The American system mobilises to save itself – again

The establishment is rousing itself to protect the system, this time from political rather than economic calamity.

Former President George H. W. Bush applauds during an event to honor the winner of the 5,000th Daily Point of Light Award at the White House in Washington
Titans of the Republican establishment are sitting on the fence or declaring, as former President George H Bush has done, their intention to swallow hard and vote for Clinton, writes Aronson [Reuters]

For the second time in less than a decade the American establishment – the political, economic, and social titans of the United States’ economic and political life – is mobilising to protect a system in crisis, one that could be said without exaggeration to be in danger of collapse.

Just as they did during the Great Recession, Democrats and Republicans alike are uniting with Wall Street and Main Street in the aggressive defence to rehabilitate the US’ battered economic and political status quo.

Bipartisan support for Hilary Clinton’s candidacy is the focus of this effort – engaging a broad coalition that includes “wise men” of the diplomatic and national security establishment, prominent Republicans, and most of the “respectable” press.

Keeping the system afloat

The stakes of this battle are extraordinary – no less than the system of wealth and political life that have come to define a century of American progress and international leadership is at stake.

No wonder then that the traditional shades of partisan political and economic difference pale before the pressing task of keeping the system afloat and repelling the challenge now being mounted by Donald Trump.

The economic crisis that exploded on September 15, 2008, threatened no less than the destruction of American capitalism.

The first unavoidable signs of this danger appeared with the collapse of the investment firm Lehman Brothers. The unprecedented bankruptcy of this firm – a scion of Wall Street – soon cascaded into the Great Recession.

The commanding heights of the US economy, along with Americans from all walks of life – were on the ropes.

The insolvency of the venerable anchor of the American dream – General Motors – of which it was once said “What is good for GM is good for America” – was a poignant and once unimaginable demonstration of the brutal shortcomings of the modern US economy – and the price to be paid by all for its failure.

Rescuing the system

The Great Recession was in the first instance economic to be sure, but the failure of the US institutions exposed by the financial collapse was far broader.

Not only were the banks and investment houses tainted by failure, so too were the government regulators meant to police them, the financial watchdogs paid to evaluate their credit worthiness and investment soundness, and above all a ruling political establishment – Democrat and Republican alike – that failed to create and regulate an economic system that served the public good.

In the waning weeks of the campaign, titans of the Republican establishment are sitting on the fence or declaring, as former president George H Bush has reportedly done, their intention to swallow hard and vote for Clinton.


Little wonder then that all of these forces, not without difficulty, put aside partisan differences and mobilised to rescue the system – and themselves.

Some of the legislative and economic measures taken to re-float the economy may have been radical but their objective was decidedly conservative – to rescue and reform a system in order to prevent a more radical restructuring of American economic life.

The breach in the system opened by the Great Recession is now convulsing the US politics. The folly of assuming that the economic crisis was a discrete and limited event has been smashed by the unlikely candidacy of Trump.

Destructive expression of systemic shortcomings

This campaign is unlike its predecessors in the same way that the Great Recession was itself the destructive expression of systemic shortcomings in American economic life at the dawn of the 21st century.

Trump is a most unlikely and improbable beneficiary of this crisis, and an even more bewildering choice to lead the US to a new “promised land”.

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Trump, the putative billionaire who has played the US system far better than most, has emerged as the inarticulate and often inchoate voice of a large minority of bewildered Americans most compromised by the ongoing upheaval in the country.

He is the unlikely beneficiary of a groundswell of American opinion demanding in the same breath a radical change in the way the US works – and a restoration of an imagined golden era.

The raging, inchoate demand for change is wrapped in a furious rejection of “political correctness”, militant economic nationalism and a repudiation of central tenets of the post-war order invented and led by Washington to insure the US’ international economic political and military supremacy.

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During the raucous primary contest to choose the Republican nominee, party regulars proved unable to comprehend or to confront Trump’s remarkably successful challenge to the status quo.

Too late to save their own party from the Trump insurgency, many have reluctantly concluded that electoral death by defeat at the polls in November is preferable to political execution by a Trump firing squad.

Bipartisan effort for Clinton

In the waning weeks of the campaign, titans of the Republican establishment are sitting on the fence or declaring, as former President George H Bush has reportedly done, their intention to swallow hard and vote for Clinton.

Democrats, and the large pool of Republicans who are sour on Trump, confront not simply a political challenge posed by a political adversary, but more broadly the need to respond to a new, unsettled and unsettling narrative in American politics.

In response, a political version of the bipartisan effort to confront the Great Recession and save the nation has emerged.


The establishment is rousing itself once again to protect the system, this time from political rather than economic calamity.

The players include large numbers of national security advisers to both parties and more recently a list of diplomatic luminaries who traditionally do not wear their partisan views on their sleeves.

This coalition hopes to solidify an electoral and popular majority, in the first instance against Trump, and only then in favour of Clinton, who after a lifetime in politics has been cast as the defender of the American establishment.

The electoral maths is in Clinton’s favour. If the story of the Great Recession is any guide, however, a Clinton victory will not settle any of the questions raised by Trump’s challenge.

Geoffrey Aronson writes about Middle Eastern affairs. He consults with a variety of public and private institutions dealing with regional political, security, and development issues.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.