We are currently living in the midst of a historic election. The anger and general dissatisfaction with the government is not a partisan disposition, but rather a feeling shared by those on both sides of the aisle. Millions of Americans feel they have lost touch with the government, abandoned and silenced by political elites. Congress only has a 14% approval rating, but the growing anger and resentment towards the government is even reflected in popular culture. Television series like ‘The West Wing,’ airing in the late 1990s and early 2000s, generally conveyed a positive and honorable image of American politics while one of the most recent and popular political dramas, ‘House of Cards,’ portrays Washington as a dirty, corrupt system with manipulative tyrants like Frank Underwood.
American voters have decided enough is enough and are calling for a complete overhaul of the system. With this mentality, we see the rise of demagogues like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders who serve as conduits for those who feel the establishment has left them behind. These anti-establishment candidates are relaying the general sentiment of an enormous portion of the electorate to the country at large. Former governor Mike Huckabee recently noted in a discussion at Georgetown University that what we are seeing is essentially a revolution without the guns and violence.
I know what you are thinking right now: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are polar opposites – how could they possibly be similar in any way? Obviously, they disagree immensely on policy and on the way they want to “fix” America. However, the message of both candidates is actually fairly similar: Washington is broken and the political system as we know it is alienating the average American citizen. It is not surprising that we see both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders criticizing Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that legitimized Super PACs and linked money and politics even more tightly, and attacking party officials on both sides for putting politics over people.
Bernie Sanders has specifically called for a “political revolution.” Fed up with the way the government is handling Wall Street, race and gender issues, education, the criminal justice system, and the economy in general, Sanders is tapping into a key chunk of the electorate ready to take the power back from the oligarchic ruling class. A key component of Sanders’ base is comprised of young college students and millennials, many of whom are drowning in thousands of dollars of student debt. Much of his success can be attributed to mobilizing these younger voters desperately seeking a change in a manner reminiscent of Eugene McCarthy’s mobilization of the counterculture in 1968.
I am doubtful that a candidate who openly identified himself as type of socialist would have gained much support ten years ago. But, the fact that Sanders, a democratic socialist, is giving Clinton a closer race than she bargained for is evidence of the dissatisfaction and disgust with the current system.
Although he prefers not to use the word “revolution,” Donald Trump is basically calling for the same kind of revolt against Washington. In his speech after his primary victory in Mississippi, Trump stated that he “know[s] politicians better than anybody” and that they are “liars” who will “never get you to the promised land.” Trump has tapped into the anger of white blue-collar workers, evangelicals, and conservatives enraged by eight years of lackluster economic growth, reactionary foreign policy, a failing immigration system, and an assault on traditional values. His message is clear: he is an outsider free from the pressures of any special interest group and the Washington establishment who will steer America back on the path of greatness and winning.
As indicated by the primary results this far, Trump’s voters are mobilized and turning out. Many, including myself, never thought Trump would make it this far into the primary. But, the fact that he has and continues to lead in most states should send a clear message to the establishment: the electorate is ticked off.
The rise of unconventional anti-establishment candidates like Trump and Sanders does not bode particularly well with party leaders. Just last month former governor Mitt Romney provided Americans with a litany of reasons not to vote for Trump, while Hillary Clinton dominates Bernie Sanders in total superdelegates by a margin of over 400. However, if the establishment wishes to maintain its footing going forward it needs to recognize the atmosphere of anger and dissatisfaction with the system that persists in the United States today.
Featured photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.