The Trump-Sanders Phenomena and American Democracy

The Trump-Sanders Phenomena and American Democracy

The major political parties—Democrats and Republicans—are both experiencing
protests from their supporters. Though they may appear quite different, they are similar in important ways. The more orderly Sanders and the more raucous Trump supporters express their dissatisfaction with their parties somewhat differently. However, their most basic message is going unreported by most media because much of the media have been complicit in very often distorting the legitimate grievances that many Americans have.

Their basic message is that American democracy has been corrupted and is in danger, and needs major changes for its freedom to survive. Subtle and not so subtle innuendos about Fascism, Socialism, Communism, even Nazism, have been heard. “Rabble-rousing” and pandering are criticized, and the enthusiasm of crowds to the candidates’” not-so-PC” declarations is pointed to as symptoms of dissatisfaction and anger.

The most serious problem, however, is that American politicians in both parties have permitted and/or colluded with special interests to “hijack” the political process. Those special interests include Wall Street and the American banking and financial system, including Federal regulatory agencies (which preempt State controls of much of the country’s financial institutions). But they also include political and economic, as well as social, religious and corporate groups that “buy” influence through “lobbying” at every level—local, state and Federal. Congress grants tax preferences, secrecy, and other exemptions from scrutiny that protects those who seek special preferences. A minor improvement has been the elimination of “earmarks,” but the lobbyists have already found ways around that.

How has this corruption of American democracy happened, and why? Prof. Mancur Olsen, an economist at the University of Maryland, wrote in the 1970’s about “special interests” that were then corroding American democracy, and he predicted, would ultimately cause “gridlock” and perhaps even its destruction. The dissatisfaction of Americans of both parties with what has happened in the succeeding 40 years is evidence that we are quickly approaching a “tipping point” that cannot be reversed in American politics, as we believed it to be.

Americans need to be reminded that when politicians and candidates accuse “WASHINGTON,” for the “mess” we are in, they are blaming the elected and appointed officials who come from every state in the nation. Those people are often already a part of what they are blaming.

There is no “secret cabal” of faceless bureaucrats who conspire against the rest of the nation and ruin it. Every cent of the world’s largest accumulation of tax collections is dispensed by the elected Congress. The “Washington,” that needs to “own up” are the 535 men and women who come from all 50 states, and a President and appointees who are from other places than Washington (and often governors or local politicians). Washington is a collection of volunteers from every state who were elected to represent YOU. American voters are totally responsible for the politicians who populate THAT Washington! And NON-VOTERS are equally responsible.

The Supreme Court’s decision to permit anonymous, uncontrolled political action by wealthy contributors has been widely criticized. However, it has had one positive outcome—making the public more aware of the enormous amount of money that previously was sent to the major parties in ways that were not always legal. This money enriches American media, and distorts American elections. Too often it has been proven that candidates with the most money and who produce the most misleading media ads about their opponents win. The Court’s decision, however, is merely one aspect of a long and increasingly corrupt process.

Special interests have, with the cooperation of media, financial institutions, major corporations, and the lack of enforcement of laws controlling them, become the sources of major corruption in American society—there is no question about that. The US educational system is 18th among the world’s most developed nations. It has more people below the poverty line and more homeless people than ANY other developed nation. 30 million American children go to bed hungry every night. And, the average Americans’ standard of living is below the level of many European countries. And, half of ALL America’s wealth is owned by a few percent of Americans. The rest of the world is catching up to or passing the nation in affluence and productivity. The Chinese middle class is growing 7% per year, while America’s is declining. Not only Europe, but Japan, Australia and other SE Asian nations are overtaking the levels of affluence of many Americans, who have been led to believe that this could never happen.

The decline has happened, in major part, because too few Americans cared; too few understood that the erosion of America’s schools and the education of each generation to traditional values was essential to maintaining the pre-eminent place it had at the end of WWII. Local government’s “penny-pinching” on support of public schools over the past five decades, while continually carping on their deficiencies, the decline of most American universities (except for their sports programs), and a general disinterest in anything but satisfying personal wants and appetites is a major cause. The lack of will of past Congresses and Presidents is another. But ultimately it is the decline in the interest of too many over-complacent; selfish Americans, along with a decrease in the quality of American schools that has permitted America’s decline.

That American media can be blamed for pandering is true, but this country’s leadership—its educational institutions, corporate leadership, and social organizations have all failed to take responsibility. Recently a few very wealthy financiers (among the increasing number of billionaires that is accompanying the decline of America’s middle class) have organized a process to “give back” part of their wealth to the society. This is praiseworthy. But that is not enough to make much difference.

How, then, can this decline be remedied? Any public library has dozens of books, written by experts in many fields, on how change for the better might be accomplished. But another book, another corrupt election, another politician who promises HE or SHE can make everything better will not solve the problem.

But I can promise you that NEITHER Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders can solve it, nor will they tell you what is needed to do it. There is desperation implicit in the crowds these two draw to their political rallies. And there is futility in the attempts of reporters to explain what they think (but clearly cannot understand) these angry but poorly informed and under-educated people want. What is most dispiriting, however, is that there are no simple answers, no magic formulas, no miracles, and most disappointing, no leadership that can resolve the problems we, and the world, face today—economic, political, social, and environmental.

Donald and Bernie are not magicians. If one of them IS elected, he will try to carry out his promised changes. But leadership of ANY kind depends on the quality of its followers. Americans themselves, not the crowds at political rallies but those who take responsibility for what is done AFTER the elections, must take on-going and determined action.

The practical among us will say, ”let’s just get on with it; we can do our best to fix the problems and maybe things will work out.” Most of us, who don’t attend political rallies, may think that way. Others will say, “let’s try to change the things we can, and accept what we can’t.” (Isn’t there a prayer that says that?) We could “leave it to a higher power,” might seem to be just giving up. This last resort would be an admission that there was nothing to be done, and there is. The first step is to realize that the past can’t be fixed. All of us may not have “screwed up,” but we are still responsible for doing our best to make it better.

Thinkingotherwise’s opinion is that it will take more to change things than any one person, or group, or effort by government to “fix.” Crowds that cheer Bernie or Donald are certain to be disappointed. And looking for someone or something to blame has been useless. The media love to create controversy and exploit it. The Don and Bernie shows are like a drug rush to reporters and commentators.

We need to remember that there is little “they” in Washington. We are the source of, and responsible for the elected and appointed officials who come to Washington after each election. Yes, many, after being un-elected or retired stay to lobby. But that does not make them aliens, nor are they required to deny where they were elected. Some of these people WERE responsible for the problems the nation faces, but they are NOT THEM, they are all YOU.

KNOWING WHAT REALLY HAS CA– USED OUR DECLINE AND IS HAPPENING NOW, AND WHO IS RESPONSIBLE, IS ESSENTIAL. THEN, BELIEVING THAT WE ARE STILL FREE ENOUGH TO HELP CHANGE THINGS FOR THE BETTER, are necessary steps. Next is to “give up” believing much of what we hear at political rallies and debates. Change can begin when enough Americans stop reacting to politics and ask themselves and each other, “what is better for our country and its future,” not, “which politician promises us the most.” Much of what happened, and what is happening now in WASHIINGTON is the responsibility of the voters of the past. Americans need to learn to make better decisions about which politicians we can trust.

The future of those who come after us, those we care about, those who deserve better are at stake. The Washington Americans sends to represent them needs to get better. We CAN change THAT Washington every election!

John H. Langer, JD, Ed.D. Retired Federal agency manger, former professor of education, public school administrator, and writer of a number of articles and publications on education, public affairs, substance abuse and social issues. In writing a book on attention and memory as it relates to education, this blog is helping to focus attention n current issues, and hopefully, add something useful as well.

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