Why the next US pres­i­dent won’t se­ri­ously mat­ter

Jamaica Gleaner - - IN FOCUS - Martin Henry Martin Henry is a univer­sity ad­min­is­tra­tor. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com and med­hen@gmail.com.

SU­PER TUES­DAY for the whole world is only a cou­ple of days away. By law, the Tues­day fol­low­ing the first Mon­day in Novem­ber is elec­tion day, which can fall any­where be­tween the 2nd and the 8th. In­au­gu­ra­tion day for the newly elected pres­i­dent since 1937 by the 20th Amend­ment to the US Con­sti­tu­tion is Jan­uary 20 un­less that day is a Sun­day, in which case the pub­lic cer­e­mony takes place the fol­low­ing day, as was the case for Barack Obama’s sec­ond in­au­gu­ra­tion in 2013.

A lot hap­pens be­tween elec­tion day and in­au­gu­ra­tion day two and a half months later.

But Su­per Tues­day 2016 may not be so su­per after all. After all the fuss, the elected pres­i­dent, su­per­vised by the Fed­eral Bu­reau­cracy, will of ne­ces­sity carry on Amer­i­can do­mes­tic and for­eign pol­icy, which will re­main essen­tially the same at the core.

The world has been treated to the most fine-grained anal­y­sis of the faults and fail­ures, strengths and weak­nesses, poli­cies and pro­grammes, and his­tory of the two can­di­dates who have sur­vived the gru­elling weed­ing-out se­lec­tion process of the two po­lit­i­cal par­ties that alone have the strength to get a pres­i­dent into the White House or, for that mat­ter, to get any pub­lic of­fi­cial elected all the way down to the base of the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem. The in­de­pen­dent can­di­date is dead; and so is the third party in ‘demo­cratic’ Amer­ica, as in most of the rest of the ‘demo­cratic’ world.

Run­ning up to Su­per Tues­day back in 2008, with Barack Obama and John McCain as the can­di­dates, I wrote the col­umn ‘John Obama or Barack McCain’. Hold on! Let me dust off that col­umn and change the names!

The crit­i­cal point of the piece was that in­de­pen­dently of who oc­cu­pies the White House, a vast fed­eral bu­reau­cracy de­ter­mines and di­rects the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump speaks dur­ing a cam­paign rally at Bayfront Park Am­phithe­ater on Novem­ber 2 in Mi­ami.

af­fairs of state in the mod­ern Amer­i­can Repub­lic. The pres­i­dent is only the tit­u­lar head of a vast bu­reau­cracy with a su­per­mind and stub­born will of its own.


Obama’s pres­i­dency is the per­fect case in point. Barack Obama has been the most pop­u­lar pres­i­dent since John F. Kennedy and came to of­fice with the au­dac­ity of hope run­ning high for the trans­for­ma­tion of Amer­ica. Name one thing that he has rad­i­cally changed in eight years.

A thing which would set Amer­ica on some new path.

Ron­ald Rea­gan, who has a place among the great Amer­i­can pres­i­dents, de­ter­minedly set out to change Amer­ica in some fun­da­men­tal ways: A re­turn to smaller govern­ment, lower taxes, greater mar­ket free­dom ... . Reago­nomics is widely re­garded as the most se­ri­ous at­tempt to change the course of US eco­nomic pol­icy since Franklin De­lano Roo­sevelt’s New Deal.

But no Obama or Rea­gan ini­tia­tive has fun­da­men­tally al­tered the dy­nam­ics of the

Amer­i­can do­mes­tic econ­omy and so­ci­ety or Amer­ica’s place in the world. Don­ald Trump has pledged to re­verse Oba­macare if elected. What will not be moved is Medi­care in some form.

De­spite the bit­ter dog­fights be­tween the fac­tions sup­port­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton and Don­ald Trump over whose can­di­date is less morally im­pure and less un­fit to lead, there is an un­der­ly­ing pop­u­lar po­lit­i­cal con­sen­sus about the so­cial wel­fare state as provider, man­ager, di­rec­tor, keeper, and di­rec­tor. A sit­u­a­tion that the per­cep­tive French vis­i­tor to Amer­ica Alexis de Toc­queville in 1835 pre­dicted in ‘Democ­racy in Amer­ica’.

The strug­gle is really over what can be ex­tracted from the State rather than any se­ri­ous ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences about the role of the State and the obli­ga­tions of the cit­i­zen. As in our pol­i­tics, the con­tention is over who can bet­ter man­age and who can bet­ter de­liver what par­tic­u­lar fac­tions think is their due from the State.

Come Jan­uary 21, 2017, Don­aldene Clin­ton or Hil­lary Trump (Hil­lary can be an un­gen­dered name) will have to deal with the same core of really ba­sic is­sues fac­ing the Amer­i­can State to­wards the end of the sec­ond decade of the 21st cen­tury. And the pres­i­dent will deal with these is­sues in Amer­i­can ways as guided by the Fed­eral Bu­reau­cracy.

Louis XIV, the Sun King of France, was fond of declar­ing dur­ing his 72-year reign, “Lé­tat, c’est­moi”, “The State, it is me” (“I am the state”).

The cru­cial brief­ings of the pres­i­dent-elect by the pow­er­ful de­part­ments and agen­cies of the fed­eral govern­ment be­tween Novem­ber 7 and Jan­uary 19 will turn the pres­i­dent-elect into a fit and proper pres­i­dent.

What are the core is­sues con­fronting Amer­ica, the eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal, and mil­i­tary su­per­power of the world, on the cusp of Su­per Tues­day 2016?

Qui­etly, at home and abroad, there is the ever-present risk of eco­nomic de­rail­ment, of which the fi­nan­cial cri­sis and eco­nomic re­ces­sion of 2008 for­ward is only a har­bin­ger. The world econ­omy and fi­nan­cial sys­tem in which the United States is the lead­ing player is in­her­ently un­sta­ble on its sandy foun­da­tions of un­backed pa­per money and bur­geon­ing state debts.

The pres­i­dent will have to con­tinue to en­gage ‘Home­land Se­cu­rity’ against ter­ror­ist threats that will keep com­ing in from de­ter­mined en­e­mies waging an asym­met­ric war against the ‘Great Satan’.

While no ter­ror­ist act will be great enough to dent Amer­i­can ca­pac­ity and power, a deep and en­dur­ing con­se­quence of the threat that has ad­vanced very rapidly since 9/11 will be the trade-off of free­dom for se­cu­rity and the in­creas­ing in­tru­sive­ness and reg­u­la­tory dom­i­nance of the State.

The is­sue of the State, as provider, has al­ready been ide­o­log­i­cally set­tled. What re­mains and may dif­fer­en­ti­ate pres­i­dents and pres­i­den­cies a bit is how best to tax and spend to pro­vide for the peo­ple.

In­ter­na­tion­ally, Amer­ica can­not avoid be­ing the world’s Su­per Cop and the wielder of im­pe­rial power. Which fights to en­gage, which causes to back with diplo­matic aid and mil­i­tary power in a chaotic world of con­tend­ing forces are al­ready broadly de­cided un­der the lead­er­ship of the Depart­ment of State, which will so ad­vise the pres­i­dent.


One of the great­est threats fac­ing the en­tire planet now is cli­mate change. The US govern­ment has failed to suf­fi­ciently en­gage this is­sue from the front and has con­sis­tently placed do­mes­tic eco­nomic in­ter­est ahead of the in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion it says it sup­ports.

Out­go­ing pres­i­dent Obama, in his fi­nal ad­dress to the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly, pow­er­fully laid out the stark chal­lenges fac­ing the world de­spite the progress which, he said, had been made in world lead­er­ship by his ad­min­is­tra­tion and the tasks to be tack­led with his suc­ces­sor at the fore­front.

While prais­ing Amer­ica as a rare su­per­power in hu­man his­tory in­so­far as it has been will­ing to think be­yond nar­row selfin­ter­est, he con­cluded by recog­nis­ing that “his­tory tells a dif­fer­ent story than the one that I’ve talked about here to­day”. And part of that story which his­tory tells is that im­pe­rial great pow­ers will, ul­ti­mately, be­have im­pe­ri­ally, es­pe­cially when their self-in­ter­ests are threat­ened.

Who­ever heads the Govern­ment of the United States after Tues­day’s elec­tions will not, and can­not be, a rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent kind of pres­i­dent from Mr Obama or the many be­fore him for a while back. The fed­eral bu­reau­cracy, the suite of core do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional is­sues, the ide­o­log­i­cal cul­ture of gov­er­nance that has de­vel­oped over years, and the im­pe­rial su­per­power sta­tus of the United States will en­sure that.




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