Some of his responses seemed little more than free-associative non-sequiturs. “I have a son who’s 10, he’s so good with computers,” said Trump when asked about US cybersecurity weaknesses. (The Guardian)
There’s an ongoing debate about whether a Trump presidency will mean the end of the world as we know it, or just the end of the country.
But some people have argued that who becomes the president doesn’t matter all that much. That is, the bureaucracy that runs the government is so well-trained and so professional that even an incompetent moron can sit at the head of it and the United States will still be governed adequately. The nuclear codes will be safe. The army and the police will keep order.The regulators will still do their job. Social Security checks will still be mailed out and taxes will still be collected. The roads will still be surfaced and the lights will remain on. The vast machinery of the American state is so complex and so vast that it just sort of runs itself, like some sort of clockwork mechanism, unfathomable and impervious to the intentions and predilections of solitary individuals, even one as venal and incompetent as a Donald J. Trump or a George W. Bush.
That is, the Federal government is, as the military saying goes, “Designed by geniuses so it can be run by idiots.”
Who are these anonymous civil servants? Sometimes they’re referred to as “technocrats.” They are typically highly educated professionals from prominent and wealthy families with advanced degrees from America’s prestigious elite institutions on the east and west coasts. They are not elected, they are hired, and they are hired based on their skills and qualifications. They often spend years and years in school studying their particular area of expertise – economics, law, science, business, foreign policy, history, sociology, etc. They learn from the best and are vetted and professional. They do not have pander to the the ignorant opinions of the general public. In fact, they often hold views quite at odds with them, about which more below.
This leads to an inevitable question: Why do we have a president at all? What is the point?
If the identity of the president doesn’t really matter, then what is the purpose of these lavish quadrennial spectacles which we are constantly told by the media are allegedly major turning points in world history with earth-shattering importance? Why does the “horse race” receive saturation coverage? Why do campaigns start earlier and earlier?
Could it be that they’re not really that important after all?
After all, we go from Democrat to Republican, Republican to Democrat, and very little changes. Globalization, inequality, foreign wars, mass migrations, new technology, etc., these things just keep steamrolling ahead, apparently beyond the capacity of any one administration to cope with. The U.S. empire and foreign policy has pretty much been laid down since the end of World War Two: America is the empire that runs the world, and nothing really changes that; only tweaks around the edges.
This picture really gets interesting when it comes to the Congress. This is supposedly “our” representative body, elected by the “we the people” to carry out our will. But that’s not what happens. What happens is that people vote based on personality, or social affiliation (rural/urban, black/white, male/female), and rationalize their decisions after the fact. We’ve all seen it. The lies and misdemeanors conducted by members their “team” are conveniently ignored, whereas the lies and misdemeanors of the other side are high treason. The “other side” is wholly responsible for ruining the country. Once “their side” gets in, they are mollified and ignore all the mounting problems that they were so incensed about earlier. They are simply “political fans” or “political cheerleaders” with absolutely no understanding of any major issue facing the country.
Is this really the path to effective governance?
In the real world, the same politician simply gets rubber-stamped year after year, often for their whole life if they so choose. That’s hard to rectify with the idea that we are choosing politicians based on accountability or reflecting deeply on issues which are important to us.
Besides, the average American has absolutely no understanding of the issues facing us today. Why would they? They are too busy working, or just trying to keep a roof over their heads, or acquiring yet another gong so that they can climb the career ladder and keep their kids in the appropriate class bubble. Yet we’re supposed to have information on issues from relations with Iran to alternative energy to tax policy? Give me a break!
When it comes to regulation, the main purpose of the Congress appears to be to subvert the will of the experts and be a means for big business and the moneyed interests to control the direction of the country.
They way it works is like this–for all intents and purposes, whoever has the most money wins any election at the national level. So politicians spend most of their time not governing, but raising campaign cash. This money comes from the only people with the kind of money to fund modern political campaigns–corporations and a wealthy donor class. These entities also own and control the media, and they determine who is “acceptable” and who is not, and destroy the career of anyone whom they see as not furthering their own interests. Politicians spend most of their time, not reading the policy recommendations of our finest minds, or assessing ongoing threats to humanity, but going out to dinner parties with millionaires and CEO’s.
That brings us to anthropogenic climate change. The highly-educated members of the technocracy, the ones with Ph.D.’s in things like atmospheric science and meteorology, the ones who work for the government in various capacities such as the National Weather Service or NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, they all know what’s happening. They know the grave threat to humanity that this issue presents, and yet they can do nothing. Why?
Because what we do is ultimately decided by a handful of corrupt politicians who are funded by corporations and the wealthy donor class. Those politicians routinely ignore the recommendations of the highly-trained experts in the field the government has retained and are on its own payroll.
If the Ph.D.’s actually controlled public policy, rather than sleazy, pandering yahoos (most of whom are lawyers), whose main “skill” is kibbutzing with millionaires on the golf course and pressing the flesh, how would things be different? Do you think we would still be ignoring our problems the way we are? And you can extend this into any number of issues similar to ACC – renewable energy policy, health care policy, transportation policy, internet regulations, copyright law; you name it, the list is almost endless. There are a lot of good ideas in our universities; too bad they will never have a change of being implemented. And as bad as economists are, the mainstream is actually far more moderate than the ultra-libertarian radicals on the payroll of think-tanks whom the politicians routinely listen to. Wouldn’t it be nice if the educated people who actually study the issues for the government actually had the power to decide what we should do about them?
Now, the main objection is that such people are “unaccountable.” Elections give us the feeling that we have a say, and that we have the ultimate control, but of course this is just an illusion. Things that the public strongly disproves of go on year after year, like the drug war, or our ongoing overseas military debacles. The military and the deep state have become practically governments unto themselves. Who is really running the show here? It seems like the “we the people” have no say at all. How does this square with the “accountability” thesis? No wonder trust in government is at an all-time low. Is our “democracy” just a myth? Our “elected” leaders preside over a self-running system just like the leaders of the old Soviet Union or Communist China. They just don’t have the comforting myths to distract and mollify them.
Our electoral “democracy” is over 200 years old. It works at the local level. I’m sure it was a beneficial change from the era of hereditary kings and unaccountable rulers. In a simple agrarian world of powdered wigs, horse-drawn carriages, muskets,and yeoman farmers, I’m sure it was a great improvement. But things change. In the days of nuclear reactors, the Internet, globalized corporations, GMO crops and climate change, does it really work anymore? Our world is just too large, too complex and too specialized not to be governed by experts. Do we really think that any one man or one woman has control over anything anymore? Aren’t we just fulfilling our primitive tribal instincts to have some sort of “leader” be in charge?
I realize that what I’m saying is sacrilege. I’m striking at a sacred myth of the America. But that in itself should tell us something: our belief in representative democracy is based more in religion than in logic. It’s a comforting myth that has outlived its usefulness.
The common objection will be that I am advocating giving unlimited power to “unaccountable” bureaucrats. But what I argue above is that they are really running the show anyway, with Clinton and Trump essentially being irrelevant clowns who are just in it for the money/fame. They are just a distraction. The fact that we survived eight years of George W. Bush is proof of that (as David Brin pointed out). Why don’t we just acknowledge the obvious and stop pretending (kind of like how we have to keep pretending that we live in a “free market”)?
Not having to constantly run for office has advantages. There is no legalized bribery. You spend your time working for the citizens who sign your paycheck rather than corporate donors. You are not subject to the fickle will of the people, which is manipulated by the corporate-owned media anyway. You have spent years of your life studying the issues you are making decisions about. You draw a salary, so you don’t have to raise cash from corporations to constantly run for elective office. In order to be bribed, you literally have to be bribed, which is illegal and allows for prosecution. It seems like there are lot less conflicts of interest in that system. The biggest problems are regulatory capture and the revolving door, that is, civil servants making decisions in order to curry favor or get a secure a place with those they are regulating rather than making good impartial choices in the public interest. Corporations poaching from government is also a problem. But no system is perfect, just better or worse. There are surely ways to cope with that. Our electoral system, on the other hand, seems like an anachronistic and pointless relic of history.
It seems to me we might be better off doing away with our parasitic political class, and just letting the technocracy run the show. Our presidential elections are clearly a farce. It’s just entertainment. Our elected representatives do not care what we think. They have no knowledge of the issues, and are often aggressively ignorant imbeciles whose only “training” is in manipulating the public and raising funds. It’s a gravy train where billions of dollars are annually poured down a black hole. All the myth of elections does is allow an even greater degree of control by wealthy oligarchs by pandering to the ignorant masses, which, face it, we all are on some level. Maybe it’s time for us to just acknowledge the way things are accomplished in the real world outside of the civics textbooks and work on improving and reforming that system rather than clinging to imaginary ideas which have no basis in reality. Sacrilege, I know, but oh well. Prove me wrong.
Afterwards, while Trump was filmed hastily disappearing in his car, Clinton told supporters at a debate watch party to keep fighting, telling them: “You saw tonight how high the stakes are…”