Sunday, January 24, 2016

Fear and Loathing in D.C.

The U.S. political system can be thought of as a distributed system with relationships between voter and candidate stand-ins for government (and its prospective alternative forms). When distributed systems fail, they fail in a catastrophe. Relationships fail successively in a wave of destruction because the mechanism of failure in one relationship is very similar to that in another within its basin of influence. All that is necessary is to bring the system to saturation and then give it a tiny shove. After this destruction, there is a space minimizing contest to fill the void.

Both political parties in the U.S. are in a state of collapse. After years of steadily increasing pressures, the average voter has reached a level of stress and frustration that is near some saturation point. The polarized system fails at the weakest point and the destruction spreads outward leaving the functional ideological extremes and the remaining locally functional rump of the corrupt structure as cores. In this region of destruction, nearly anything can evolve untethered from the ideologies of the core factions and the quid pro quo relationships of the establishment rumps. Thus we have the Trump phenomenon.

The failure mechanism here is a vote of no confidence in the fiduciary relationship between voter and representative. The bipartisan corruption of crony capitalism, awash in trillions of dollars of taxpayer leveraged debt has simultaneously destroyed the faith and trust of both factions in their government. Primitive sources of failure produce inchoate symptoms. When individual trust is lost, the disruption is manifested in ways that are difficult to identify and impossible to control—until the system learns.

Given that there is no readily known fix, the voter is drawn towards the visceral satisfactions of delusion—democracy without responsibility, ends without means, and rhyme without reason. What other possibility does he have in the near term?

In other systems, we would have civil war. In the U.S., civil war is no longer a possibility. The political forces are too intertwined. So instead we will have turmoil. What comes out of it cannot be predicted in excruciating detail. There are some significant chaotic effects. However, it is true in general that the faction that makes the necessary corrections the fastest without destroying itself in the process will dominate the U.S. political landscape until its competitor does likewise. Until then, both will be thrashed by the groundswell that their failures have unleashed.

Trump rose out of the gap between the two parties that allowed crony capitalism to flourish. After the ideological battles of the 60s were roughly settled (circa 1985 by my estimation), the system reached a stable bipolar arrangement such that thereafter the two poles became more divided to the point that personality rather than ideology was the defining characteristic of the separatrix.

In the 2016 election, Bush and Clinton are the rumps of the old crony capitalistic parties. (Bush is presently losing the establishment rump to Rubio). Cruz and Sanders represent the ideological political extremes. Trump could not come from nowhere and he judged that the right was more fertile territory to launch a populist campaign. It could be said that he sprang from the GOP like Athena from Zeus's head ready to fight (Zeus's head was temporarily split apart in the process).

What can be predicted by this? Assuming that the system learns ahead of its decisions:

First, in the GOP primary race, Trump's popularity as a candidate is strictly bounded and he will not be able to attract many more to his nebulous cause than those already immediately enthused.  Reason is persuasive.  Stupidity, while exhilarating, has a finite shelf life.

Secondly, of the two sentient cores of support in the GOP race, the conservative core led by Cruz will ultimately dominate the establishment rump led by Rubio. In a three way race where Trump is bounded to below 45%, the two other cores will ultimately coalesce. Between the ideological and pragmatic cores, where the two are not mutually exclusive, the ideological core wins what is seen as an insurgent battle.

If Trump was to fail early, the establishment core could reassert itself since the factional threat would once again loom large. This was the traditional game of the establishment core that lead to the crony capitalistic situation originally. Alternatively, if the establishment core was to fail early, then the Trump core would lose part of its reason for existence and the ideological core should prevail.  If the ideological core was to fail, it is anyone's guess since then the relative percentages could push the Trump core over 50%. None of these scenarios are likely.

Third, when the race is contested and the weak muddled core is a minority, the fight ultimately goes to the principled core.  In other words, the Trump phenomenon will fail unless there is a significant influx of liberal partisans into the mix to sustain his bandwagon.  At this point, that possibility seems unlikely.

To summarize: The Trump core exists by its own momentum due to the failure of government. The Cruz core wins by drawing off support of the Rubio core against Trump and simultaneously from Trump against Rubio. The Rubio core wins by some annihilation of the Trump core. In no case does the Trump core win in a three way race although it could potentially be the strongest of a collection of minor players in a fragmented field. But even then, this is a temporary situation.

It's a race to learn now or fall to a demagogue.