The age of electile dysfunction

When tycoon Silvio Berlusconi was prime minister of Italy—a notorious era when the country was a flying circus of bimbos, corruption and scandals—Americans could afford to snicker. 

You know, those wild and crazy Italians; only they would think of electing a billionaire with strange skin tones and a slippery grasp of facts, figures or truth in general. Those Italians—over there—just can’t get their act together to watch a pot of rigatoni.

Silvio, are you laughing at us?

But now that Americans have Donald Trump, an orange-haired Berlusconi, stirring his own pot of demagoguery and hate—and inching his way to the White House—we’re not laughing. 

Stew and I read an e-mail summary of The Guardian, an English daily, and watch some BBC newscasts, and it’s unsettling to watch the rest of the world react to the U.S. electoral process with a mixture of bemusement, scorn and alarm, as if saying what the fuck?

It is difficult too to explain the Trump phenomenon to Mexicans, a politically cynical bunch if there ever was one, used to corruption and political clowning as a way of life.  

Shortly after moving here, Stew took a volunteer job teaching English to young Mexicans who would often pose unanswerable questions about American politics. 

“Maybe we could understand why Americans elected George Bush the first time,” a student once asked Stew, “but twice?” 

To answer that, Stew would have had to explain Karl Rove and dirty politics, the corrupting influence of big money in U.S. elections and other details that may have sounded awfully similar to the Mexican political system. And after that, there would have been little time left for English grammar. 

It is just as difficult for me to explain the rise of Donald Trump, who was universally dismissed as a freak show only six months ago. Indeed, I feel defrauded by the American democratic system for allowing someone so repugnant to come so close to becoming the nominee of one of two major political parties.  

Some analysts say Trump may have tapped a vein of resentment among white Americans who see themselves losing their historic demographic and political advantage, especially after enduring almost eight years under a black president. 

Others theorize that working folk in the U.S. feel the economic system is rigged against them. What’s good for “job creator” Mitt Romney turns out to be not as good for the struggling middle class. Trump is the guy willing to fix the problem or at least pay attention to the victims. Trump may be a serial fabulist but when people are pissed they tend to skip the fact-checking or the fine print.

Or perhaps Trump is a vile demagogue who’ll say anything to rile up his supporters. 

More perplexing is why the Democrats have failed to formulate a credible alternative to Trumpist lunacy and sleaziness. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders has led a progressive campaign that has captured and enraptured a large, young following but his proposals, for instance, for single-payer health insurance and free college tuition don’t sound too realistic. I shudder at the prospect of what the Republican wolves in Congress would do with them and four more years of gridlock.  

Then we have Hillary Clinton who is plain old and not just chronologically—she and I are contemporaries—but in her ideas, which sound as exciting as leftover meatloaf. In foreign policy, for instance, I’d like to listen to someone present a new vision that doesn’t involve American men and women fighting wars and drone-bombing the natives the world over, in perpetuity. We can’t afford any more blood or treasure in such adventures. She sounds like a hawk, which means more of the same. 

Or a candidate that would recognize the legitimate grievances of labor unions and the workers they represent, and the fact they’ve been sidelined by a new economic order that favors Wall Street financial manipulations. Instead we have Hillary who has made a fortune in speaking fees in Wall Street and won’t even reveal the content of her talks. 

A few weeks ago I received one of those jokey emails, this one about the new phenomenon of “electile dysfunction” supposedly affecting millions of American voters thoroughly unaroused by the choices they face in November. 

And all I could say to myself was, “Yep.” 




11 thoughts on “The age of electile dysfunction

  1. Anonymous

    We are faced with a difficult choice. Personally, I would have preferred Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio. But now it seems that we have to pick between Mr. Trump and his mouth and Ms. Clinton, a careless career criminal. I opt for the mouth. Listen to what he says rather than what the news media say he says. They lie!Robert GillPhoenix, Arizona


  2. Anonymous

    I'll second Robert Gill's comment about what the media reports on Trump. I've never seen such a wide gap between what's “reported,” and what Trump actually says. And by doing this, the media are playing right into Trump's hands. As for the actual substance of the election, I think Jeffrey Gundlach explained it best. People aren't sure what they're going to get with a Trump presidency, but they are quite sure that they don't want more of the same, and they definitely don't want to preserve the status quo. Trump has both the opportunity to be a truly great president, governing from the center, or a complete disaster if you believe what the mainstream press has to say about him. Like with all other such figures, the truth is likely to lie somewhere in the middle. Saludos,Kim GCDMX, MéxicoWhere people are rather astonished at Trump's rapid rise in the polls.


  3. Make that TWO maracas. I've declared a moratorium on news until further notice. When are you and your dog coming to this way? You can stay at Barbara's house. She loves dogs (?). It's hot here but I imagine that a little cooler than Malaque.


  4. Make that TWO maracas. I've declared a moratorium on news until further notice. When are you and your dog coming to this way? You can stay at Barbara's house. She loves dogs (?). It's hot here but I imagine that a little cooler than Malaque.


  5. The relationship of Trump with the media is a difficult one to make out. I tend to think that he owes a large part of his popularity to the media which is treating him like a carnival show. I kept hearing that no one could stand Ted Cruz, even his Senate colleagues, though I never got any details. His personality? His intransigence? His views? Rubio looked promising but he blew up. Maybe he wasn't ready for prime time.Al


  6. I tend to think that Trump is a media creation rather than a victim of it. He's risen to the top without spending much of his money, except for jet fuel. Attributing his rise to media distortions doesn't wash with me: He sounds just as vapid during full-length interviews as he does in news snippets. I wish I could be as optimistic as you regarding his potential brilliance as president. Right now I think he's just


  7. Anonymous

    Al: if you want a truly differentiated and fascinating interpretation of Trump, go to Scott Adams' (creator of Dilbert) blog. ( Adams explains that Trump is one of the world's great persuaders and that what he is doing is a carefully calculated performance to become president. Adams has persuaded me that he's the likely winner. And by a landslide.


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