Four Handbaskets Headed for Hades
About one year ago, Americans began the journey to the 2016 presidential election. For much of 2015, the race looked exciting and dynamic. Citizens had a rare chance to see things we'd never seen before: Democrats choosing between the first woman and the first Jew to take the party nomination, Democrat Martin O'Malley marketing himself as a shirtless centerfold, a Republican race with two Cuban-Americans and a black man, and of course the rise of Donald J. Trump – someone rewriting all the rules of politics.
Alas, then Ecclesiastes reminded us that there is nothing new under the sun.
The Democrats descended quickly into darkness. The pro-Sanders camp went into full sans culottes mode and opted to play Madame Defarge to Hillary's Marie Antoinette.
Not to be outdone, pro-Hillary polemicists tapped into the crybully tactics well suited to emasculated men, mean girls, and wisecracking homosexuals. Snide clerks and gossipmongers, unite! Sing it all together now: "I am woman, hear me bore." It seems their central defense against Sanders's critiques is that you can't say harsh things to a girl.
Ben Carson's sleepy oratory style and Rand Paul's mop-haired libertarian routine never got past their boutique constituencies. The Carson and Paul momentums dissolved, leaving us with Rubio and Cruz as viable antidotes to Trump. You can't win a gunfight with nothing but a knife, so lo and behold, the knife-wielding Rubio lost out. The gun-toting Cruz, complete with his smirks and sermons and dueling salvos – "you're a sniveling coward, Donald Trump, and leave Heidi the H*** alone" – climbed over the mountains of dead bodies and appeared the only Republican vicious and cold-blooded enough to take on Trump.
These four rivers all flow to a dark, gloomy place. The camps rallying behind Sanders, Clinton, Cruz, and Trump are largely composed of contemptible, vile human beings, because that's America these days.
One must recall that God is great and merciful. He's seen nations collapse into the vices of vanity and dissipation before. This election is happening in the worldly realm, which is thankfully not the eternal kingdom. God has a plan that we can't figure out by watching CNN.
Sanders Gets You Obama
I have struggled to like Bernie Sanders, considering that many of my closest friends and loved ones adore him. They swear he's miles apart from Obama. I cannot lie, though: I have yet to hear him say anything that isn't exactly like what Barack Obama promised in 2008. The same crowds showed the same excitement about Obama.
I was there. I remember. I kept lots of newspaper clippings and emails from Obama enthusiasts. It was the same jazz: he's getting small donations from individual donors! He's going to take on Wall Street! He's going to give power back to the people! Look at those huge, enthusiastic rallies! Universal health care, affordable college tuition, immigration reform, racial healing, pacifist foreign policy, higher taxes on the rich, clean energy, and lots of eloquence! His choir draws from the same core groups: mouthy college kids, pot-smokers, aging hippies, clever bloggers, lefty college professors, and angry liberals with lots of bumper stickers on their compact cars.
A Sanders victory could easily deliver another eight years of Obama, only without the utopianism, first lady fashion editorials, or homoerotic sex appeal. None of his proposals has a strong chance of passing a Congress controlled by Republicans, Democrats, or both. He will overreact to upheavals overseas with the same overcompensating panic that got Obama into trouble during the Arab Spring. His base has been peddling the same war on poverty since Lyndon Johnson was POTUS; somehow, they think it's fresh, smart, and groundbreaking.
If Sanders wins, the college professoriate can carry on with their wasteful abuse of bloated tuition, one-sided propaganda, and a Title IX police state. Rachel Maddow and Bill O'Reilly can recycle the same diatribes they've been delivering for the last decade. But this is bad. Obama-style cognitive dissonance always threatens to fall apart. Endless distractions must constantly deflect blame and keep the masses complacent. Usually this means witch hunts against fabricated enemies branded as racist-sexist-homophobic. I've been the witch in such witch hunts. It's not worth doing again.
Clinton Gets You Clinton
The 1990s weren't the wonderful fin-de-siècle some people try to imagine. I was a twenty-two-year-old college dropout when Bill Clinton took office. Having emerged from a dysfunctional family, I was sexually confused, afraid of women, and desperate for money. You can imagine what happened to Puerto Rican boys like that in the Bronx in the 1990s.
Being "gay for pay" and cleaning up after sex parties is just as gross and degrading as it sounds. But this was, in so many ways, the perfect allegory for the Clinton era. Forget the economists' reports about post-Cold War prosperity. Young adults graduated from college to face a world of decadence and anomie, a social universe that still enjoyed Reagan consumerism without Reagan's wholesomeness. Money did trickle down, in all kinds of slimy and disgusting ways, but status and prestige didn't. The liberals who prodded you to be reckless – "come out as bisexual! everyone's doing it!" – always had a way to keep you out of their elite circles as punishment for taking their self-destructive ideas seriously – "I can't hang out with you. You're weird!"
When I remember the Clinton years, I remember riots exploding just before campaign season, the O.J. Simpson trial, the government shutdown, aimless grunge, lesbian guitarists, and smut. It was the decade of leather dungeons, Viagra, party drugs, and ACT-UP. This was the time when Camille Paglia reigned as the top cultural critic, typically quoting classical art to glorify Madonna at her weirdest and most sexually unhinged. Queer theory and postcolonialism were de rigueur, resulting in way too many Master's theses on RuPaul, M. Butterfly, Thelma & Louise, and The Crying Game.
Bill and Hillary Clinton were perfect for such a degenerate time. They were elected and applauded by hordes of white liberals who knew they lived filthy and hypocritical lives but felt defensive about it. Toni Morrison could rally behind Clinton as the "first black president," and countless feminists ganged up on the victims of Bill's sexual misconduct, believing he was saving women by bucking Christian conservatives. The latter expected a man to marry one woman and remain faithful to her for life – how sexist!
The Clintons' staunchest supporters were a generation of closeted homosexuals and pent-up angry wives – the "soccer moms" of nineties lore and Absolutely Fabulous fans rushing off to Fire Island. Accustomed to doing dirty things while maintaining ruses of high-minded respectability, these passive-aggressive cliques became masters at smearing enemies and using people's confidences against them. From this corps came David Brock, the gay founder of Media Matters, and Arianna Huffington, the ex-wife of a gay aristocrat and founder of Huffington Post. They carry on the tradition of 1990s bitchiness.
Hillary Clinton is literally married to that age. She knows no other way to live. This makes her a hard sell to youth groups. The millennial experience unfolded, to a great extent, without any traditions to rebel against. Hillary Clinton, David Brock, and Arianna Huffington most likely strike them as frighteningly conflicted people. Why didn't Hillary just leave her husband? Why didn't David just go cruising, get laid, and leave everyone alone? Why would Arianna name her empire after a homosexual who deceived and abandoned her?
The very young don't get Hillary because they never had to navigate the shame and secret ambition which epitomized the 1990s. Hillary was the embodiment of the untrustworthy liberal wanting to have her cake and eat it, too. Here's to hoping we never have to deal with Bill Clinton as first spouse deciding how to redecorate the White House.
Cruz Will Get You Bush
If it's him or something really scary, I'll vote Cruz. But having said that…hype abounds about Ted Cruz's "anti-establishment" credentials. Now Jeb and Romney have endorsed him. Everyone I know at the big think-tanks (I won't name them and get myself in trouble!) is rooting for Ted Cruz. Ted went to Princeton and Harvard. Ted is well-connected, shockingly well-funded, and well-groomed.
And Ted's from Texas. Stop me if you think you've heard this one before. Appeal to religious convictions – check. Tough talk on foreign military interventions – check. Tough talk on immigration (but doubts as to whether it's just talk) – check. Really popular with free-market anti-tax advocates –check. Lots of "constitutional conservative" references – check.
The George W. Bush years were better than the Obama or Clinton years, but are they worth redoing? I was already re-Christianized and married to a woman when Bush was sworn in as president. During his time in office, I advanced quickly in my career as a scholar. But there are enough sour memories to make me hesitant about returning to the Bush era.
My wife and I rode buses with hardcore vegetarian pacifists to attend anti-war rallies in cities like New York and Washington; I was passionate about opposing Bush's interventionism in the Middle East. I hated No Child Left Behind, the ridiculous budget deficits, the political corruption in so many mega-churches, and Bush's ineffectiveness at turning back abortion. I still believe that his administration didn't address homosexuality adequately and let the gay movement metastasize into the mess it is today.
Trump Will Get You Trump
There is no past presidency, complete with high and low points, that we can pinpoint as an indication of what a Trump presidency might be like. Trump himself is unique and unpredictable.
Trump gets a lot of bad press from folks who don't understand that he isn't playing by the same rules. "You can't say 'rapist' when discussing immigration!" his detractors say. Who says you can't? That's the Trump way.
Many people like the thought of overturning a corrupt and sclerotic government system but when confronted with the possibility of actually overturning that system, they curl up under their covers, shaking with fear, and cry out for the dysfunctional ghosts of bygone dark ages to come and protect them. Perhaps most Americans have Stockholm syndrome or haven't read Alexis de Tocqueville, or both – they are like the Romans of Cicero's time, who can survive neither the disease nor the cure.
The problem, of course, isn't Hillary or Bernie or Ted or Trump – it's we. Our national culture has deteriorated, and we Americans have become shockingly horrible people: fat, selfish, bitter, weak, lazy, fake, and mean. No tribe of malcontents ever deserved someone like Donald J. Trump more than we do, to tell us each day what losers we are. It will be a new kind of ordeal. Maybe it will be good for us. Maybe it won't.
Ted, Bernie, and Hillary will be just as lousy as we expect them to be. Trump will be lousy in new and unexpected ways. We're all floating down the river in our handbaskets toward a dark, gloomy place, but the case can be made for picking the one handbasket that isn't like the others.