The Cult of Capitalism

“It’s the economy, stupid.” This now-famous snowclone, spoken by democratic political strategist James Carville, has ricocheted through the consciousness of both political parties in America; doubling as both mantra and battle cry for those seeking high office. In modern political history, the general rule of thumb has been: the electorate will cast their vote for whichever candidate best serves their wallets.

This was true with Bill Clinton, whose famous upset win against President George H.W. Bush owes a debt of gratitude to this sound bite, and also of Donald Trump, who managed to ride the wave of economic insufficiency all the way to the White House. But the disillusionment many in America have been feeling for the last decade (and beyond) has been in the hands of a populist rabble-rouser for the last 4 years, with unsettling results. Many people have compared Trump’s absurdly loyal followers to a cult, and the willingness to throw out dissatisfactory election results doesn’t exactly help to counter that argument. But it’s not Trump, per se, they are on bended knee for — capitalism may turn out to be their false prophet.

We have heard several times since the 2016 election that Trump is merely a side effect of an ailment in modern America, not the disease itself. That underlying problem that gave us Trump everyone is talking about…it’s capitalism. The over 70 million citizens that cast their ballot for Mr. Trump in 2020 have been overcome by an unrealistic fever dream of financial success — and stability — that few in this country have any prospects of attaining; a success that Trump has been, and will always be, determined to showcase his mastery of — despite overwhelming evidence of the contrary.

One thing is clear, the trajectories of both inequality (and poverty) and susceptibility to fascism tend to hug close together in history. And as more and more people grow impatient waiting for the rising tide of the stock market to lift their boat, they may instead opt for the superficial economic and social gratification of anti-democratic forces and performative governance. Nearly half the country has been fed a steady media diet of perceived slights and injustices. And as many in America continue to be haunted by economic and social immobility, those perceptions will get harder and harder to ignore — and false prophets like Mr. Trump will look increasingly like a hill worth dying on. They had the right idea, the system is rigged. The wealthy in this country continue to rise to new, and once unrealistic, heights of wealth and power, and everyone else teeters between economic stagnation and financial ruin; Trump and his supporters know this, it’s just unfortunate (and potentially ruinous) that the man who has the least interest in solving that problem for them is the one they choose to ardently defend.

There’s an African proverb that says: “the child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth,” and in America today, there are already whiffs of kerosene.

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