Not this year, though. Two upstart candidates, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, are knocking that supposition for one big loop. Citizen-consumers are discovering that our "democratic" system has very sneaky, fail-safe ways of purging unwanted candidates from its private Duopoly. Of course, the outsiders are not being imprisoned or vaporized as they would be in blatantly totalitarian regimes. In our system -- which the late Sheldon Wolin dubbed "inverted totalitarianism" -- the purging is accomplished through more subtle, but still ham-fisted, means.
Methods to the madness are employed by the method actors of the media-political complex. Six major corporations control 90 percent of all disseminated content, in TV, movies and print. Access to the powerful has become more important than holding the powerful to account. When ownership becomes more consolidated, public accountability slides down the memory hole.
Then there's the authoritarian infrastructure of the parties themselves. Super-delegates are given weighted votes in order to prevent gains by independent or grassroots candidates. The public-spirited League of Women Voters no longer controls the general election debates. A privately funded and owned commission does that now. The previews of primary town halls and televised bicker-fests are controlled by the parties themselves, and they're sponsored by the corporate-funded networks. The GOP has held too many, while the Democrats have held too few. But the ads are legion. The ratings are high and the record profits are beyond the wildest dreams of the owners.
And finally, there is the ever increasing influence of the direct cash "gifts" to the candidates. It now costs more than a billion dollars to run for president. And the ultra-rich who foot the bill, as Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page have established, usually get what they want from the candidates they fund. No matter that the majority of us want expanded Social Security and universal health care. Since the rich do not want or need these benefits, the good life is not to be had by anyone but themselves. The richer that people get, the more paranoid they seem to become about some poor person stealing even the tiniest morsel from their dinner plates.
The fact that billionaire Trump is (allegedly) self-funding his campaign, and millions of ordinary people really are funding Bernie's is more of a direct challenge to Citizens United than any public interest group could ever have imagined. Money has finally arrived as a major campaign theme for perhaps the first time since bribery was legalized by the Supreme Court. And Big Money is not too happy about all this sunlight. It threatens to disinfect the whole sordid process.
Ballots aren't the only things that are weighted. Even sincere, popular, and legitimately elected politicians are prone to forget the voters once they are safely esconced in office. The corporate-controlled shadow governments of the CIA and the NSA and the Pentagon come knocking at the Oval Office door on Day One, extending their tentacles to give a welcoming squeeze and an offer the new dude cannot possibly refuse. Then there are the armies of lobbyists, euphemized as "consultants." These militarists and operatives are also regular guests on the corporate talk shows, the better to spread the propaganda and the news stories within the extremely narrow parameters which the ruling class allows.
Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders still presents a threat to the status quo, as the bigwigs strive to limit him, despite a recent slew of wins, to the bit part of the far-out fringe-dweller challenging Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump, once so inordinately elevated and showcased by the greedy media at rallies which sometimes resemble violent racial cleansing sites, suddenly finds his own racist self on the receiving end of an attempted purge. First, the elites pretended to be disgusted by the guy as he raked in the bucks for them. Now, they pretend to realize that their spectacle has gone on for way too long. Why? Because the corporations funding the politics are beginning to withdraw their brands and money from a potentially violent brokered convention. The delegates might even get denied their complimentary cans of Coke.
Trump's own children can't even vote for him in New York's closed primary next week. Anyone who forgot to change his party affiliation before an arbitrary deadline expiring many months ago will not be permitted to vote. This punishes the independents who have elected Bernie Sanders in eight out of the last nine contests, but it will also depress turnout from Trump fans who are not registered Republicans. This scenario especially rewards Hillary Clinton, whose main support in the state comes from older, registered Democrats.
Party elders did forget, though, to bar never-registered young people, who were given more time to pose as members of either party in order to participate in New York's election. So we shall see.
Even in a democracy, political parties were never meant to be democratic. I've written before about French philosopher Simone Weil's call (immediately post-Hitler) to abolish all political parties. Parties exist for purely selfish reasons: to grow without end, to gain new consumers, and to make tons of money.
Nothing in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights says anything about citizens having to elect representatives from within the confines of parties.
Tellingly, it was the post-French Revolution Reign of Terror that spawned the modern political party system. So is it any surprise that variations on the fear factor are always on the platforms of both Republicans and Democrats? The war on terror, the war on drugs, the war on women, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.... and guns, guns and more guns -- the controlling of them, the wearing of them, the proliferation of them. Where would American political parties be without violence and paranoia as the glue holding the teetering duopoly together?
The three characteristics of political parties that Simone Weil outlined 70 years ago apply just as well to the modern Democratic and Republican machines:
1. A political party is a machine to generate collective passions.
2. A political party is an organisation designed to exert collective pressure upon the minds of all its individual members.
3. The first objective and also the ultimate goal of any political party is its own growth, without limit.She continued:
Because of these three characteristics, every party is totalitarian - potentially and by aspiration. If one party is not actually totalitarian, it is simply because those parties that surround it are no less so....
No man, even if he had conducted advanced research in political studies, would ever be able to provide a clear and precise description of the doctrine of any party, including (should he belong to one) his own.
People are generally reluctant to acknowledge such a thing. If they were to confess it, they would naively be inclined to attribute their incapacity to their own intellectual limitations, whereas, in fact, the very phrase 'a political party's doctrine' cannot have any meaning.
An individual, even if he spends his entire life writing and pondering problems of ideas, only rarely elaborates a doctrine. A group of people can never do so. A doctrine cannot be a collective product.Extrapolating from those words of wisdom, it is thus patently dishonest for "party elders" to claim that the current popular outsider candidates are not a Real Republican or a Real Democrat. There is no such thing.
And, given the totalitarian nature of the two-party system in the United States, it really is something of a miracle that two outsider candidates have turned the tables and essentially co-opted them, instead of the other way around.
Maybe there's life in the old Democratic gal yet. Maybe the Duopoly is on the way to the dustbin of history.