Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com
Someday, these may be seen as the decades when the United States started hollowing out. First, good working-class jobs fled the country, while the "rust" spread through belts of industrial production, towns emptied, and the good times headed elsewhere. Then, infrastructure -- from bridges and highways to subways and dams -- began to fray. More recently, something else hollowed out, too: American politics. That may seem less than obvious in a season in which the political process has become a 24/7 media obsession. But think again. One of the country's two parties managed to cough up 17 of the strangest candidates ever paraded on a stage, evidence of an organization that had clearly stumbled off a cliff, even as its voters elevated the P.T. Barnum of the twenty-first century to presidential status. The other party was so dead in the water that, as its leading candidate for the presidency, it could only cough up a former first lady and secretary of state who had lost her previous presidential run ignominiously and was dragging a caravan of rotten baggage behind her -- oh, yes, and one forgettable governor, as well as a senator who proclaimed himself a "democratic socialist," but not (until late the other night) a capital "D" Democrat. And if that isn't the definition of a political organization that seems to be rusting from the inside out, what is?
When it comes to hollow, don't forget the election news, which has been inflated to monstrous proportions even as it's emptied of content. Donald Trump, the man who creates endless news cycles out of the gossamer of insults and half-thoughts, has been the perfect vehicle for such a process, which is being mined for gold by the media equivalent of the 1%. Take the great debate-to-be that, for a single day's news cycle, grabbed the headlines, the one that talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel suggested to The Donald. He accepted on the spot, followed with alacrity by his prospective opponent Bernie Sanders, only to promptly extinguish the possibility in another blast of headlines, news reports, and talking heads a day or so later. In doing so, Trump used the "i" word -- "inappropriate" -- to declare the proposal out of bounds. The man for whom nothing is inappropriate issued a statement so name-callingly eloquent that it might have come from any sixth grade classroom. It began: "Based on the fact that the Democratic nominating process is totally rigged and Crooked Hillary Clinton and Deborah Wasserman Schultz will not allow Bernie Sanders to win, and now that I am the presumptive Republican nominee, it seems inappropriate that I would debate the second-place finisher."
And oh, yes, among the undoubted casualties of the hollowing-out process: the Democratic Party's version of liberalism, which has in recent years become the credo of the other party of the 1%. Today, TomDispatch regular Steve Fraser, who has covered the rise of a new Gilded Age in America (and the fall of just about everything else) from The Street to the streets, considers the fate of liberalism in a potential new era of right- and left-wing populism. Think of his post, "Bernie, The Donald, and the Sins of Liberalism," as a launching pad as well for his new book, The Limousine Liberal: How an Incendiary Image United the Right and Fractured America, a striking history of the 1% and the rest of us, all summed up in a single political image.