Friday, January 15, 2016


America is angry. And the mainstream establishment of both of our political parties is in disarray.  The polls and the debates leading up to the primaries which will determine this year's presidential candidates have taken the leadership of both parties by surprise. Their likely presumptive candidates are not doing well, the party machinery having failed  to corral their voters to support their favored candidates.  Just a year ago. the experts were talking about a possible match-up between Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, they already had the largest campaign chests and donor lists, and the support of prominent party leadership. The public was curious about the possible duel between two established political families, but clearly not impressed by what it offered the nation.

 Both parties clearly misread the depth of anger and disappointment felt by the public over what has been happening in Washington DC in recent years. The government was proving to be highly dysfunctional. Twelve years of failed fighting in the Middle East; gridlock in Congress, with the opposition party determined to block virtually every move proposed by a twice popularly elected President; two parties becoming more and more polarized, unable to agree even on issues that both recognize are necessary for the nation's well-being; a divisive media, further inflaming the public's sentiments about government; rapidly increasing income disparity, weakening the shrinking middle class, with no relief in sight from Wash. DC.  Terrorist attacks added fear, insult, and injury to the rising anger, which finally welled out and overflowed as the public started responding to early presidential polls.  Still, the political experts assumed Donald Trump's initial popularity would subside, and the more mainstream GOP contenders would rise in the polls. The Democratic Party leadership took it for granted Hillary was home free.  They scheduled a minimum number of debates, Hillary was slow to engage in substantive campaigning. The public, though, clearly had other ideas.

Trump's poll numbers have continued to rise, reaching levels that the pundits never thought possible. His closest competitors on the GOP side are also from those outside the party's mainstream, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson.  Their other close contender, Marco Rubio, while favorable to the party leadership, has had to become more strident, and adopt more contentious positions, to keep pace. Trump and Cruz openly display their anger, in their manner as well as in their positions. When Trump was indirectly criticized by party leadership for being intemperate, he openly embraced the charge of being angry, and turned it to his favor, as he fully shared and reflected the anger his ever-increasing base themselves experienced.  The GOP base is clearly not just angry at seven years of President Obama and what they perceive as his faults in leading the nation. It is also angry at the leadership provided by the dominant Republicans, their failure to foster more party unity or break through their obstructionist role in Congress, all leading to the lowest Congressional approval ratings in history, and  with Republicans in charge of both chambers. It is not likely this anger will dissipate prior to the November election, so be ready for a contentious candidate, and a contentious election.

On the Democratic side, it is developing into a real contest for the nomination, rather than an easy stroll for Hillary Clinton. While Bernie Sanders, an avowed democratic socialist, was not expected to garner more than 10 or 15% support, he has risen steadily in the polls, into the 40% range. He is drawing enthusiastic crowds, and has obvious appeal to those in the democratic party base who listen to his message. Young voters especially seem to be drawn to him, as well as some independent voters who have seen both parties  failing to meet the nation's basic needs.  The many Democrats who were initially drawn to Barack Obama because of his message of hope and change, only to become highly disappointed that the change he promised was not backed up by consistent action and steadfast leadership, have found in Sanders someone whose sincerity, clarity of message, and strength of purpose suggest that the change he offers may this time be change one can believe in. Their anger may be more muted than that of current Republican voters, but their rejection of the establishment is equally strong. They want a candidate who doesn't mince words, who they feel they can trust, who is truly independent and likely to represent the public's best interests, not just the interests of their primary donor base.  Hillary is seen more as an establishment politician, one whose message may lean towards what her base wants and what may prevail in an election, but does she offer real change over policies that have been failing over the past several decades?  Even with those who may vote for her, she is failing to elicit the necessary enthusiasm to guarantee winning elections.

This election scenario portends a very unpredictable outcome.  The establishment is being rejected, real change from what exists now seems desired by a majority of the voting public. The vested interests resisting change are as strong as ever, but the forces opposing them have developed more strength than expected. Full battles are underway within each party, change versus establishment, to be followed by a vigorous battle between parties, perhaps over a major change in the direction our nation takes in upcoming years. If the GOP wins in the direction of change, expect more conservative dominance, a drawing back from the government being involved in meeting societal needs and granting more human rights. Could Tea Party thinking become ascendant for a time, more exclusion, more divisiveness, more petulance, more acceptance of prejudice, less acceptance of those who are different?  Or might change be in a much more progressive direction, renewed emphasis on a push for major economic and social changes directed towards the government being involved in attempts to elevate the well-being of all elements within the population? Change in either direction involves major risk. So, too, does continuing on the same path we have been on in recent years. The public does seen to be angry, pushing for change, whether ready or not. Which way will it be? Time will tell, and that time may not be far away.