Saturday, January 16, 2016

Is the Center Holding?

Elizabeth Drew worries that the current election is a sign of something very wrong with American politics:
As of now, the anti-establishment candidates in both parties—Trump and Ted Cruz for the Republicans, and Bernie Sanders for the Democrats—are either well ahead of or giving close chase to the rest of their respective fields. That shouldn’t be a surprise. The public mood has been building toward this situation. Leaders in both parties are seen as having failed various tests and are being rejected. The complaints against the status quo are similar among Democratic and Republican voters. In fact, so alike is the dissatisfaction that there are indications of a possible large crossover vote; in a recent survey, nearly 20 percent of Democratic voters say they would vote for Trump in a general election. Some of the complaints are familiar, but a striking one is new: the corruption that infects our political system. It had long been said that the public doesn’t care about this matter, but upset over the gradual loss of control of our political system to those who can buy it is now palpable. For very different reasons, both Trump and Bernie Sanders are seen as incorruptible.

This fascinating election is also a troubling one. The center isn’t holding and both parties are so deeply divided as to raise the question of whether any victor will be able to govern. Trump and Cruz are appealing to our darker impulses; and lately Marco Rubio, highly ambitious even as this group goes, and scrambling for third place in the first two contests, has dropped his once-sunny demeanor and begun to echo the front-runners. Trump has a genius for reading what his audience wants—which can lead him to bully-boy tactics, as when his supporters were beating up a Black Lives Matter protester at a rally in Birmingham, Alabama, Trump shouted various versions of “Get him the hell out of here.” But his followers love him because he breaks the rules. He suggests that he will get things done through the sheer force of his personality. The Des Moines Register political reporter Jennifer Jacobs recently wrote, “a desire to disrupt the way government typically works is a major consideration for caucus goers. And they see The Donald as a demolition agent.”
I  also wonder about the situation the winner of this election will face; with so much anger around, the losers' supporters are not going to be in any mood to support the winner. I can't imagine either Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump accomplishing much if elected. Which might only feed the frustrations that are driving politics today, making the next election even worse. I'm not sure how we get out of this.

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