A Donald Trump-Bernie Sanders clash in the US presidential elections could be God’s Gift to political cinema.
Some outlines for a script come to mind: Clarence Darrow versus William Jennings Bryan, on two sides of the famous Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, in 1925.
Or the epic battle between Ed Murrow of CBS News and Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist witch hunt.
One can pack Trump’s anti-Muslim, anti-Hispanic invective in the script. But where is Sanders in all of this?
I suspect, the Darrow-Bryan contest will work better. The scene is set in the criminal court of Tennessee. On trial is a substitute High School teacher, John Scopes, for violating the Tennessee Act which prohibits teaching human evolution as enunciated by Darwin. The result was the classical Fundamentalist-Modernist clash focused on whether or not any reality exists outside the Bible.
In a country where evangelicals constitute 40 percent of Republican voters, a debate on Homo sapiens evolving from apes may yet raise a storm in pockets even today.
William Jennings Bryan, who felt that a study of human evolution was anti- Christian, actually contested the presidential race on three occasions. He was Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State, later humiliated by the famous Defence Attorney Clarence Darrow. Bryan and Trump come from an abiding tradition of anti-intellectualism.
Darrow and Murrow represented the streak in American liberal decency which makes Sanders’ campaign for the Democratic nomination so compelling.
The world changed when the West, led by the US, interpreted the collapse of the Soviet Union not as a victory for freedoms but as the triumph of the Market, of rampaging capitalism.
Nation states, more petrified than elated, allowed themselves to be stitched together as two party systems, beholden to corporate and global finance. Within a short span, every electoral democracy gave out a foul stench of crony capitalism.
Establishments across the board had lulled themselves into complacency. The global media, Murdochized, would manage public opinion in their favour. This turned out to be a delusion. Murdoch today is a bad name in serious media circles.
Remember how new media technologies were being developed in Washington to create colour revolutions – orange, rose, cedar – bypassing local controls. Soon, advanced models of these technologies were available with every West Asian terrorist group. Lightening spread of the Internet has opened up a plethora of the new parallel media, more credible than mainstream information sources.
Not just electoral democracies but all other systems of government are now under scrutiny by the people. The result is that two party systems in democracies are being challenged. People are placing question marks on other forms of government too.
When the Tunisian vendor Mohamed Bouazizi ignited the Arab Spring by setting himself on fire in December 2010, ordinary people began to occupy centrestage for the first time in dictatorships. The late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia sensed this settlement at the grassroots. He rained $135 billion on his people.
Then, step by step, the Syrian and Yemeni theatres were opened up to externalize internal upheavals. Today, the Saudis are riding two tigers from neither of which can they dismount.
In India the electorate demonstrated its autonomy from the two party strait jacket by delivering 67 out of 70 seats in the Delhi state assembly to a barely two-year-old party called AAP.
Joko Widodo in Indonesia, Pablo Iglesias in Spain, Alexis Tsipras in Greece, Antonio Costa in Portugal, Justin Trudeau in Canada, all newcomers, represent a wholesale rejection of new economic policies bringing corruption and economic disparities in their wake. Jeremy Corbyn as the new leader of the British Labour party, and series of electoral verdicts in Nordic and East European counties are also a manifestation of disgust with establishments.
This global trend would tend to suggest that Bernie Sanders, self avowed Socialist, is not a rank outsider any more. But his popularity among young voters is pitted against the powerful establishments behind Hillary Clinton. And establishments are at this stage being corroded, not exactly toppled. But the process of toppling them is seriously underway.
Hillary has been First Lady for two terms, Senator and Secretary of State. Does her performance as Secretary of State commend her as President? Under her watch, Ambassador Christopher Stevens was brutally killed in the US mission in Benghazi.
There she was announcing to the media “I came, I saw and he died”. She was talking of Qaddafi’s death. This alongside footage of Qaddafi sodomised by a knife.
The next memorable image of Hillary concerns her management of the Syrian crisis. “Get out of the way, Assad,” she proclaims with an imperious wave of the hand. And Assad is nowhere close to bowing out.
If voters persist with their quest for the novel, how is Hillary Clinton a repository of any novelty?
And yet, the celebrated intellectual, Noam Chomsky, is probably right.
“Bernie Sanders is a decent honest New Dealer.” A “New Dealer”, Chomsky explains, is “someone who is far out to the left of the field.” Chomsky spots the conflict between the people and establishments doggedly fighting to stay on.
Sanders is unlikely to make it to the White House in the system of “Bought Elections”, Chomsky says. How then has he come this far?
How does Chomsky explain Trump’s popularity? “It is a reflection of depression, hopelessness, concern that everything is lost.” Trump’s propagandist strategy is in line with a history of directing anger “on straw men such as immigrants, welfare cheats, trade unions and all kinds of people who you think are getting everything you are not getting”.
(A senior commentator on political and diplomatic affairs, Saeed Naqvi can be reached on [email protected])