It is currently my favourite conversation starter. At the bar, a flat party or even on the dance floor of The Vic. Meet a stranger, exchange the usual cordial greetings, and then ask them the question: So why are you voting for Donald Trump?
Now I’m not saying that I’m voting for Trump. But it’s sure a far more interesting question than asking what hall they live in or trying to make some off-point connection with their major (I study economics, I’m not going to try to relate to your divinity degree). Usually the stranger walks away slowly or thinks I’m making a poor attempt at humour. If they do answer, they usually reject his legitimacy and cite a plethora of bigoted comments made by him. Overall though, everyone seems to view Trump as nothing but an isolated phenomenon in the process of American popular democracy.
Trump is normal though. Characters like Trump, and Sanders as well for that matter, are a common theme in US presidential elections. They are relative extremist compared to their centrist party leaders, with Trump championing the far right and Sanders the far left of the political spectrum.
Non-traditional centrist presidential nominees are no stranger in a presidential nominee. There was Michele Bachmann in 2012. Ron Paul in 2008. Reverand Al Sharpton in 2004. Steve Forbes in 2000. The list goes on. Rather, what makes this election year unusual is the overwhelming support that both Trump and Sanders have been able to garner, much to the horror of party centrist and the opposition. Yet at the same time, these type of election years are not unusual. It is just a part of a massive US political cycle that occurs about every 50 years. Extremist have received massive popular support, and even the presidential candidacy many times in the past. In the 1960’s, there was Barry Goldwater, a republican presidential candidate infamous for his “your children will be communist” campaign ads and advocating for bombing Vietnam with nuclear weapons. In the 1910’s, there was William Jennings Bryan, who, like Sanders, campaigned for progressive populism, workers’ rights and attacked the business elites. In the 1850’s and 60’s there was the Know Nothing Party, who ran on an extremist platforms of anti-Catholicism and racial discrimination platform. And in the 1810’s there were discontent radical factions of both Federalist and Democrat-Republican parties centered around issues of slavery and foreign affairs. These political movements are nothing but the result of a change in voter sentiment. They represent a breakdown in the traditional two-party system. They occur when large percentages of the voting population become frustrated and disillusioned with the current government. It is the people’s angry backlash against a perceived inefficient congress and a distant unresponsive administration. Whether grounded in reason or not, voters begin to lose faith in the centrist status quo of Washington. Those more extreme- viewed nominees grow attractive, with voters flocking to their nonconformist platforms.
The rise of Trump and Sanders are the result of disappointment in the unfulfilled promises of the Obama administration, who ran on a campaign of “Hope” in 2008, and four different congresses crippled by partisan divide. The Trump supporters want a more nationalistic protectionist government with an emphasis on constitutional rights (whatever that means?) issues such as American dependency on Chinese trade, veteran affairs reforms and second amendment rights mirror populist views that Obama has allowed for a Chinese geopolitical rivalry, neglect for military veterans and the threat of federal legislation on gun ownership.
Meanwhile, the Sanders supporters want a more socioeconomic progressive society, with the aid of a greater role of government. Like the Trump supporters, they are also discontent over the current government’s response to issues such as income inequality, climate change, minority rights, education and healthcare. A positive/negative feedback system has developed, voters urge for nonconformist positions, candidates oblige and grow even more radical, until voters and candidates become increasingly polarised, alarmed by the opposition’s extremism.
The things is that these guys never win. History says so, regardless of what the latest polls may imply. (Polls will inherently be biased despite their random sampling methods. Centrist and passive voters are far less likely to answer the polls, while the more passionate extreme voters do answer the long questionnaire forms. The latter are also the type of people who call in on radio stations. They are those people). Their popular ideas will instead influence the more centrist candidates. Like an amoeba absorbing a paramecia, centrist candidates will see the success of the nonconformist candidates and incorporate their radical ideals into their own platforms, while still maintaining enough neutrality to appease the centrist voters. Sanders’ advocacy for higher corporate tax and attack on healthcare costs have already been echoed by Hillary. Meanwhile, Ted Cruz is trying to be a knock-off Tesco’s everyday-value Trump with slightly more polite rhetoric and less ridiculous hair. It’s not fooling anyone. I agree, the remarks and behaviour of Trump are completely unpresidential and inappropriate. And while I’m not saying that Trump is good, I’m not not saying that Trump is good.His extremism is a healthy component of a functioning democracy reflecting a frustrated voting population.
But seriously, don’t let him into your country.