By Dan Whitley | Politics | September 10, 2015 |
By Dan Whitley | Politics | September 10, 2015 |
About two weeks ago, Lawrence Lessig announced he would be running for president on the heels of his highly successful crowdsourced speculation fundraiser meant to gauge interest in his possible candidacy. A few days later, in an unrelated event, John McAfee (yes, that McAfee) announced he would also be running for president, at the helm of the “Cyber Party,” which as far as I can tell he has created for the purpose of buoying his campaign.
Sometime between these two events I found a photo that I can only describe as someone cosplaying Fury Road’s Immortan Joe cosplaying Donald Trump. These events have caused me to realize that political parties have died.
Let me emphasize to you that this is not a loud or public death. No, this is the moment where we, huddled around the bed, raise a mirror to the mouth of the dying and see that it no longer fogs. Word isn’t out yet. And by “political parties” I do mean the concept, and not merely the Elephant & Jackass that we Americans find as comfortingly familiar as an abusive spouse. Those two are very dead, and the concept of political party itself is in grave danger in this country, likely to be replaced by an even more fluid and dysfunctional factionalism.
How so? Consider Donald Trump and his ostensibly baffling circumvention of the Republic Party thus far in the 2016 campaign. “Ostensibly” because if you lived where I live, it would make more sense that he’s popular; “circumvention” because he’s running as a Republican in name only. Forget for a second his waffling over whether he’ll run Independent if he doesn’t win the GOP nod and consider two things. First, the man is at the head of the Republican polls despite - or arguably due to - his utter lack of establishment support. Second, other numbers show (despite their admittedly small sample size) that in a this-or-that election between him and any given Democrat, the man would win the popular vote.
Boiled down, Donald Trump is the first 21st century presidential candidate, because he has proven that, if you can get the money from somewhere besides rich donors, you can run for president without a party. And he has done so in a way that no other popularly-supported independent candidate has ever done. Not Ross Perot, not Teddy Roosevelt, none of them. Here is the Martin Luther of American politics; he has cracked the secret door, and two thousand parties are set to roar forth.
Where do Lessig and McAfee fit in? They are following in Immortan Don’s footsteps and improving upon his model by employing cutting-edge internet savvy. Bernie Sanders also somewhat fits, but he’s going about it without the command of cyberspace necessary. He says he wants to get money out of politics, and while I’m all for that because I understand that by “money” he means “bribes and fat cat lobbyists,” this somewhat ignores the fact that you still need piles of money to run a national campaign, and probably always will. There are always ads to run and auditoriums to rent and campaign buses to buy and interns to feed but not pay. People like Lessig and McAfee, and Sanders to a lesser extent, understand that you can skip the fat cats and fill that need with crowdfunding and other internet phenomena that terrify the political graybeards. And the donors can turn around and fulfill those pesky election hurdles like petitioning their counties and states to list you on the ballot. And I guess they vote too.
How does all this kill the parties? The same way that, if you wait long enough, you can outrun your dad in a footrace. Any establishment is made of plaster and thus eventually loses fluidity - its ability to adapt - and turns to stone, the same way dads get arthritic knees. Stone is intimidating, but eventually people find a way around or over it, at which point it becomes a joke, and we wonder how we ever let it scare us in the first place.
The parties cannot adapt to a world with an internet, thus people who command the internet will destroy them. It is that simple. I know people said this about radio, about television. Those are not as different from print as social media is from all that came before it. And, granted, a lot of Trump Fever and non-governance right-wing populism is spread via talk radio, but if talk radio is Abbot, then conservative-bent message boards and blogs are Costello. If Trump suddenly did not have his wealth to draw from to run his campaign, I’m willing to bet you’d see countless GoFundMe pages crop up to float his boat.
Do I think Trump is going to be president in 2016? God, no. Trump has shown the dragon’s weakness, but he is no Redcrosse Knight. Neither are Lessig or McAfee. The Establishment will defeat them this time, and probably Sanders too, for the dragon’s power is great despite its waning and its vulnerabilities. That is no reason not to support them. “Them” of course being Lessig and McAfee and Sanders; Trump is a lizardperson, do not vote for him. And the parties will live on for a lot longer in state and local elections for no other reason than because, sadly, people just don’t care about those. But extrapolate to 2024’s national elections, or 2032’s. People who literally cannot remember pre-internet life are now grad students and homeowners, and local officials. Wielding the internet is second nature to those kids, and they shall shift and bend politics to their will.
We are set to receive some very valuable gifts from this drastic shift. You want multiparty American politics, with all the boons and blunders of a multiparty system? You got it, baby. And let’s talk that saving grace of bloated empires: bureaucratic inefficiency, the only thing that saves us from bureaucracy itself. I can’t wait to see how slow Washington gets when every third House Rep is from a different party, and they all hate each other just by virtue of being different.
A few years ago, Neil deGrasse Tyson mused on some talk show - possibly Bill Maher’s - that American national government was flooded with businessmen and lawyers. “Where’s the rest of life?” he thought aloud. For better or worse, the rest of life is about to ride crowdfunding and viral marketing and Facebook rage right into American politics. I wanna see someone Vine-famous in the Senate by 2030. Let’s make it happen.