The Election Without a Future

Their vision for the future is stuck in the past

W.J. Astore

Isn’t it remarkable that Joe Biden and Donald Trump have no compelling vision of a future America?

Both Biden and Trump are retrograde candidates. Biden talks of restoration. He wants to restore comity and decency. To turn the clock back to a mythical time of bipartisan accord. A time when Americans sought to help other Americans. Trump, of course, is about division and carnage but he has his own vision of restoration. Trumps appeals to the America of the 1950s, before the Civil Rights movement, before the Vietnam War protests, before the Women’s Liberation movement, before Roe v. Wade was the law of the land, and (taking it back even further, to the Roaring Twenties, perhaps), before FDR’s New Deal.

It tells us something that Biden and Trump are so past-oriented. It suggests our best days are behind us, that we know, on some level, the future is in the crapper, what with extreme weather, anti-social technologies, forever wars, pandemics, exploding deficits, and the ever-growing gap between the richest few and poorest many.

The America I grew up in was future-oriented. Space travel would be routine. We’d have a moonbase; we’d have journeyed to Mars and Jupiter; we’d have flying cars; we’d have rewarding work, with more leisure time; we’d live longer, healthier, richer lives. That was a vision of the new millennium, but here we are, twenty years into it, and our political candidates look desperately (Biden) or maniacally (Trump) to pasts that never really existed.

A saying attributed to Yogi Berra is that the future ain’t what it used to be. Now it seems we have no future. Just one day after another, chasing our tails and calling it “progress.”

Why is this? Perhaps it’s because certain powerful forces in American society like things just the way they are. They’d rather have us fighting over which past is more comfortable to us than have us reaching for a new future without them in charge. That’s one big reason we have two presidential candidates in their seventies with their gear shifts locked permanently in reverse.

Biden and Trump both want us peering closely into the rear view mirror (even as Trump’s is more distorted) when we should be looking ahead through the windshield. Put differently, Biden is comity without change, and Trump is American carnage on steroids. Considering both, it’s an election without a future.

The USA as a Fourth World Country

Trump, striding to protect precious property

W.J. Astore

1+3=4. It’s a simple equation that says much about the American moment, suggests Tom Engelhardt today at TomDispatch.com. Think about it. America remains a first world country with its unmatched military might, its powerful corporate and financial sectors, and the quality of life available to the affluent and well-connected. But for most other Americans? The country increasingly seems 3rd world, with crumbling infrastructure, low wages, lack of good jobs, lack of health care coverage for the less fortunate, and so on.

Perhaps that’s why Trump gets away with tweets about thug-ridden streets (that he connects to the Black Lives Matter movement). People may not see these thugs, but they sense something is wrong out there, and someone may indeed be coming for them, very shortly, perhaps to evict or foreclose on them.

There is a unique ideology to our fourth world country. Our two main parties, the Democrats and Republicans, agree that to invest in society is socialism, but to “invest” in weaponry and wars is the height of prudence and sanity. I know: a few Democrats like Bernie Sanders and AOC make noises, more or less sincere, about helping workers and investing in people, but they are shunted aside by the corporate Democrats whose main job it is to keep “socialists” like Bernie out of power. It’s the one thing they’re good at, led as they are by those icons of charisma and homespun goodness, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.

Meanwhile, Trump continues to rant about American carnage, doing his level best to create it where it doesn’t yet exist. “Law&Order” is his new cry, usually shouted in all caps, even as he himself leads an administration that’s lawless and disordered. Roughly one-third of likely voters find him attractive as a tough-guy leader, the plutocrat populist, so mark this down as another weird feature of fourth worldness.

Fourth worldness: to invest in people is socialism and wrong; to invest in wars and weaponry is not militarism and is right. To elect a (democratic) socialist like Bernie Sanders would be un-American, but to reelect a sociopathic plutocrat posing as a populist is about keeping America great.

That’s America! You can’t love it “as is,” unless you’re crazy, and you can’t leave it ’cause we’re all Covid pariahs to the rest of the world.

So maybe, just maybe, we should change it?