Maybe it’s best the Michigan presidential primary election is next Tuesday, a week after today’s “Super Tuesday,” when voters in 13 states make their pick among the five remaining Republican and two Democratic candidates.
By the time our votes are counted, the Michigan results will likely be irrelevant to the nomination contest for both political parties. It’s just a semi-informed guess at this point, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton wind up as their party’s nominees.
Understanding why gets us to consider where the fractured state of our political system has got us.
On the Republican side, we now have essentially three faction leaders: The purists, backing Ted Cruz; the Establishmentarians, pulling for Marco Rubio. And the Pissed Off, passionate for their guy, Donald Trump. Each of these factions is “mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive”, as my old philosophy tutor used to put it. The fact that the GOP has now mutated into a three-headed monster goes a long way to understand the revolution that’s now tearing apart the American political system.
As to the Democrats, let’s assume Hillary Clinton is pretty much like a shoo-in, although even her supporters have a hard time warming up to her unlovable affect and long political history that comes across about as exciting as last week’s mashed potatoes. Bernie Sanders himself admits it “will take a revolution” for his mostly young and college-educated liberal base to win for a Democratic Socialist. But it’s beginning to look as though the moderate establishment that has dominated the Democratic Party for decades is beginning to be pulled to the left, slowly becoming unhitched from our national centrist demography.
Recently, I’ve been asking people I meet who they’d prefer to be president. “Michael Bloomberg,” most reply. The former New York City mayor, who at $40 billion net worth, is wealthy, as distinguished from merely rich. He’s given away to charity almost as much money as Trump is thought to have in total. He’s a self-made businessman, who switched from a Democrat to Republican to be elected mayor of New York City. He is liberal on social policy (pro-choice, anti-gun) and conservative on things like supporting the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy and knowing how the global economy actually works.
If Bloomberg runs, he would help precipitate the unpacking of the Democratic-Republican duopoly that has strangled healthy development of the American political system for decades. His backers say that winning the presidency doesn’t require a majority of votes; just 38 percent in the right states would do. The idea is that Americans, confronted by a political system that seems at once ineffectual, hyper-partisan and lacking the capacity to govern the country, would flock to a Bloomberg-defined middle ground.
I hear these days rumors of a possible Clinton-Bloomberg unity ticket. My instinct is that general citizen dissatisfaction with existing political alternatives is driving interest in what would be in practice a very complicated thing to pull off.
It’s here that Flint comes in.
Reading the stream of astonishingly self-serving and disconnected emails that have come out, especially in Bridge magazine’s comprehensive timeline of the debacle, I can’t but think that Flint is the canary in the coal mine that marks the slow deterioration of a political system that is showing itself incapable of governing our country effectively or providing the necessities of life to our citizens.
We live in a regulatory environment. But regulation these days has little to do with making sure things actually get done on the ground, preferring instead “compliance”, ticking off the appropriate boxes on the bureaucratic form.
We live in a resource constrained environment. But a politics focused primarily on keeping taxes low risks tolerating communities where providing public goods as simple as safe drinking water is in doubt.
We live in a democracy, but these days people in Flint don’t trust anybody – local, state or federal bureaucracies or political leaders. Historians point out that the wholesale withdrawal of trust by the governed is the usual symptom preceding upheaval.
The Center for Michigan’s public outreach program that kicks off later this month will ask people gathered in small community conversations whether they trust our political and policy systems in Michigan today and, if not, what can be done about it. The idea is to bring thousands of citizens together to reflect on what our political system has come to and what needs to be done to improve things.
Should be a bunch of exciting – and revealing – conversations.