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The relationship between Hillary Clinton and Wall Street has emerged as a prominent issue in the 2016 presidential campaign and has remained a substantial part of the criticism levelled at her by both Democrats and Republicans alike. The significance of this relationship, however, is broader than just the campaign trail and may ultimately hold the key not just Clinton’s future downfall if she wins, but to the disintegration of a coalition that has dominated the US presidential landscape since Bill Clinton’s election in 1992. Hillary Clinton will be the final act in a play that has spanned a generation as the key aspects of the consensus she represents is eroded beneath her.
The long-term political history of the US is often categorised into prominent eras in which a broad consensus emerges over the direction of policy that forms the parameters of political discourse. Observable over time – especially within modern political history – is a generational change (every 30 years or so) whereby a shifting political environment produces a new coalition for a new generation.
Take the historians favourite, FDR and the New Deal Coalition of the 1930s, as an example. Economic collapse and intensifying international challenges led to the construction of a broad policy coalition that promoted the role of the state in domestic affairs and pursued a more active role for the US in the international sphere.
All politicians who hoped to capture the centre ground rarely diverted from this platform. The New Deal coalition set the main parameters of political debate for over 30 years and by extension a prolonged period of dominance by the Democratic Party over presidential politics.
Ultimately, however, the very platform that had transformed the political landscape became unfeasible within the tumultuous environment of the late 1960s. Substantial government intervention led to the narrative of inefficiency within the public sector.
Liberal reforms such as desegregation were met with opposition and began a considerable re-alignment of much of the South with the Republican Party, and overextension in Vietnam had led to a re-evaluation of America’s role in the world. This allowed for the gradual construction of a new platform through Nixon and ultimately Reagan and George H.W. Bush that exploited this shifting dynamic.
The election of Bill Clinton in 1992 is seen as a critical one within this pattern and ushered in a new policy coalition that has arguably dominated political debate up to the present day. This coalition sought to combine a broad commitment to neoliberal economics with a socially liberal domestic agenda and an active US involvement in a post-cold war world.
Of course, as with all analysis that focuses on long-term trends, it overlooks some differences in policy. Divergence is to be expected within a two-party system, as candidates seek to differentiate themselves from one another. However, the main tenets of this coalition have defined the parameters of the contemporary centre ground. Hillary Clinton is the latest carrier of this tradition and, due to a largely divisive opponent, she seems likely to win in November.
In front of a Clinton administration, however, is an electorate that is beginning to come to terms with the environment in which they simultaneously mould and inhabit. The economic effects of the 2008 financial crisis have led to a growing resentment of Wall Street and a mistrust of the intentions of capital.
A backlash to this can be seen across the political spectrum from Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump, each constructing differing solutions and capitalising on the wider issues such as growing inequality and immigration. A cosy relationship between a Clinton administration and Wall Street will exacerbate this anger – especially with regards to the impact big business has on the democratic process – and erode trust in a substantial pillar of the contemporary coalition.
The Erosion Of Trust
In conjunction with this, a Clinton administration will maintain an active and – one can assume – more interventionist role for the US abroad than her immediate predecessor. Due to the toxic part the Iraq war plays within public discourse, such a strategy will arguably be met by considerable opposition from a shifting electorate. One can see an erosion of trust, similar to the post-Vietnam context, of the positive role an active US can play in world affairs that remain a vital pillar of the contemporary coalition.
Indeed, this is a tumultuous time in US political history that is further exacerbated by the present era immediacy and short-termism.
Clinton now looks likely to be thrust into this environment as the major pillars of the coalition through which her career so far has been defined are being eroded beneath her, and broad support turns to mistrust.
The 30-year itch has begun and looks set to continue until a new coalition, in time, is formed to coincide with a shifting political landscape.