As an Indiana resident and voter, it's tempting to be embarrassed at the headlines of "Trump wins Indiana" blanketing the national news today. Indeed, I find almost everything about his candidacy, personality and public statements to be deeply problematic on numerous levels. But Mr. Trump's success in the primary and his win here in Indiana are just more symptoms of a brokenness in U.S. politics that goes far beyond this state or this election year.
When I was growing up, a career in politics mostly seemed like something boring, unglamorous and yet perhaps ultimately noble that certain kinds of people would necessarily take on in service of their town, state or country. Many kids wanted "to be President some day," but most would redirect their attention to other more practical and personally rewarding pursuits when they realized the amount of mundane policy details they'd have to immerse themselves in, or the long road of statespersonship that only just began with a law degree or military service. In this way the bar was set somewhat high for entering a life in politics, and while somewhat contrary to the promise that anyone with a good idea can make a difference in a government of the people, maybe in some ways it was a good thing.
As the lapel pin-wearing political class has emerged, the idea of just anyone being able to make a difference in politics seems more myth than anything. In a country of hundreds of millions of people, the same small circles of people are held up as the only realistic candidates. If you're not willing to amass gobs of money (or friends with gobs they can share), compromise your values and public persona to fit with the room you're in, make promises you can't keep and bow to the primacy of the so-called military-industrial complex, it's unlikely that you can succeed as a politician. Those of us who have in the past held out hope for a
candidateperson who can transcend those constraints to restore a principled, dignified approach to government leadership have now mostly learned to know better.
So if we can't relate to or become a part of the political class, we at least expect them to entertain us. Between the 24-hour cable network rehashing of Every Little Unimportant Detail, tell-all insider memoirs, the salacious political affairs and scandals of the last two decades and the fear-mongering around U.S. national security, our appetite for political theater that distracts us from any substantive discussion of issues or outcomes has grown each year. Congressional gridlock, court decisions around corporations as people and money as free speech, and a media generally unwilling or unable to do anything other than chase the story of the day means the founding structures of U.S. government that once required a boring but otherwise accountable and productive national conversation have been all but undone.
We are no longer a citizenry. We are a beast of insecurity, consumption, fear and disempowerment that demands to be fed something, anything that will make us forget what we've become for just a few more minutes.
Donald Trump is here to feed the beast. He is exactly what we asked for. No one is able to make even a halfway coherent argument for his becoming President, and yet we have made him one of two people in line for the job.
Regardless of whether or not he wins the Presidency in 2016, he has brought into sharper focus all that our country has surrendered to the political and corporate machinations of the modern age. The groups that claim they want to "stop Trump" are probably thinking too small, too late. The GOP wrung its hands about the prospect of a Trump nomination, but made no plans to transform its party. We have for now given up our ability to elect leaders who will lead over the long term, and all that is left are characters who will entertain us today.
Donald Trump can be thanked for one thing: showing us quite clearly how bad things have become in U.S. politics and governance, how far it now is from being an institution that establishes justice or promotes the general welfare.
What we do with that information is up to us, and is perhaps one of the most important questions of our time.
Photo by Jack Malvern