, while Clinton will not doubt win this election, at long last becoming the first woman to hold the highest office in the land, it has more to do with Trump’s personality than it has to do with capitalist-driven ideologies and politics. The marriage has happened already and ultimately, there will be a business person President whose charm and temperament will be more in line with the perception of being “Presidential” as it stands today. This time it is not Donald Trump, but eventually, he’ll have won this election, even if he is never President.

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