Contrary to popular opinion and what all the pundits are saying on TV and social media, today’s election is not proof that our democracy works but that it is utterly broken. Although I should clarify, what I mean by broken is that it is hopelessly useless when it comes to representing the will and interests of the American people. However, from the perspective of the status quo and the establishment, our electoral system is 100% healthy.
You know those wave elections that keep happening every the first mid-term after a president has been elected? I’m talking about the takeover of either the House, Senate or both by the opposition party that has occurred under Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama and now Trump. In fact, throughout history, almost every single time a new president gets elected, Congress is shortly thereafter commandeered by the party that is out of out power.
This is not an accident. Follow me, if you will, to the year 2004. Remember those years when Bush was the name that used to get liberals in a tizzy. Oh my how things have changed considering that Dubya and the Obamas are now BFFs. After Bush won reelection, the base of the opposing party was fully energized and motivated. Meanwhile, on the other side, after eight years of observing Bush break his campaign promises and revealing himself to be a bumbling idiot, Republicans were in a rut and lacking the urgency to cement GW’s legacy by electing his successor.
In stepped Obama, a man who was a radical departure from Bush—brilliantly marketed as such. He captivated the imagination of people on the left and won by a landslide. So how is it then that Obama lost the House of Representatives and barely retained the Senate by the smallest of margins two years removed from his historic campaign? The short answer: because that is how our system of governance is set up. When Democrats and Republicans have a strangle hold on power and disincentive the majority of Americans from engaging in politics in the process, what ends up happening in a pendulum effect between the two parties.
The side that wins the presidential elections in the first term lose their enthusiasm once they get their political fix. The side that lost, meanwhile, seethe and lick their chops—their anger getting exacerbated each time they see the man they voted against on TV. Two years later, the party out of power has all the advantage and they rush to the polls because they have been convinced that the new president is a threat to everything that is good and decent—sounds familiar doesn’t it? Snap! Just like that, a wave election forms as the opposing party sweeps into power.
Two years after the mid-term elections, the presidential elections are held as the incumbent gets a chance to win a second term. This time around though, the president holds the advantage. After losing the mid-terms, the president’s base is no longer quite as lethargic. Moreover, incumbents always have an advantage when running for elections because the trappings of power and the bully pulpit that comes with the office is nothing to sneeze at. Add on top of this the fact that most “A-team” contenders from the opposing party choose to run after a president’s second term is over and what you have is a recipe for the reelection of presidents and a tossup instead of wave elections when it comes to Congress.
All this changes after eight years of the same president. Two factors take place to reshape the electorate and give the advantage to the opposing party and kneecaps the lame duck’s party. The most important development is the realization by the president’s backers that he was not the real McCoy. One by one, the most ardent supporters wake up to the reality that their man was actually a fraud who used their hopes and fears to get elected. This is why Hillary did not run on Obama’s legacy, this is why McCain ran away from Bush and the same reason why Gore treated Clinton like a pariah. On the flip side, the candidates who run in opposition to lame duck presidents enjoy the advantages of a motivated base and the more importantly can run on the theme of change.
What we are witnessing tonight is the continuation of this bipolar electoral process. This time around, it’s Trump’s voters who were depressed and Democrats backers who are in full mania mode excited to give the president his comeuppance. This back and forth between the two parties gives the appearance of change; we are fooled into thinking that the vote is a way to keep politicians honest as news outlets feed us the dopamine of election theme songs, fancy graphics and up to the minute breakdowns of election results.
Meanwhile, as we keep taking in the acid high of politics, behind the scenes nothing is changing. Putting aside the ugly rhetoric of Trump and the red meat issues that are thrown at us to keep us emotionally agitated, by in large Trump is continuing the same foreign and economic polices of Obama the same way Obama kept Bush’s tenants of enriching the rich and invading nations that did not attack us. Just like Obama did in 2010, Trump is going to lose the House of Representatives tonight and barely keep the Senate. Gridlock will rule the day as investigations and more bickering will once again lull us into complacency and keep us addicted to sensationalism and outrage.
The only reason that this nonsense works is because we have been so conditioned to think in the short term that we lack the ability to take a step back and see the broader picture. The voter is basically Detective Kujan in Usual Suspects and politicians are Verbal Kint, we are so inundated with lies and distractions that we end up having tunnel vision on the small details only to lose sight of the connective nature of the two party sham that is laughably passed off as a democracy. The same way people on the left are enraged about Trump is how the right was livid over Obama, both sides were being manipulated by demagogues and firebrands while politicians on both side of the aisles are laughing at all of us. Click To Tweet
Want to know how powerful this opioid of politics the addiction of partisanship truly is? Obama ran against Bush’s immoral war in Iraq only to maintain Bush’s wars and add a few more in Libya, Syria and Yemen as he droned his way into the military-industrial campaign hall of fame. Remember the criminals who crashed our economy in 2008 by repackaging toxic mortgages and derivatives? Those same criminals were given golden parachutes while homeowners were foreclosed and told to eat cake. This is the golden age of neo-liberalism that voters is supposed to be the alternative to Trump. Speaking of Trump, this same hack who made his fortunes by bilking Americans and declaring bankruptcies is seen by supporters as the man who will make America great again. If the game is rigged against the American people, it’s because too many of us insist on being played.
For a shell game to work, three shells are needed. Two shells are always empty and the third shell is where the ball will eventually be placed. The hustler moves the shells in rapid movement, so quickly that you lose track as he slickly removes the ball from one of the shells and then continues to shuffle away. All the sudden, he asks you to s(elect) a shell. You pick one thinking you have good odds of finding the one with the ball in it. Except the ball was always in the hustler’s hand, the illusion of change made you think you had a chance when all along he was playing you for a chump. What you just witnessed tonight was a shell game being played on TV.
You think your team won today until you find out one day that you are the game that is being played.
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Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.