François Furstenberg: Sixteen preliminary thoughts after the election

François Furstenberg on his Facebook wall:

FrancoisFurstenberg_JHU8641_web1. I have spent most of the last quarter century studying U.S. history, dwelling much on its darker aspects: slavery and the slave trade; genocide and land expropriation; the limits of liberal citizenship; the cruelties petty and great, fathomable and unfathomable, by which the United States became a global power. We’ve seen far worse than this. For god’s sake, why, then, am I so shocked, dismayed, and upset by what has just happened?

2. Politics always involves some element of performance and theatricality, of course, and it always has. But I think we’ve entered a qualitatively new era here, probably related to the media conglomerates that disseminate most of our news, and which must bear no small part of the blame for this fiasco. For a long time now, elections have been transformed from an exercise in democracy into an entertainment spectacle. We have theme songs, logos, fancy sets, famous stars, and so much more. No matter how great the mismatch we’ve got to keep it close, make it a good show, keep the viewers’ attention. Watching ABC last night, with their stage set in Times Square, I was reminded more of Dick Clark’s New Year’s Eve special with the apple dropping and pop singers performing than I was of a forum for election returns. Instead of being limited to a few weeks or months, as they are in other countries, elections here are always ongoing affairs, and no doubt people are already talking about 2020 and who is up and who is down. In short, elections have become virtually indistinguishable from a vapid reality television show and I suppose we should not be surprised that the winner is a vapid reality television star.

3. I share the opinion of people like Thomas Frank who believe the Democratic Party has sown the seeds of the disaster since at least Bill Clinton if not before. By abandoning labor and shedding any class language or analysis from its politics, allying itself instead to the monied professional classes, Wall Street, and Silicon Valley, the party advanced an agenda of deregulation and free trade for labor alongside protectionism for large corporations and elite professions. It thus allowed the Republican Party, traditionally the party of capital, to knock down one of the pillars of the Democrats’ New Deal coalition. You reap what you sow I suppose. But will the powers that be in the Democratic Party change course? Charles Schumer seems set to be the new Senate minority leader, and yet he exemplifies perhaps more than anyone the Democratic Party that has failed. Is the party capable of change?

More here. [François Furstenberg is professor of history at Johns Hopkins University.]