Both the entrenched political parties have long been unpopular in the US. In addition, the fact that both the presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, are reviled by a large chunk of voters, goes to show that common Americans have little say when it comes to choosing the people who occupy the Oval Office and Congress. Special interest groups are assumed to wield unfair influence in the upper echelons, breeding in disillusionment and apathy among voters, especially the youth. This pattern of resigned acceptance is prevalent across the world, and politics is widely held to be a game of elites, and the elections a bourgeoisie joke.
Trump's ascendance isn't the only thing that makes the US Presidential election so intriguing. The enthusiasm that Bernie Sanders's socialism has ignited in the youth portends a situation where they can actually change the landscape of American polity for the better.
Republican supporters -- conservatives and working class White Americans --have long had their concerns put on the back burner by a party establishment high on special interest donations.
Now, both Trump and Sanders draw strong support from the working class, but here's the conspicuous difference between them: Trump feeds on people's trepidations and vows to "Make America Great Again" by building walls and shutting off the country from the world, while Sanders's socialism espouses taxing the rich, building a workable healthcare policy and helping students with the vast education debt.
An Uneasy Arrangement
During the days of the Great Depression in the 1930s, President Roosevelt enacted the Social Security Act and the Wagner Act in 1935, respectively providing income to the elderly and giving workers the right to unionize. Under Roosevelt's New Deal and in the following years, America would tax the rich increasingly to fund the welfare-state.
This somewhat uncertain arrangement between the capitalists and the labour continued for the next two decades post the World War, riding on increasing profits of corporations and improving productivity. With German and Japanese industries still recouping from the ravages of war, there was ample market for American goods everywhere. The Marshall Aid helped maintain imports in Europe, and the American industries prospered like never before. Keynesian policies were working wonders --improved wages increased demands for consumer goods and industrial establishments continued to invest more. Americans now enjoyed one of the highest living standards in the world.
By the 1960s, however, this cycle of increasing profits, wages and demands finally busted open. Inflation wasn't a creeping phenomenon anymore. It was this demon that was to set the economic and political trends for coming decades -- an age of Neoliberalism in the Anglo-Saxon world. Welfare spending decreased, as did taxes on the rich. Meanwhile, defence spending grew as the Vietnam War strained the economy and the Cold War with the Soviets escalated. Corporations turned to Asian markets, where the availability of cheap labour precipitated the flight of low paying jobs to China. The government turned suspicious of labour unions and thus ended the uneasy arrangement between the capitalists and the workforce in the US.
The Great Republican Schism
The Republican Party over the years has transformed into a plutocratic clique, with big donors and lobbyists funding their electoral campaigns, isolating the vast majority of Republicans. In the 2012 Presidential campaign, Republican nominee Mitt Romney ran on a program of conservatism fuelled by the neoliberalism of the Nixon and Reagan years -- budget cuts for social welfare, free trade, deregulation of industries, tax cuts that unfairly benefit the rich and have long stagnated middle-class living standards. Finally, to top it all, strictures for illegal residents that continue to irk the Hispanics and many other immigrant communities.
Trump understands what the Republican Party wilfully denies -- a large segment of Republicans want to tax the rich, they want social security, they want their wages protected...
Republican supporters -- conservatives and working class White Americans -- have long had their concerns put on the back burner by a party establishment high on special interest donations. Their policies were appropriated by the Tea Party protesters in 2009 who fervidly opposed the Obama administration. The protesters saw government meddling as an attempt at redistribution from the deserving "us" to the undeserving "them". They rebelled against a bid to finance the lives of the unworthy by taxing "us".
The Republican establishment cringed as Tea Partiers became more pugnacious. The reactionary hijack of the GOP demonstrated what was in store, the frenzy of Donald Trump. Here was a man who tore down Republican conservatism, upending the very notion of party consensus. But, for all his rhetoric and xenophobic rants, Trump understands what the Republican Party wilfully denies -- a large segment of Republicans want to tax the rich, they want social security, they want their wages protected from being depressed by "desperate" immigrants. When Trump struts around with his red-cap, the message is clear: "Make America Great Again" feeds on the nostalgia of a past where middle-income White Americans had better living standards than they have now and the future appeared brighter.
From Ted Cruz to Marco Rubio and Ben Carson -- each floundered before Trump even as the party desperately tried to accept anyone but the controversial billionaire. This unyielding stance made supporters even more obdurate -- for their support of Trump is a verdict against the establishment that has long passed fiats placating the rich as the middle-class continues to struggle under the implications of the Great Recession of 2007-9. Trump only needed a mix of xenophobia, a support for social security and a whimsical guarantee to arrest the job flight to Asia to finally become the Republican presidential nominee. However, how he does in the actual presidential election hinges on an entirely different set of variables -- his xenophobic rhetoric may have helped him win support among a segment of middle-class White Americans but may not hold him in such good stead come November, where the voters will be from a far more diverse background than his usual constituency.
That a political maverick like Bernie Sanders garnered such widespread support among the youth for his "political revolution" should give the Democrats pause for thought.
This presidential election may end up having great implications for both the Republican and Democratic parties. The rise of Trump and Sanders's protracted battle for nomination suggest that vast segments of voters across constituencies are highly disillusioned. They see hope in leaders who fashion themselves as anti-establishment and exhibit a willingness to support their long ignored concerns. The Tea Party hijack and now the Trump candidacy confirm the belief that the Republican Party is vulnerable to such retrograde movements. While the Democrats did not exhibit such extremes, calling them a cohesive lot would be fallacious. That a political maverick like Bernie Sanders garnered such widespread support among the youth for his "political revolution" should give the Democrats pause for thought. Such strong anti-establishment sentiments may fuel a reactionary usurpation in the future in any of the traditional political parties of America. Will the ruling class heed these ominous signs? One thing is for sure, this Presidential contest is to reverberate for many years to come.