Yes, the voters are angry. But that explanation is too simplistic and does them a disservice. The breadth of their anger is wide, over many soapboxes of complaint. Their anger is also deep, engendering full-blown collective anger and outright disgust. There is a complete lack of confidence in the status quo, a lack of faith in what is around the corner awaiting us, a sense of beleaguered aloneness that no one is looking out for one another anymore, a judgement of a general failure of leaders and institutions across the spectrum. “A better life” seems to have been way-laid and replaced by “a dangerous life.” Nowhere does there seem to be a pathway, a mechanism, a person to move us back into forward progress.
Today, the country is deeply divided on virtually all issues. Public opinions are typically split somewhere between 55/45%, Supreme Court decisions are regularly split 5/4, congressional votes are by straight party line, all reflecting a nation unified about next to nothing. Yet in those rare instances when the nation does come together on some idea (e.g. 90% support for expanded background checks and closing loopholes for gun purchasers), still no action is taken. The 3C’s – Consensus, Compromise, and Common ground – have disappeared. Our apparent powerlessness to control our own future has made a sizeable portion of Americans very, very angry, transcending “liberal /conservative” labels.
Whether one thinks that they were noble ventures or maddening follies, President Bush’s two expensive wars have left the country financially underwater and emotionally empty, with a sense of little to show for it and facing years of future repercussions. 15 years after 9-11, the country feels no safer from terrorists. The world’s most powerful government, economy, and military seem incapable of meeting our basic needs as things seem to spin unendingly out of control. People feel trapped by: illegal immigration; wanton murders by domestic and foreign terrorists as well as everyday kooks and criminals; income stagnation for middle-Americans versus exponential gains for the extremely wealthy; social fabric changes that are either too much/too soon or too little/too late; a dysfunctional Congress owned by corporate America and their lobbyists; political game-playing and divisiveness from our politicians in lieu of solving pressing critical problems.
What is fascinating is how upside-down/inside-out the American voting population is today. Contradictions abound; few issues are clear-cut. We have constant rhetoric about left-wing liberals and right-wing conservatives, but these labels are becoming increasingly less meaningful. Some people protest government infringement on their religious rights, yet often their proposed solution is to limit the religious rights of others. Almost every American decries the increase in senseless killings of their fellow citizens, but many seek to eliminate the killing by arming citizens within a blanket of weaponry. Hard fought equality and civil rights battles thought to have been addressed and settled years ago seem to have gone back to the future, as cities and courtrooms and legislative battles imitate the difficult days of the 1960s. Both major political parties are being driven by the far ends of their ideology, with an absolutist mindset intolerant and indifferent to their political opposite.
More and more Americans are sick of the chaos in the world and being drawn into these “local” fights. Yet compassion for victims and cries to demonstrate “American leadership” keep dragging us in. America’s infrastructure is falling apart and our social safety net for the less fortunate is under constant attack. Yet our tax dollars go into a sacrosanct and growing military budget primarily driven by commitments overseas and the awarding of purchasing contracts to businesses. Americans’ sense of fairness has been substantially undermined as middle-American small businesspeople and entrepreneurs play by the market rules and pay their prescribed taxes, while large corporations and the affluent get special favors and exemptions in conducting their operations while paying only a fraction of their tax obligations. Average citizens were thrown out of their homes in bankruptcy thanks to the Wall Street-induced recession, while those same Wall Streeters were bailed out and suffered no consequences for their negligent and illegal actions. Our prison population does not reflect the real demographics of our lawbreakers.
Yet in the midst of the contradictions, surprising alignments sometimes still happen. Democrats and Libertarians unite against excessive government snooping; Evangelicals and tree-huggers align to save the planet; politicians compromise and reject the concept of “shutting down government” as a legitimate budget process.
“The American Way” has been split into a series of meandering roads leading to no clear endpoint. What does unite most Americans is that our political structures and politicians have simply not been working for a long time. So the usual hollow political talk that “I’m wonderful and have all the answers” is no longer believable and does not fly this year. Until now, the voices of the voters have been throttled silent. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have each given voice to the respective sides of these angry Americans, albeit each speaks a very different voice. The depth of anger within the citizenry has been strong enough to marginalize traditional “establishment” candidates, with their usual campaign platforms and ads, into sidebar, irrelevant players.
This is the reality of the electorate in the 2016 campaign. A reality that candidates of either party and any agenda ignore at their peril. But there is a vast swath of independent, middle-road voters that will ultimately hold the key to the final result in November. This fall they will have their own set of issues, perhaps a reverse anger at the barrage of harsh noise that has been coming at them for months. Is there a potential leader who can transmute all of this American anger into a new American promise? One who can find a middle path to unified and effective governing? It is hard to see one through the stagecraft, intellectual fog, and verbal noisemaking assaulting our eyes and ears daily. Let the primary voting begin.
© 2016 Randy Bell www.ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com