A one party system ran the United States, and the United States ran the world.
The US had checks and balances – governing required consensus, and the people were freed from kings. To protect speech, the framers left out a rule against conspiracies to monopolize the vote.
Political parties formed to monopolize the vote. The losing parties kept ganging up until only two parties remained. Resembling vast and immortal corporations, they consolidated all political power.
The parties need mass media to win elections. Media literally intermediates reality and programs voters by framing the acceptable parameters of any debate. Mass media costs mass money.
The elites, a plutocracy of the top few percent, bought the parties. So cheaply in fact, that they bought both.
The elites are merely people that went to the right schools, grew up in the right neighborhoods, and came from the right money and the right families. It’s not a formal conspiracy – rather an intricate and distributed system, organized by the invisible hand of the market, voting with dollars and newspaper ink, and controlling the country all the same.
Within some parameters, the elites argue – bombs from the air or boots on the ground? How much should we tax income?
Mostly the elites agree to keep power with elite institutions, controlling the masses who cannot be trusted. Yes to wars, yes to mass surveillance, yes to bailouts, yes to war on drugs, yes to war on terror, yes to endless copyrights, yes to monopolies and oligopolies, no to term limits, no to wealth taxes… On these and others, pick R or D, there are no choices.
The Elite Party runs the system and it basically works. The elite stay elite. Income may be taxed, but wealth compounds. The most belligerent and implacable of the masses are sent to fight in mercifully distant wars. Crime happens in other people’s neighborhoods. The prisons are full and everyone is being watched. The pie expands, slowly and un-evenly, and all is well.
One weakness – the presidency is a single office of great visibility and power, directly and democratically elected. One person, one vote. Regardless of education, ethic, breeding, knowledge, achievement. Is everyone actually, really, equally qualified to vote, the elites wonder?
The elites lock the crown behind two massive gates – it costs a billion dollars to run for president. And incalculable, favorable mass media exposure.
This works well – so well that the elites get lazy, handing off presidential power within dynasties – between fathers and sons, husbands and wives.
Statistically speaking, what are the odds that the two most qualified candidates to be president out of 300 million people are siblings? Or married?
Barack Obama interrupts an in-process coronation. Using hope, change, and emerging alternative online media, he organizes and brings new voters to the polls. But back then, it still takes television, money, newspapers, and the party apparatus. He can’t and doesn’t do it alone, and eventually joins the elite.
Today, it’s a different world. YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook let one human broadcast to billions, without permission, without censors, without delay. Social media makes mass organization and resistance possible.
The Arab Spring is just one consequence. The American Spring of 2016 is another.
Social and alternative media dominates and disintermediates mass media. Every column brings a hundred rebuttals. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are stood like commoners next to bloggers, begging for tweets, likes, and votes. We are all journalists and editors now.
Bernie can play this game. The MoveOn crowd organizes effortlessly using the new media.
Trump can play this game. The reality show vet generates outrage and impressions, tweeting as he goes.
Meanwhile, the Internet kills the political ad. Everyone is online – skipping, blocking, or just mis-clicking.
Bernie spends a bit on ads. Trump doesn’t bother.
It’s not just publishing – the Internet lets anyone donate little bits online. Bernie taps the crowd – over a million dollars a day from small donors! Again, Trump doesn’t bother. He just self-finances.
The mass media barrier is down. The money barrier is down.
A mob is pushing Bernie. Trump is pulling one behind him.
The elites are livid. They sneer at the masses – Uneducated. Socialist. Racist. Luddite.
Throughout history, elites and plutocrats have feared direct democracy. One-person, one-vote logically leads towards mob rule. Socialism. Tribalism. The masses are always “crazier” than the elites. The elites like the status quo, so they pull policy towards the center. It’s the masses that want real change.
YouTube killed TV and Twitter ate the news. Donald’s tweeting from his jet and Bernie’s kickstarter went viral. Software is eating politics and the elites have lost control.
Now we see “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” The neatly labeled bundles of “Democrat” and “Republican” are going to get re-assembled by the voters, one vote at a time instead of one dollar at a time.
Sanders’ voters think the rich stole their money. Trump’s voters think the illegals stole their jobs.
There is no more establishment. Like all things Internet, social media and crowd financing are unstoppable. Every large future election will have outsiders out-organizing, out-raising, and out-raging the establishment.
America is going from a republic of elites to a direct democracy. Look to your left, and look to your right. Wake up – the people are here.
Update: Read the sequel, American Fall.