Wednesday, October 5, 2016


“We can and must write in a language which sows among the masses hate, revulsion, and scorn towards those who disagree with us.”
—Vladimir Lenin
Twenty-five years ago the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation was in its fifth season. The second episode of that season was called “Darmok.” It was about the Enterprise crew making first contact with the Tamarian race. (Trivia note: that episode happened to feature the screen debut of Ashley Judd. She played Ensign Robin Lefler.)

Normally, language is not a problem in Star Trek because the Federation has a universal translator that can instantaneously translate any language, but in this case the universal translator was not much help. It translated the Tamarians’ words just fine, but the words were incomprehensible because the Tamarians spoke in allegories. The Tamarian captain Dathon (played by Paul Winfield) expected Captain Picard to understand what he meant when he said simply, “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.” To Picard, however, those were just unfamiliar names. After 14 years in rural Ireland, I can now fully emphathize with Picard’s frustration.

That Star Trek episode is actually a pretty good allegory for what is currently going on in American society and politics. The opposing political camps keep speaking in their own allegories. And nothing said by one side registers at all with the other side. Instead of seriously debating policies, we keep telling ourselves—and each other—stories about email servers and border walls and, more recently, basement-dwelling baristas and capital loss carry-forwards. You cannot really blame people either. It is not as though the presidential candidates have been carrying on a substantive debate.

Donald Trump has no record of office-holding and is not particularly consistent in his positions. If he is elected, we can probably expect to see him on TV—a lot. I suspect—and that’s all one can do with Trump—he will be the least day-to-day involved chief executive ever and that whomever he picks as his chief of staff will be running the country. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has a lengthy political career, although she has served as an elected official only eight years, two of which were spent campaigning for the presidency. Her stated positions have been known to change drastically, particularly in the case of global trade. She has a web server full of policies, but as cartoonist/blogger Scott Adams says, “[D]on’t fall for the claim that Clinton has plenty of policy details on her website. She does, but it is organized to mislead, not to inform. That’s far worse than having no details.” If her term as secretary of state is any indication, we can expect President Clinton to do a lot of traveling and hiding from the press. It is fair to guess that she would sign a lot more international agreements than Trump—including probably some form of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The country is as polarized as ever, but this time something is different. It is not the usual Democrat/Republican or liberal/conservative poles attracting and repelling. One pole is now the political/corporate community (establishment politicians of both parties, Democratic interest groups, corporate journalists and Wall Street fat cats) lining up in opposition to Trump. The other pole is what used to be called “the Republican base” augmented by disaffected people who had stopped paying attention to politics. These are not people with ready access to the media, so we do not hear much from them. They are largely working class, but not the working class that liberals like to talk about. These are the kind of working class that continually disappoint Marxists.

This shift has caused some interesting side effects. For example, the Republican candidate is actually running to the left of the Democrat (who keeps focusing on an old Howard Stern interview to deflect from her vote for the Iraq War) on foreign policy. Also, while Democrats are the ones who rail about too much money in politics, Clinton is far outpacing Trump in sucking in super PAC money from large donors, while Trump is leading in small donations.

There is really no point in trying to argue policy in this election. Most people are genuinely unhappy with the choice in front of them, which seems paradoxical since the candidates were each selected by millions of voters. People are instinctively going to their corners. Their hearts or their guts are telling them whom to vote for. They are just following the news to hear the sound bite that gives them permission to vote the way they really want. For some it’s Trump’s talk about the wall and Obama’s birth certificate. For others it is four dead Americans in Benghazi followed by blame heaped on a YouTube video. Will any new information about either of the candidates—no matter how outrageous or shocking—change anyone’s mind at this point?

All the strategists are doing at this point is trying to discourage a few people on the other side so much that they do not mail in their ballots and/or stay home on Election Day.

No word that I can think of does justice to the frustrating state of American politics these days. At least no word in English. So what would be the Tamarian term for this state of affairs? Probably this: Trump and Clinton on the ballot.

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