Elections 101: Russian Lambs & Political Theatre

1). The popularity of a Russian leader, historically speaking, increases proportionately in relation to how much that leader is disliked or criticized by the international community. Their popularity increases the most when their country is at war or invaded.
 
2). Said Russian leader assassinated very publicly a former Russian spy in the UK using a nerve agent that intelligence services in Britain would certainly trace back to the Kremlin. Putin wants everyone to know it was him who ordered the attack.
 
(Putin has publicly killed his enemies for the sake of consolidating his domestic strength on three occasions, e.g. the most recent attack in the UK, the use of Polonium against Litvinenko, and the shooting of Boris Nemstov (an outspoken Putin critic) on the steps of the Kremlin. The numbers go up considerably when we include all of the journalists he’s killing in his country.)
 
3). International community predictably plays its part in the narrative by reacting with outrage. Russian citizens circle their wagons around the puppet master and defend Putin.
 
4). Putin wins election in two days by landslide as the populist leader and defender of the mother country.
 
5). Democracy in Russia continues not to exist for at least another 4-5 years. Minorities in that country continue to suffer and we get to continue on with the Cold War 2.0 and a suicidal arms race preparing for a third world war no one can actually win.
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Governing by Brand: Trump Inc.

“You know what uranium is, right? It’s this thing called nuclear weapons. And other things. Like lots of things are done with uranium. Including some bad things. But nobody talks about that.”—Donald Trump

If I wanted to take power, Alexander Hamilton wrote, I would mount the “hobbyhorse of popularity, I would cry out usurpation, danger to liberty, etc. etc. I would endeavor to prostrate the national government, raise a ferment, and then ride the whirlwind to direct the storm”.[1] Demagogues and populist leaders not only direct storms, they create them; they whip the people into a frenzy and the minute they relax their hold—allowing people time to actually think instead of feel—the power monger’s influence wanes.

I have a theory about America’s new president. I don’t think he has any intention of actually governing. He governs by decree and executive order (something he and fellow Republicans vilified Obama of doing). This isn’t governing, it’s institutional cynicism. He’s going to continue doing what he did in the business world—sell a brand.[2] He doesn’t know how to do anything else (and he’s good at it). Yet, being good at selling a product doesn’t necessarily translate into being able to lead the world’s most powerful democracy for a four year term.

Trump doesn’t make anything; he slaps his name on a building or a steak and claims it as his own. Instead of actually reading briefings, Trump watches television to get his information. He listens to white supremacist radio shows and thinks he’s getting an accurate presentation of the state of the nation. If the man cracked a book in his adult life I’d be surprised. He isn’t a thinker. He’s a doer. So, instead of attending intelligence briefings or learning what constitutes or what does not constitute overstepping presidential prerogative, he’s back on the campaign trail bragging about his election how he carried Florida. He’s a salesman, not a president. Three weeks into his presidency and there hasn’t been a single day where Trump’s “finely tuned” administration hasn’t made some sort of mis-step. I hear the bell from the news app on my phone and I cringe wondering ‘what’d he do now?’ I still, honestly, cannot believe he won the election; and it wasn’t his smarts that won him the election–it was arguably the ignorance of the average American voter (who appears to be willing to trade the rule of law and pluralism for the prospect of short-term financial gain). I don’t think people understood what exactly they were buying.

A good test of a man’s character is how he reacts to constructive criticism. Trump fails this test. In order to avoid the justifiable criticism of his executive orders and cabinet picks, he directs attention back on the media calling them the greatest enemy of the United States. The greatest enemy of any country is a leader who resorts to special pleading[3] and cries foul whenever light is brought to bear upon one of his many ill-founded policies. Speaking of policies, when the Free World is led by a man so ignorant of history he cannot be expected to develop policies with a context (he just criticizes existing agreements or institutions a either “very, very bad” or “the worst deal maybe ever”); when you elect the intellectual equivalent of Jared the Subway spokesmen to power, you cannot reasonably expect him to make informed decisions around science generally or climate change (a Chinese plot!) specifically, e.g. his pick for head of the Environmental Protection Agency is a climate change denier.

So, if I have any advice for President Trump it is this: just do it, sir. Build that wall. Think different. Think so differently that it appears you’re not thinking at all. The people will continue to melt in your hands, not in your mouth; because your leadership tastes so good, cats ask for it by name.[4]
Notes
[1] Private correspondence from Alexander Hamilton to Edward Carrington (1792). See: https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Hamilton/01-11-02-0349.

[2] Trump reputedly offered Governor Kasich the vice-presidency. The president told Kasich that he could control domestic and foreign policy. When asked what responsibilities Mr. Trump would take care of it became apparent the businessman turned politician would be the face of the White House, i.e. he’d sell the policies and be the brand for a new order. http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/20/politics/john-kasich-donald-trump-vice-president/

[3] The Republican Party recently passed a notion permitting President Trump from not having to release his tax returns. If Trump has nothing to fear and there’s no conflict of interest, why the secrecy? Just like his predecessors he should be required to be forthcoming with information that establishes his trustworthiness and integrity; or we can just take him at his word and trust. When has that ever gotten a people into trouble?

[4] https://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/33535/10-companies-that-totally-nailed-their-taglines.aspx#sm.0002dixf216rtfiqscz2fcdl6e35p

Podcast Episode 19: America like…WTF?

In episode 19, the Hooligans discuss the significance and meaning of Donald Trump’s recent (and surprising) victory in the American presidential election. The cast considers the impact of Trump’s stated policies for Canada, the United States, and how the controversial figure’s rise in the United States is increasing popular support for ultra-right wing political parties in Western Europe (a trend not seen since the 1920s).

Episode 19: America like…WTF?

Click on the hyperlink above to download and listen to the podcast. Feel free to leave a comment or question in the comments section below. One of the cast members will respond.

Thanks in advance for listening and check back regularly for updates to the site and podcast. Also, if you like what you hear please follow us on Word Press to receive notifications on when the blog or podcast is updated.

Notes & Clarifications
1). On the night of the election, Mark Halpern (one of the hosts of Showtime’s Circus) was interviewed on Stephen Colbert’s Election Night Special on November 8th.  Halpern is one of the managing editors of Bloomberg Politics and a senior political analyst for MSNBC. He and co-host John Heilemann followed both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election. Halpern argued that Trump’s election was one of the three most disastrous events to befall the United States, e.g. World War II, 9/11 and of course November 9th, 2016.

2). On November 8th Donald Trump won the presidency by winning the electoral college; however, for what it’s worth Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, e.g. As of November 11th Clinton had received 60,467,245 votes (or 47.7%) while Trump received 60,071,650 (47.4%).

Source: http://www.ibtimes.com/latest-popular-vote-results-2016-hillary-clinton-has-almost-400000-more-votes-winner-2445216

Three other candidates won the electoral college but received less of the popular vote, e.g. Clinton had more than Trump (2016), Al Gore had more than George W. Bush (2000), Grover Cleveland received more support than Benjamin Harrison (1888), and Samuel Tilden received more than Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876.

3). Rick made reference to John Cruickshank during the show. Cruickshank is a former contributor to the Toronto Globe and Mail who, during a recent interview on CBC’s The Investigators, discussed the reasons why media’s predictions were wrong. Also, Cruickshank provided some interesting insight as to the significance of Trump’s unexpected victory. Specifically he said the campaign was covered “as if it were a plebiscite on the character of Donald Trump, but it wasn’t, really. It had a lot more to do with the fact that for almost all of the American population, they haven’t had a raise in 40 years.” You can watch the interview by clicking on the link below:

Source: http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/americans-vote-out-media-1.3846307

4). During the show Rick made reference to the stagnation of African-American wages since the 1960s, i.e. as a cohort this group actually made more money in the middle of the 20th century than they do in 2016. The site linked below presents information from a report published in 1965 called “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.”

Source: http://yourblackworld.net/2013/03/02/the-black-family-is-worse-off-today-than-in-the-1960s-report-shows/

5). There are a series of important elections coming in Europe in 2016 and 2017. The election of Donald Trump, and specifically the way he won, has emboldened and increased support for right-wing political parties in France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Belgium and Italy. The BBC article linked below provides a context for understanding the paradigm shift currently taking place in Western Europe.

Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36150807

6). During the podcast, Rick couldn’t recall the name of President John F. Kennedy gave to his administration’s time in office. Kennedy called it the “New Frontier.” Kennedy pursued a domestic policy which carried on with liberal social reforms enacted under the President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s. In terms of foreign policy, Kennedy encouraged Americans to make a difference in the world by joining the recently formed Peace Corps and to land a man on the moon before the Russians (during the so-called Space Race).

Quit Watching the Train Wreck

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to the Republican nomination.

Yoda Kennedy

Take the Trump test. Turn to CNN and see whether or not they’re discussing the controversial Republican presidential candidate right now.

I’ll wait.

My family’s been taking the “test” for several months now and 98% of the time, there he is, the “Donald” in all his orange glory being discussed; it doesn’t matter what time of the day or night. There he is (inescapable like gravity). By comparison the coverage Clinton’s campaign receives is negligible. You hear the odd thing about emails, secret speeches given to Wall Street, or the magic word “Benghazi” creep up now and again, etc. but other than that you don’t hear a lot about her.

Why does Trump get so much coverage and Clinton so little?

Click bait. If it bleeds, it leads. Trump is strangely alluring—sort of like a car crash where you just want to see the burning wreck for its own sake; and his campaign, arguably, has been one car wreck after the next, e.g. calling Latinos rapists, saying he’ll ban Muslims, cajoling war heroes, picking fights with parents of Muslim American war veterans, refusing to make his tax returns public, encouraging the beating of critics attending his rallies, impulsive tweet after tweet after tweet, his “locker room” conversation with “Access Hollywood’s” Billy Bush about a certain inability to control himself around beautiful women, and then his recent promise to sue 11 “beautiful women” who came out saying he’d groped them—just like he said he couldn’t help from doing; nevertheless, we keep watching and waiting to see if the latest controversy is the final one…and it never is.

I can’t seem to look away; and that’s the problem with Trump and why he won’t just go away—we keep looking, we keep listening; the fire is too pretty; my Freudian Thanatos impulse too strong. Mr. Trump gets stronger every time we watch the, to borrow one of his very, very favorite words, “disaster.” This reminds me of the god Aries as portrayed in an animated “Wonder Woman” movie. When people fight Aries, the god of war, he gets stronger; once people quit fighting and seek peace he gets weaker. Trump is like Aries: the more we watch the stronger he and his brand becomes.

I looked at November 8th as a sort of emancipation day. Even Canadians support him; they tend to be of the conservative variety; and the liberals I know vilify him. I’m tired of hearing Canadians and Americans talk about the guy. For my part I think I’ve written about six articles looking at the Trump phenomenon. I’m done. This is the final one. I’m moving on to bashing Trudeau or giving my qualified support to Saskatchewan’s premier, Brad Wall. Wall is the only one of the three civic leaders I’ve actually met. I took a class to the Regina Legislature a number of years ago and he took time out of his busy day to meet with us. He was magnanimous, funny and friendly. I have never actually voted for the guy but I know he has the province’s best interests in mind. I just wish he was a little closer to the center is all.

So, Trump is going to lose the election. I have little doubt of that. But he isn’t going to go away. He’ll keep pushing forward the idea he lost—not because of his many personal defects—but because the election was rigged. I think he’s going to lose the election more because of his “busy hands” and impulsive nature than anything else. Nevertheless, he isn’t going anywhere after November 8th.  He’s going to rile his followers up in an effort to build his brand out of the wreckage he’s left behind on the democratic and political landscape of the United States. Worse still there’s talk about him starting his own television channel after the election. I thought Oprah’s channel was bad, Trump’s will be worse.

Even though he’s not going anywhere, there’s a solution: quit watching. Turn away. Tune out. I’m not advising people remain fundamentally ignorant of the goings-on in the world. Just remain ignorant of Trump is all. Ignore him and don’t give into the temptation to look at the burning wreck. When you quit watching, just like when you quit fighting Aries, he loses his power and his capacity to influence.

Save Your Democracy by Not Voting

I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.

Thomas Jefferson

Around elections people frequently say things like “get out and vote!” The assumption is if you cast a ballot you are somehow preserving democracy. But what if by voting you are actually helping to undermine the very system and freedoms you’re trying to preserve?

In principle, elected officials make decisions that reflect the will of the people. Additionally, civic officials sometimes protect democracy by not making decisions reflecting the will of the majority.

Following the Boston Massacre in 1770 a lawyer named John Adams was tasked with defending several British soldiers accused of murdering American protestors. Adams was under considerable pressure not to vigorously defend the accused. A guilty verdict would mean the soldiers would be hanged thereby satisfying the American desire for revenge. But Adams was a principled man who believed in the rule of law, due process rights, and that a truly free society was one where principles (not emotion or the capricious will of the majority) was the basis of civic order. The accused received a fair trial and were found not guilty.

Looking to a contemporary Canadian example, when Prime Minister Paul Martin managed to push through the Civil Marriage Act in 2005, he did so despite the fact many Canadians opposed same sex marriage; however, he had a duty to protect the fundamental rights of all Canadians (and not just preserve the privileges of the majority). Although preventing gay people from marrying one another might satisfy the vanity or sense of propriety of some, to deny anyone marriage equality would be a violation of democratic first-principles and the Charter of Rights of Freedoms. Martin’s greater responsibility, in this case, was to secure the rights of a minority.

The degree to which a society protects its minorities is considered a litmus test by many political theorists for how healthy a democracy is. Again, elected officials defend the people, all of the people by upholding each respective country’s constitution; these officials have to have the power to work independently, follow their conscience insofar as this is not used to justify an arbitrary or moving standard of justice, and use their personal judgement when it comes to the passage or repeal of laws; the best elected officials possess what Machiavelli called civic virtu and a strong sense of civic responsibility (as per Martin’s example).

This is the ideal: but we find few elected representatives actually operate like this; most politicians (with exception) have little to no independence of action. They can’t vote on bills based on the needs of their constituents. If they actually could, we’d have seen common sense legislation passed on regulating the proliferation of guns in the United States a long time ago; we would have seen legislation on hydraulic fracturing to protect the water supplies of communities unfortunate enough to reside on the Bakken Formation; or laws protecting people from the effluence and continuing toxic effects of mining on the health of residents in West Virginia or Montana.

Elected representatives can’t pass these laws (even if it is the will of the people). Corporations through propaganda mills like the Heartland Institute, and through cadres of tens of thousands of lobbyists, buy and sell federal and state level politicians and influence; these powerful interests own the decision-making process. So much for government for and by the people. This reality is one of the reasons why Sanders and Trump (and even Obama to an extent) were so popular. They all promise, or promised, to do something about the situation. The problem is the political system, as it is currently constituted, cannot be fixed (at least not through elections).

Americans have personal freedom but lack civic freedom; they are free to speak their minds, to follow (or not) a religion, associate with like-minded people, etc. However, Americans lack meaningful civic freedom (or power): you can hold public office but to win an election you exchange corporate donations for political favors: this compromises the independence of the sitting members of legislatures while essentially nullifying the purpose and meaning of elections.

…Americans lack meaningful civic freedom (or power): you can hold public office but to win an election you exchange corporate donations for political favors: this compromises the independence of the sitting members of legislatures while essentially nullifying the purpose and meaning of elections.

If either the Republicans or Democrats win an election the running assumption is the will of the people is being expressed. Ignoring the role propaganda has on shaping political attitudes and election outcomes, citizens do decide the outcome of elections; yet, after election day the role/will of the people ends; it is replaced by the control exercised by corporations through their lobbyists. Voters might want their representatives to end the for-profit prison or health-care systems. But elected officials can’t: they’re pressured to maintain the status-quo or face being either cut off from future campaign funding or face propaganda attacks which all but assure they will never be re-elected. So nothing changes; and worse still voters legitimate the whole thing by casting their ballots.

When you vote for and elect these compromised public officials, you are actually complicit in your own oppression. They aren’t working for you. They work for the likes of George Soros or the Koch brothers. By casting a ballot you make the whole process—from the campaign, the election itself, and finally to the decision-making processes in the legislatures that follows—legitimate. Basically, you are justifying the corporate order every four years by ratifying it through the ballot—an order which makes it nearly impossible to change the environment destroying course we are currently on; an order where we’ve seen a massive transferal of wealth to a small number of individuals; an order which is becoming increasingly unresponsive or relevant to meeting the needs of the people; and an order treating people not as equal citizens but useful only insofar as they consume, consume, consume.

The whole idea of legitimacy sets dictatorships apart from democracies. Dictatorships don’t rely on legitimacy (popular support) for control; they rely on coercion, the control of information and resources, and of course fear. Democracies by contrast only work if people feel they are genuinely part of the decision-making process. For this reason the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy developed in Great Britain is the longest lived political system currently in operation. People don’t feel the need to overthrow or replace it; it is a responsive system; it is a responsible and accountable system. The law, and everyone (even corporations), is subordinate to the civic good as upheld by the constitution.

This is not the case in the United States.

The thing about the corporations though is they know they need to keep up appearances. If people become aware, truly aware, something is wrong with the decision-making process then the gig is up (as they say). So the propaganda mill keeps churning out lies keeping people oblivious and powerless; and we keep playing our part in a sort of failed democratic ritual.

But what if we decided en masse to no longer participate in elections? If we didn’t vote, we’d stop legitimating the results of sham processes. We would generate awareness among the polity about the importance of not being passive but active in their own governance. We would in essence finally draw a line in the sand and say no more and no further. We would embarrass the elite, as the Radical Party did in Argentina in the 1920s and early 30s, into a more equitable sharing of power. There’s no getting around having an elite; yet, a more equitable balance of power is achievable. Change is possible and needed.

Critics of what I propose rightly point out that if you don’t vote then the “other guy’s” party will win the election; the running assumption though is that there’s a meaningful difference between the political parties and candidates. There is no critical difference (except in rhetoric) between the two major parties in the United States. They’re both bought and paid for. Thus, the American voter doesn’t even have the choice of choosing between the lesser of two evils…they just have evil and evil.

For this tactic of not voting to work it would require organization, time, and committed individuals. But I guarantee nothing is going to change based on the results of the next presidential election; and the next congressional election we’ll see the emergence of the same types of representatives making the same decisions for the same corporate-interested reasons. If you want to rescue democracy, one of the many things you can do is refuse to participate in meaningless, sham elections. This tactic won’t work in 2016; however, in 2020 it might be one of the few weapons left to people who genuinely want to preserve liberty.

The end game isn’t to win elections: it’s to destroy the myth that voting in and of itself constitutes a genuine expression of democratic sentiment. Citizens need to realize their democratic responsibilities do not end after election day (these responsibilities begin); they need to be active in their communities building food boxes or book boxes; they can teach literacy skills to those who lack them; they need to keep elected representatives accountable through the effective use of the media (citizen journalism); they need to quit being indifferent to the suffering of their fellow citizens when these are shot, disenfranchised or bullied, e.g. join Idle No More, Occupy or some equivalent movement (start your own movement); they need to demand of judges that the Constitution be protected and upheld, i.e. there’s no such thing as a conservative or liberal interpretation of this document (there are simply democratic first-principles we need to preserve); citizens need to take their power back from corporations and they can do that in part by achieving food independence (growing their own food), energy independence (citizens making use of either solar or wind power), and civic disobedience (not cooperating with the government).

Episode 16: Why You Should Support Trump

Peasants & Emperors is a podcast presenting topics related to democracy, science, culture, women’s issues, current events and critical thinking. A new podcast is produced and available for listening/download approximately every two weeks.

In episode 16, the Hooligans welcome their first guest speaker (Lane S. who is a statistician based in Kansas) to the podcast. Rick and Jess hoped Lane might be able to shed some light on why so many people support Trump. Lane argues Trump’s candidacy is more or less a reaction of Middle-America to decades of graft and corruption in Washington, D.C. Whatever side of the political spectrum you reside on, you’ll find some of the things Lane has to say revealing to say the least.

Episode 16: Why You Should Support Trump

Click on the hyperlink above to download and listen to the podcast. Feel free to leave a comment or question in the comments section below. One of the cast members will respond.

Thanks in advance for listening and check back regularly for updates to the site and podcast. Also, if you like what you hear please follow us on Word Press to receive notifications on when the blog or podcast is updated.

Notes & Clarifications
1). In the podcast, Lane asserted 94 million Americans are currently not looking for work. This would be an extraordinary number of unemployed people considering the population of the United States is approximately 320 million. The figure above (94 million unemployed) is used by Donald Trump. According to the Bureau of Labor, approximately 92 to 93 million Americans aged 16 to infinity were not participating in the labor force as of July 2015. This number needs to be unpacked, i.e. it includes a number of people not actively looking for work (17.5 million retired Americans 65 or older). The number likewise includes high school, graduate and professional school students. Also, it includes people with disabilities, stay at home parents, and every adult attending school full-time. The official number of unemployed Americans is 8.3 million (but according to Political Fact, a watch-dog website, depending upon the criteria you use the number of unemployed could be as high as 21 million). So a more realistic number might well be somewhere between 8.3  to 21 million unemployed.

2). Lane observed 68,000 crimes had been perpetrated in Texas alone by illegal immigrants in Texas since Obama was elected in 2008. According to Political Fact figure is accurate (and depending upon how you interpret some of the statistics) and might be more or less an understatement of the problem facing the American judicial system by illegals.

3). Rick claimed that 7 out of every 10 jobs created in any modern economy are technology related. He was unable to find the source where he came across this information. He did recall learning this statistic while completing his education degree back in the 1990s. Nonetheless, listeners are counselled to take this stat with a grain of salt until a source can be found affirming it.

4). Lane observed he had some problems with free trade but no problems really with “fair” trade. This led to a discussion of some examples of “unfair” trade which has resulted from free trade agreements. Specifically, the topic of Apple Corporation’s exploitation of cheap Chinese labor in Shang-hai came up. Follow this link to a discussion on Apple’s problematic alliance with the Chinese government. Ultimately, when you purchase Apple products you are directly contributing to the misery of tens of thousands of workers in China.

5). During the podcast, Rick couldn’t remember the name of the legal instrument used by corporations to sue national governments. This tool is called an Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). Every major free trade agreement, e.g. NAFTA, etc. has an ISDS clause empowering corporations to sue national governments whenever a government’s policies or laws might threaten shareholder profits. Critics of ISDS have raised concerns about its unpredictability, how it contributes to a lack of transparency, and the apparent lack of impartiality on the part of arbitrators; that is, the same lawyers who craft the agreements also preside as judges (arbitrators) during conflict resolution.

6). Lane referred to an apocryphal story of Donald Trump helping a married couple out by paying hospital bills, mortgage, etc. for helping him with some car troubles. The story is fictional and has made the rounds in different forms with different celebrities helping the couple. A similar story has circulated about stars like Vin Diesel or Will Ferrell moving to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan to escape the hurly-burly of Los Angeles. Click here to see the Snope’s fact check page on this story.

7). Rick mis-spoke when he said nuclear deterrence has worked for six years. He meant to say six decades.

8). Rick couldn’t remember the location of one Al Qaida led terror attack on an American embassy from a country starting with the letter “t” (that country was Tanzania and it took place in 1998).

9). Lane mentioned an attack on the American embassy in Iran in 1973. He meant to say an attack came during the 1979 Iranian uprising.

Part 1: Donald Trump: The Problem of Relying on Men Instead of Principles
Part 2: Donald Trump: Why Reasonable People Vote for Him
Part 3: Donald Trump: Where’s It All Heading
Trump Makes Promises He Can’t Keep
Podcast (audio): Why You Should Vote for Trump

Elections 101: Kang and Kodos on Clinton and Trump

The year is 1996 and it’s an election year: aliens have kidnapped presidential hopefuls Bob Dole (Republican) and Bill Clinton (Democrat). Aliens Kang and Kodos take on the human forms of the candidates and run for the presidency themselves; these tentacled creatures have not come in peace but to take advantage of America’s two-party system where voters have no choice but to vote for either the Democratic or Republican party in the upcoming election. Yet, before the coup d’état is complete, Homer Simpson arrives in a stolen UFO smashing into the Capitol building. Homer reveals to the crowd they’ve been duped into supporting alien overlords. With their cover blown, Kang and Kodos abandon their human forms revealing themselves as hideous, single-eyed, green, tentacled monsters. The conspiracy uncovered, the aliens don’t attempt to escape. Instead, they confidently communicate to a crowd of spectators that they have no choice but to vote for either Kodos or Kang. After all, America has a two-party system and it’s too late to select new candidates; also, the aliens caution the crowd from being so foolish as to throw away their vote by supporting a third-party candidate like Ross Perot.

Art imitates life or, in the case of the Simpson’s, satirizes it. Clinton and Trump’s approval ratings are about the same as Kang’s and Kodos’. Clinton like Kang before her is viewed as an untrustworthy opportunist seeking the presidency out of personal ambition as opposed to a desire to serve. The insomniac Trump, just like Kodos, is believed lacking in the intelligence, judgement or the temperament required to be president; and as was the case with the voters in 1996 the electorate in 2016 are a free people captive to an unresponsive two-party system where the only option available is to choose between the lesser of two evils.

This November 8thAmericans head to the polls to elect the 45th president in what many regard as the most important election in generations; it is important because America is stuck with a dysfunctional two-party political system offering voters little hope for meaningful change. There are third party candidates and parties yet these alternatives aren’t really options at all: the Green Party’s Jill Stein has little understanding of economics; she believes quantitative easing is the appropriate tool to pay for social programs or free university, etc. She has zero appreciation for the negative effects of pursuing such a dangerous fiscal policy in the long-term; then there’s the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson who an American friend of mine aptly describes as an “asshat.” Johnson is essentially a stoned Donald Trump—he is chill, likes to “partake,” and doesn’t know much about anything in particular. So, the Americans limp towards the next election like lame ducks.

Political theorists argue two-party systems are actually supposed to prevent parties from becoming too polarized—the competition for popular support (at least in principle) keeps party policy somewhere in the middle. This clearly is not happening in America. The dysfunction in the Congress we’ve seen over (at least) the last eight years and the lack of civility when it comes dialogue in the public sphere, e.g. conservatives labeling progressives as not “true Americans” and liberals accusing conservatives of being a bunch of Luddite racists, etc. take us anywhere except along a middle course. You could not have a more divided polity right now.

Since I’m lacking any direct experience with the American system, I asked Kang and Kodos if they would answer some questions I have about the two-party system, the Electoral College, and the overall significance of the 2016 election.

trio

Rick: Kang you obviously did your homework before attempting to take the presidency in 1996. You were the Republican nominee. Kang was the Democratic nominee. Has there only ever been two political parties in the history of the United States?

Kang: glad to be here. I trust there will be no need for a bloodbath. To answer your question there have been plenty of other political parties. They just come and go. For example, there were the Federalists (1790-1820), National Republicans (1825-1833), Whigs (1833-1854) and Democratic-Republicans (1800-1820s).

Rick: Kodos how long have the Republicans and Democrats been the only real options available to Americans?

Kodos: why do you recoil so? My culture has learnt all it can from human anal probing. Rest assured you have nothing to fear from me. Kang, well, that is another story. Since 1852 only candidates from either the Republican or Democrat parties have placed first or second in a presidential election. There was one exception: in 1912 Theodore Roosevelt ran as a Progressive third-party candidate. He came in second to the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson.

Rick: I took a gander at the Constitution (1787) and there’s nothing in there saying American has to have a two-party system. This is just a convention that developed over time. Kang why did the two-party system develop in the first place?

Kang: [polishing his anal probe] some of your human balding white political scientists argue two-party systems are the natural result of using a winner-takes-all voting system.

Rick: [looking around for all the available exits] some of my readers might not know what this winner-takes-all voting system is. Could you explain further?

Kang: [drooling] why yes, most certainly. In such a system, the candidate receiving the most votes compared to the others wins the district. You don’t need to win a majority or receive 50% plus one of the votes. You win by just getting more votes than the person in second place. Candidates who come in third, fourth, etc. don’t matter whatsoever. The winner could receive as little as 15% of the votes assuming the second place finisher received 14% and so on and so forth.

Rick: a person can win an election by receiving so little of the popular vote?

Kang:  baha, oh my. The main problem with winner-takes-all is there’s a real chance the wishes of the majority of voters in any given electoral district are not reflected at all in the final results.

Rick: what system do you use on Rigel 5?

Kodos: [interjecting] we’re an anarcho-syndicalist commune. We take turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week.

Rick: yes…

Kodos: but all the decisions of that officer have to be ratified at a special bi-weekly meeting.

Rick: yes, I see.

Kodos: by a simple majority, in the case of purely internal affairs.

Rick: yes, yes, I see.

Kodos: But by a two-thirds majority, in the case of more major—

Rick: let’s bring our attention back to earth shall we? There is one genuine alternative to winner-takes-all. This is called the proportional representation system like Australia uses.

Kang: Australia an interesting place. We avoid probing its animal life: everything there seems to want to kill you.

Rick: could you describe the proportional representation system used in Australia…?

Kang: in the proportional system if 25% of the electorate vote for one political party then that party receives one-quarter of the seats available in the legislature. All parties receive a proportion of seats in the legislature based on how well they performed in the last election. But proportional representation isn’t possible when a country is divided into single-member districts like in Canada or the United States. In Canada you call these districts “ridings” I believe. Speaking of ridings: Kodos and I were in Sydney just the other day and we overheard a conversation between an Aussie and an American. The American asked the Australian if all Aussies rode kangaroos. Then the Australian responded by asking the Yank if all Americans rode fat people.

Kodos: I don’t get it.

Rick: lost in the idiom I suppose. So to be clear in a single-member situation each district can only send one representative to the legislature?

Kodos: yes, yes. And this makes it all but certain that third party candidates and parties, and the people who support them, are not represented in either the Congress or your fancy-smancy Parliament.

Rick: there are exceptions though. Sometimes third party candidates or independents win elections.

Kang: [unibrow moving up and down] yes, but it is as rare as a redneck who doesn’t like a good probing.

Rick: I think since 1939 of the 535 people elected to the Congress only two have been independents. The most noteworthy independent to win is Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Kodos: feel the burn.

Kang: au contraire, feel the probe.

Rick: okay, turning our attention to the presidential election and the Electoral College. Which one of you can explain this best for our readers?

Kodos: I think I’m a little more well-rounded than Kang.

Kang: we’re both round.

Rick: Kodos how about you explain?

Kodos: [puts thesaurus down] interestingly, there are 50 states in America. With the exception of two states—Nebraska and Maine—every state has a specific number of electors. Some states have more than others. The strange thing, and this is coming from someone from Rigel 5, is when someone votes in a presidential election they aren’t really voting directly for the president.

Rick: could you elaborate? What do you mean voters don’t vote directly for the president?

Kodos: let’s ignore Jill Stein of the Green Party and the Libertarian Gary Johnson for the moment. Let’s say there are only two candidates on the ticket—one a Democrat and the other a Republican—people can vote for. You cast your vote on election day, November 8th.

Rick: it would’ve been hilarious if the election took place on the 5th of November…

Kodos: I’m not sure what you mean.

Rick: sorry. Keep explaining.

Kodos: California has a total of 55 electors. Following the results of the election all of the electors by convention pledge to support either the Republican or Democratic candidate.

Rick: all?

Kodos: all of California’s electoral votes go to the winner of the state-wide election, even if the margin of victory is only 50.1% to 49.9%. All of the votes go to the winner.

Rick: so if, let’s say, Donald Trump receives 60% of votes from California he receives all 55 electors. Clinton doesn’t receive 40% of the electors.

Kodos: no. This is a winner-takes-all approach. [Puts thesaurus down, again] There’s no room for nuance.

Kang: [proud of himself] this winner-takes-all approach contributes to a situation where voters choose between the lesser of two evils. Whoever wins 270 of the available 538 electoral votes becomes president.

Rick: so the election is decided by electoral votes and not the popular vote?

Kang & Kodos: that is correct.

Kang: [punches Kodos on the shoulder]—Jinx! You owe me a soda!

Rick: this is what happened during the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Bush received less of the popular vote than Gore while Bush received the majority of the electoral votes. Bush won because he carried states which had proportionately more electoral votes. This seems odd that in a democracy someone could become president without actually receiving the greater proportion of the popular vote.

Kodos: the system was designed to [makes air quote gesture with tentacles] mitigate the problems with giving the American People themselves too much decision-making power.

Kang: this is true. We did the same thing on our planet. There’s a strong tradition dating all the way back to Adams and Hamilton in the early days of the Republic where the elite of your country feared what they called a mobocracy or the [makes air quote gesture] rule by the mob. Electors make sure democracy doesn’t get too democratic.

Rick: what if neither candidate receives 270 of the electors? What happens then?

Kodos: in that case according to the 12th Amendment of the Constitution the House of Representatives determines the next president.

Rick: you know for a couple of aliens you know quite a bit about political systems. Thanks guys.

Kang: it was our pleasure.

Kodos: I would run if I were you.

The leading theory why countries with genuinely free elections evolve into two-party states is called Duverger’s Law. This law, one of the few established in the field of political science, states that two parties are a natural result of a winner-take-all voting system. In principle the winner-take-all system is supposed to keep the parties running for election in the middle when it comes to platforms and values. However, theories are only as good as the most recent data. The law was formulated a long time ago and the data has definitely changed.

When the French political scientist Maurice Duverger first began articulating this “law” in his essays in the 1950s, the political situation was very different then in the United States compared to now. Specifically, the political left and progressivism (social reform) had been on the ascendant in the United States since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt pushed through his “New Deal” through a combination of compromise and executive orders during the 1930s.

Since the Great Depression, and even before the Stock Market Crash in 1929, a significant proportion of the American polity actually distrusted capitalists. This is one of the reasons why otherwise reasonable people supported more radical political movements like the American fascist and communist parties in the 1930s. Through the New Deal, the United States developed into one of the more socially responsible and responsive societies in the world (a process reaching its nadir during the presidency of Richard M. Nixon in the 1970s).

After Nixon the political right began a concerted effort to deregulate the economy, deregulate ecological oversight, deregulate social services, increase military spending, and sell the American public the idea that socialist policies (or regulating anything) was some sort of social evil or anti-American. The naked pursuit of wealth and defeating the Soviets during the Cold War was all that mattered. In the intervening decades, from the 1970s to the present, governments at the behest of conservative politicians and corporations clawed back social programs; conservatives gained more and more control of both state and federal level government. This corporate influence reached its apogee in America with the Citizens United Supreme Court decision in 2010. This court decision removed any limits on how much a corporation/billionaire could spend to support a particular candidate running for political office. This decision benefited both Democrats and Republicans; and it also compromised the independence of the Congress. The members of the House of Representatives and the Senate pay back billionaires for their support through the granting of political favors. This is why Donald Trump is correct when he observes the “system is rigged.”

The political system is rigged making this presidential election an important one: the two parties are so clearly bought and paid for, and the decision-making process so clearly partisan, the American electorate is willing to support anyone (even a man as unsuitable to lead as Donald Trump) to change things up. Both Trump and Sanders offered alternatives to the status-quo. Regrettably, Sanders never had a chance to win the nomination for the Democrats because of in-party intrigues; and equally regrettable is the fact Hillary Clinton, if she wins the presidency, will likely be nothing more than a caretaker president.  Considering the alternative—like Trump becoming the leader of the Free World—the best outcome in the short-term is to support Clinton and the status-quo. There have been third party choices—Libertarians Ross Period (1996) and Ralph Nader (2000)—but at the end of the day people vote for the major party candidates. So don’t expect much from either Johnson or Stein in 2016.

Americans appear to like a divided government, e.g. in 38 of the last 60 years presidents have had to work with legislatures controlled by the opposing party. If this is the case, then it is likely Clinton will be declared the 45th president of the United States. Yet, the emergence of the Tea Party movement, the recent importance placed on populist leaders like Obama, Sanders, and Trump, etc. seems to point to a future where people are more interested in grass roots, anti-systemic movements. The Democrats and Republicans will have to change things up significantly if they want to avoid a challenge to their traditional influence (like Sanders and Trump presented).

If you thought the 2016 election was historic, or even just a little volatile, just wait for 2020. If nothing significant changes in the intervening years, and if the economy happens to go into another major recession (which is being predicted by many economists based on the new financial instruments introduced by Wall Street using risky car loans), the 2020 election will be a hell storm by comparison. People will look back at 2015-2016 with fondness saying “those were the good ol’ days. Where’s the anal probe at?”

If you enjoyed reading this article, you might be interested in related stories or podcasts. Explore the list below:

Part 1: Donald Trump: The Problem of Relying on Men Instead of Principles
Part 2: Donald Trump: Why Reasonable People Vote for Him
Part 3: Donald Trump: Where’s It All Heading
Elections 101: Kang and Kodos on Clinton and Trump
Trump Makes Promises He Can’t Keep
Podcast (audio): Why You Should Vote for Trump