Yes, there is such a thing as “the public,” a term that derives from the ancient Latin, populous (the people), via publicus (of the people), via old French, public — pertaining generally to the mass of adults dwelling in a polity, a society under (political) governance. In the USA, government is vested as a republic, also from the Latin, res publica, meaning the public thing, the vessel that contains the public.
I present these terms to clarify how our society is cracking up. The American public, we the people, lately swoon into a morass of multi-dimensional failure: failure to control their economic lives, to regulate their appetites and their bodies, to understand what is happening to them, to fend off the propaganda and distractions that disable them, and to properly express and direct their wrath at those elements of the polity who deserve it.
True, their awful, epic failures at this moment in history are largely engineered and aggravated by those who have captured the polity and turned it into a looting and racketeering engine. The net result, though, is a self-reinforcing circle of degradation that rots the collective ethos of the public while it destroys the vessel of the republic that contains it.
Societies that act as though they are hostage to these forces of degradation are able to pretend that they are helpless in the face of them; that the public bears no responsibility for its own choices or for the disintegration of the polity they live under. Hence, the current condition of the American public and its disgraceful government.
It’s not difficult to understand how Donald Trump becomes the instrument for the public’s wrath. Whatever his checkered career in land development amounts to, he is at least a freely-functioning and unfettered actor in the political arena. The public enjoys most of all his assertion of independence from the tremendous engine of grift that the republic has become. His arrant contempt for his rivals, and for the disgusting political process erected for the election contest, also thrills a big wad of the public. So far, his actual ideas for governing lack coherence, except for the rather general notion that uncontrolled immigration, and all the mendacious fakery associated with it, is a bad thing for the republic. Beyond that he offers only blustering claims that he is “very smart,” an “artist of deal-making,” a “patriot.”
Almost nothing so far can knock him down or take him out. Fox News tried in last week’s “debate” — which was not a debate at all, really, but a half-assed interrogation — by trying to set the female half of the public against him for his nasty remarks about women over the years. Of course, the dirty secret of both politics and the media is that the common backstage chatter among pols and TV news producers is every bit as vulgar and hateful as anything Trump said. In case you haven’t noticed, all of America has turned into a verbal sewer, especially the virtual public realm of television. I don’t remember anyone complaining about the comportment of the characters in Tony Soprano’s Badda-Bing Lounge. In fact, awards were heaped on the depiction of that behavior. That’s who we are now.
The rise and persistence of Trump raises a more pertinent question: why are all the other candidates such obvious shills for the implacable engine of grift that is destroying the Republic? Why has nobody with the possible exception of Bernie Sanders, called bullshit on the basic operations of the machine? Why have no other persons of real stature stepped forward to challenge the suicidal dynamic of the age?
There are many cycles in history, politics, and economics. One in particular afflicts the American public today: we’re at a cycle low for comprehending what is happening to us. Sometimes societies know very well what is going on and communicate it superbly. Such was the case in the late 1700s when American leaders filed divorce from Great Britain. Can you imagine any of the clowns onstage for the Fox News “debate” playing a role in writing the Federalist Papers? Obviously, the public and its putative representatives today don’t have a clue what is happening. And then, necessarily, they don’t have a clue what to do about it.
The foregoing assumes that they are honorable persons, though, which may not be the case. This is the chief gripe against Hillary Clinton, of course: that she is an unprincipled monster of ambition and little more. That would be my take on her, for instance. Among the Republicans (as in party) only Rand Paul stands out as not appearing to be some kind of puppet shilling for the grift machine. After all, the party is the very embodiment of that machine. And by trying to play nicely in its arena, Rand Paul may lack the fortitude to attack it.
I’m with those who think that the 2016 election campaign is going to be a wild spectacle beyond the current imaginings of news media. I’m serenely convinced that, among other things, the banking system is going to implode so hard and fast well before the nominating conventions that the nation will be in a state of near chaos. What’s out there now is just a tired dumb-show replaying the shopworn themes of an era that is about to slam to a close.