This is the most bizarre presidential election that I’ve seen since coming to this country in 1978 and probably the most bizarre in anybody’s living memory. Evidence for declining wellbeing of the American population has been piling up for years (as I exhaustively review in the just-published Ages of Discord) and one would think that the election would be about how to reverse this deplorable state of things. Instead, all you read in the press is how one candidate made vulgar comments about women in 2005 and the other tried to discredit women who accused her husband of sexual misconduct decades ago.
There is a Russian saying, “when Elites Can’t and People Don’t Want to”, which is a contraction of a recurrent theme in Vladimir Lenin’s writings about the necessary conditions for a revolution.
Lenin speaking to revolutionary masses (source)
The full quote goes something like this: for revolution to happen, it’s not enough that people don’t want to live as before; it’s also necessary that the rulers can’t rule in the old way (for the Russian version see here). This idea, in fact, is also a central one in the Structural-Demographic Theory (which is not surprising as SDT integrates major ideas of Malthus, Marx, and Weber).
This observation is of direct relevance to the 2016 elections. One on hand, popular discontent, resulting from declining well-being, has propelled an anti-establishment candidate, Donald Trump, to the point where he has a real chance of becoming our next president. On the other hand, we see an unprecedented (at least, since the nineteenth century) fragmentation of the political elites. The Democrats are split between an establishment candidate (Clinton) and a surging populist from the left (Sanders). The Republicans are even in a worse shape, with three factions: the Republican establishment, the Tea Party, and populism from the right.
Are we, then, on a brink of revolution? Lenin (probably) would say “no”. After all “when Elites Can’t and People Don’t Want to” are necessary, but not sufficient conditions. There is no organized revolutionary party, armed with a radical ideology, that could mobilize the masses and overthrow the old regime. So we still have time to figure out how to get out of this mess without piling up lots of dead bodies, which is the most common way in which structural-demographic crises are resolved.