As the 2016 election season starts to ramp up and the general public begins to take notice of the different campaigns and candidates, an overarching theme of the last several election cycles has come to full fruition – that of the outsider, the non-career politician, someone who “speaks the truth” or otherwise doesn’t sound like a career Senator or Governor. Candidates like Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina have proven themselves to be almost completely inept for a commander-in-chief role, yet have still garnered significant support simply based on the fact that they aren’t your typical candidate. A breath of fresh air sometimes clouds perception.
The two most likely “outsider” candidates also seem to be heading down the path to a head-to-head general election. On one hand, we have Donald Trump, the crass billionaire who has clung to a massive lead in the Republican field and managed to crush any insurgent rivals while somehow being virtually immune to self-degradation; all this despite being arguably one of the most offensive public figures in recent memory. On the other hand, the Democratic party is beginning to take the shape of Bernie Sanders, a career politician who comes off as quite the opposite. Most remarkable is that these two men stand for forms of government that have always been considered simply incompatible with American values – Sanders is a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist, while Trump, whether he knows it or not, is running on a platform of pure Fascism. Neither one of them claim to be actively religious, and both of them base a portion of their campaign on the idea that they cannot be bought.
What this speaks to is that the voting public has come to a point where we are either more educated about policy, or (more likely) we simply do not care about the political process and focus on a candidate’s relative likability. It’s a dumbing down of the American system, for sure, but it absolutely coincides with the rise of outsider candidates, especially the aforementioned that don’t seem to know what they’re doing.
A quick review of a typical Trump rally or speech reveals that his views on economic policy, social issues, and international affairs are some combination of bombast, lies, and misinformation. He mentions killing Muslim families and has no regard or even apparent knowledge of the Geneva Convention, considers our current regime a “disaster” with no real reasoning. Trump has taken the typical political campaign and turned it into a popularity contest with global ramifications – his throngs of supporters have come to genuinely believe that whatever goes wrong, Trump will take care of it; or more specifically, he’ll take care of those other people causing it. Terrorism? Kill all Muslims, don’t let them in the country. Drugs? Deport all Hispanics, don’t let them in. It’s a culture built around garnering praise for the individual: you guys don’t have to do anything, elect me and I’ll take care of it all. Every televised debate, he’s sure to remind us all that the crowd likes him, and doesn’t like anyone else.
Meanwhile, on the polar opposite end of the spectrum, Bernie Sanders is running a campaign almost exclusively issue-oriented; in a way, despite one’s beliefs, that makes him an appealing candidate for those tired of political lambasting. In stark contrast to Trump’s agenda, Sanders increasingly asks for support and promotes a sense of togetherness – that not only does he need us, but that we all need each other. It appeals to the societal part of ourselves before realizing that it is, in fact, the very foundation of that awful word, socialism. However, his reluctance to actually attack other candidates, as well as his insistence on clinging to the unpopular socialist term despite being virtually unable to implement
Trump is the likely candidate to represent the Republican party this fall, and while Sanders is still second in the polls to prohibitive favorite Hillary Clinton, her lead seems to be dwindling daily in the face of fresh excitement. Therein lies the point – we as a people are at a crossroads. The newer generations of Americans are more educated, yes, but they also simply have more access to information. Personalities like Sanders and Trump are available to be discovered or probed at any hour; try as they might, the GOP and Democratic establishments no longer have any real control over pushing a chosen a candidate to the forefront. Regardless of the outcome, the next administration will mark a turning point for American politics as a whole, as these candidates have essentially aligned themselves to their particular parties simply in order to be taken seriously (Sanders was an independent only two years ago, and Trump seemed to waver between the two depending on which party benefited his business most at the time). While it’s unlikely to see an utter erosion of the two party system, it certainly seems to be cracking in the face of these immensely popular outsider candidates rejecting and thriving without typical campaign finances.