I had a friend of mine ask me the other day about Donald Trump. My long-time friend is as Liberal as I am Conservative. We get along because we respect each other as musicians and human beings, although we disagree on politics. A lot. He asked me a very thoughtful and well-reasoned question about Republicans and Trump. He just can’t get past the bombast, and can’t see the appeal. Frankly, I see a lot of the same questions coming from the right about Bernie Sanders, for much in the same way. Both appear to be even further to the extreme of their respective parties, than most candidates. But they share a lot of traits in common with each other, one in particular, I think, that is behind their ascendancies in the polls. And that reason is a cautionary tale for both parties – one I suspect they will refuse to believe, and refuse to take seriously if they ever do.
Talking with another Liberal friend (I seem to have a lot of Liberal friends for someone so unashamedly conservative), I said “Trump is channeling the same kind of everyman rage that the newscaster Howard Beale verbalized in the classic movie Network, namely “I’m mad as Hell and I’m not gonna take it any more!”
Paddy Chayefsky’s immortal phrase resonates, doesn’t it? Abraham Lincoln famously said, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” Politicians from BOTH parties have been trying to fool ALL of the people ALL of the time for…well for some time now. And the People are bloody well fed up with it. And I believe that both Sanders and Trump represent that frustration, embodied in candidates that speak to that rage.
Let’s take both candidates at face value. (I realize this is a risk, and at times, a bit of a stretch, but bear with me.) Neither candidate is really a member of the parties who’s nominations they seek. Sanders isn’t a registered Democrat. He’s a registered Socialist, and proud of it. But he votes with the Democrats (not a dime’s worth of difference between them, nowadays) and getting the Socialist Party’s nomination is worthless. Trump is a Johnny-come-Lately to the GOP fold, and if his past is any indicator of his future, his values are not well-aligned with the GOP, be it the Tea Party wing or the Rockefeller “Old-Boy Network” wing. In both cases the Party establishments HATE them. They fear them. And they don’t know what to do about them.
So what’s their secret? Simple. They stand for something. When they speak, they don’t parse words, or check the polls before they open their mouths. What comes out is unvarnished opinion. Here’s the thing. Trump and Sanders may both say some things that are unbelievable. Unpopular. Unthinkable. But you always get the sense that they’re not saying what they say to curry favor. They’re saying it because they don’t give a rat’s ass what anybody else thinks, and they’re going to tell the “truth” as they see it. Forget for a moment that their concept of what’s true is colored by their ideologies (in Sanders’ case, “socialism” and in Trump’s case “money”). But when they say it, they believe it. And the crowds sense that. Sanders unashamedly believes that Big Government IS the answer, and that it’s perfectly logical and reasonable to raise taxes to pay for “Social Justice.” Trump believes that it’s possible and practical to deport all illegal aliens and seal the border up so nobody gets in without permission. And neither of them care what you think.
Now THAT’S refreshing.
Compare and contrast that to the twin political dynasties, of Bush and Clinton. The Jebster thinks that allowing illegals in is an “act of love.” The Hillanator tells us lie after lie, changing stories like a sitcom actress changes costumes between scenes. I defy you to find two less authentic spokespeople outside of Joe Isuzu. The public gets it. On the Dem side, Sanders star is ascending. Hillary’s is fading fast. On the GOP side, Trump is going strong, while Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina are rising, based on their performances in the GOP debate, when all three spoke without parsing, without spinning, and without making you feel as if you needed a shower afterwards. On the other hand, Bush’s stock is sinking faster than a box full of lead weights in a leaky barge.
Neither the Democrat nor Republican leadership understand this. The GOP leadership doesn’t care about ideology. They just want to govern. Anything they perceive that gets in the way of that must be extinguished. Eric Cantor getting ‘primary’d’ scared the Holy Hell out of the GOP, not because his replacement was a Tea Partier, but because it represented a challenge to their cherished status quo. It wasn’t playing the game. So they doubled-down next time around, and pulled out the stops for Cochran in Mississippi and McConnell in Kentucky. They don’t want “fresh ideas” or members loyal to “Conservative ideals.” They want loyalty to their leadership.
Democrats have it easier, as long as they lean hard to the left. A “Moderate Democrat” is an endangered species. The Donkey Party keeps a few around to keep the EPA happy, but they’re only trotted out at election time, ostensibly to show that the Democrats are diverse. Then it’s back to the salt minds, where they’re told to keep their mouths shut and their votes along party lines.
But outside of the Beltway, the people are, frankly, fed up. The GOP took over the House first, then two years later, the Senate. But what do Conservatives have to show for it? Nothing. Nada. Nyet. Bupkis. Between McConnell and Boehner, we’ve got the Laurel and Hardy of capitulators, with Obama smirking all the way to the end of his second term. So when someone comes along and actually says what he thinks, political correctness be damned, it strikes a chord with We the People.
Look, you can think Trump and Sanders are crazy. And I’m not sure you’d be wrong on either assumption. But they have struck a chord with the Great Unwashed. In the Bible, it’s said that the Lord hates ambivalence. You want to run for office? Stand for something. But be true to your beliefs. Trump and Sanders get it. I think Cruz, Carson, and Fiorina do, too. The others are suffering because we’re not in the mood for the Appeasement applesauce we’ve been choking down since Reagan left office.
If a candidate wants to win, they need to start standing for something. Be unafraid to take a stand. Speak with conviction. (In Hillary’s case, I’d advise her to try and avoid conviction…at least once she’s indicted.) Because this election cycle, Mr. and Ms. Voter look a lot more like Howard Beale than they do “Soccer Moms” or “the 99%.”