Judging by the tone of discussions in the mass media and the social media, most people are heartily sick of this “Election from Hell” and can’t wait until it’s over. Well, folks, I have bad news for you (and yes, I know what happens to a bearer of bad news): It Ain’t Over. Whoever gets elected tomorrow, we are guaranteed to see more political dysfunction and social instability both in the short and medium terms.
The chances of impeachment proceedings (to repeat, whoever wins the presidency) in 2017 are very high. The relations between the POTUS and the Congress are likely to deteriorate even more. Proxies for political fragmentation, which I use in Ages of Discord, such as the frequency of filibusters and the percent of judicial nominations who are not confirmed; all will probably continue to spike. Incidentally, when are we going to have a nine-member Supreme Court again?
In the medium run neither of the candidates has a good program that could even start addressing the deep structural causes of our current troubles. As I said many times, this blog is fiercely nonpartisan. I have not endorsed, nor dis-endorsed, either of the candidates. But even their supporters admit that both major candidates are flawed, each in his/her own way. The presidential campaign of 2016 has been relentlessly negative. I don’t even remember any substantive discussion of how the current trends to popular immiseration are going to be reversed. And, of course, nobody is discussing elite overproduction. Well, very few people understand how serious a problem it is.
Yet elite overproduction has a lot to do with why we find ourselves in this Election from Hell. In Ages of Discord I discuss two proxies for current elite overproduction: overproduction of multi-millionaires, and overproduction of politically ambitious holders of advanced degrees, most importantly, law degrees (because a law degree is the best kind of credential to have if you want to become a politician).
As I pointed out in a previous post, Donald Trump is emblematic of the new crop of politically ambitious newly rich, who aim to translate their economic power into political office. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is emblematic of the Law School route to political office. As the number of multimillionaires and law degree holders per population capita exploded in recent decades, we now have an overly large pool of contenders for a fixed number of political offices (there is only one POTUS, only nine high justices, 100 senators, etc.). Structural-demographic theory posits that as competition for these offices becomes intense, so will intraelite fragmentation and conflict.
This is, really, why this election has been so nasty. It’s not just the personalities of Trump or Clinton. As intraelite competition becomes fierce, all methods of getting ahead become fair. Why should we expect that presidential candidates would compete on who proposes a better program to fix social ills? Smearing the opponent works much better.
What’s particularly worrying is how this no-holds-barred competition results in the unraveling of the social norms that govern the public discourse and the political system in this country. Trump has refused to conform to one of the most important norms of democracy: to acquiesce to the election results. But (to be nonpartisan and even-handed in my critique of the two candidates), what was Clinton thinking about when she accepted a $1 million contribution from a foreign government during her tenure as Secretary of State?
Both candidates have been riding rough-shod over the social norms that have governed what is acceptable behavior of a member of the American political class. Such unraveling of social norms is what we see in the run-up to a major political rupture in historical societies that my colleagues and I have studied.