Do Trump and Sanders Signify The Beginning of The End of The Two-Party System?
What's in a Name?
Okay, calm down. You're looking up at the title and already beating me up for my apparent ignorance about the political affiliation of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, two prominent candidates running for President in the 2016 election cycle. My ears are burning from the smug accusations of you die hard conservatives that this is absolute proof of my being a raging, misinformed, intellectually lazy liberal.
But I really do know who is running, and on what ticket. Everybody knows already - your five year old knows, I think I even overheard my next door neighbors' dogs chatting about how Donald Trump is running Republican and Bernie Sanders Democrat.
Business as usual in American politics, right? Since first President Washington's resignation in 1796, only members of two major parties have served as the country's Chief Executive. There have been some name changes - the Federalists essentially morphed into the Whigs, who then transubstantiated, or whatever God-party GOP members do, into the Republicans. On the other side of the aisle the Democratic-Republican party eventually ditched the suffix and became the Democratic party alone.
As the bard said, What's in a name? In this case the answer is something less than sweet, in fact downright bitter. Partisan clashes between the big two, if you ask me mostly staged for effect, have indeed weakened the government. Good old toothless George warned us about this in his famous farewell speech, where he specifically stated to beware of political parties. Would our cherry tree chopping first Prez be happy that we have at least limited them to two, or would his restless corpse, rolling around in its tomb in the Capitol basement, instead say - look knuckleheads, this is exactly what I told you would happen!
Sinking in the Main Stream
But now in the 2016 election cycle two mavericks come along, two loose cannons with no apparent strings attached, who are determined to take George's words to heart and rock the two party boat. I'm not going to put on my ideological straight-jacket here and engage in a pissing contest about who is right and who is wrong. You've picked your man, or woman, you have your reasons for it, and I do not desire to browbeat you into agreeing with me. All I'm trying to point out is that we're seeing leaks in the two-party Titanic for the first time in a while. It took a long time for the big two to patch up that swamped scow after Ross Perot almost sunk the damn thing in 1992, but they managed. Here we are 24 years later; the popularity of Trump and Sanders indicates that the vessel is listing distressingly once again, and maybe its time to tow that capsizing clunker into the yards. Can they salvage the two party colossus, or is the leaky tub beyond repair?
I know what you're thinking. Reflecting back on Confederate General Robert E. Lee's legendary comment about his Union counterpart John Pope on the eve of the battle of Second Bull Run, you're saying - Mel, your headquarters are where your hindquarters should be. In other words, your cranium is stuck in your crack. Rooter it out, already. Trump is a Republican, Sanders is a Democrat, they're both card carrying constituents of the big two.
Yeah, and I'm Mary Poppins and you're Doris Day. I think it's pretty clear to everyone who hasn't been living at the bottom of a well over the past year or so that Trump and Sanders have only embraced these major party affiliations out of necessity. Somehow they both recognized, at the same time, with intentions either insidious or sincere, that the only way to change a faulty system is to become part of it.
Tunnel Vision Allegiance?
Perhaps part of the reason why George, Bernie and Donald have eschewed zealous devotion to political parties is because they often become an obsession for those who follow them devotedly. In the best case, they are like an exclusive club; in the worst, a religion. People become so utterly fixated upon the approved party slogans and mantras that they lose touch with the candidates as human beings, then make their decisions to vote or not to vote for a person based only upon whether or not they have the party stamp of approval.
There are die hard Democrats who would vote for Genghis Khan if he was nominated, repeating the magical party incantation that he has the ability to reach across the aisles and unify people of diverse backgrounds. Of course this would be based upon the fact that he brutally conquered millions of people. But if you made the mistake of expressing your desire not to vote for Genghis, perhaps on account of his spotty human rights record, you would be mercilessly shouted down as racist against Asians.
On the Republican side, the GOP faithful would line up at the polls to vote for Idi Amin Dada if he was on their ticket. They would advance the former Uganda dictator to be the first "real" black President; pointing out, as both parties do, his ability to obtain cooperation from all sides of the political spectrum. The fact that he did this mostly by eating his enemies would be dismissed as irrelevant.
Of course this is ridiculous hyperbole - but it points out a rather disturbing fact. People become so fixated upon the party that they lose sight of the quality, or lack thereof, of the individual.
So why do political mavericks like Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump feel the necessity of running as a candidate of a major party machine, if they disagree with the methods and the message of that machine?
The answer would seem to be simple: pragmatism. In order to fix it, the mechanic has to get inside, get behind the wheel and take that clunker for a drive, or his customers (the electorate) aren't even going to listen to his opinion about what is ailing the old jalopy. But are you, the customer slash voter, willing to hand over your keys to this unknown, just yet? Who are you going to pay attention to; this no-name grease monkey running the corner garage, or the people in the neat coveralls beneath the clean corporate logo of the dealership up the block? Until the grease-money proves his worth, you're going to take it to the dealership. So what the lone wolf grease monkey is forced to do is first take a job with the devil up the block, in order to build up his clientele. His customers will then gladly take their automobiles down the street to his independent garage, because they know he won't gouge them.
Bernie Sanders has been running an independent garage from the beginning of his career. As a third party candidate, and then as a non-affiliated politician, he has referred to the donkey-dealing Democratic Party as "ideologically bankrupt," and considers both major parties to be "equally beholden to corporate lords."
But unlike other promising candidates who have run beneath a third party or independent banner and failed ignominiously, Bernie is also a realist. According to Sanders, running as an Independent would have been problematic because it is difficult to get on the ballot in all fifty states. On the other hand, running as a Democrat made it "...easier to get on the ballot, you can get into the debates, and the media will take you more seriously."
Writing in the Washington Post, Green Party spoiler Ralph Nader - who some sour grapes Dems still blame for putting W. in the White House in 2000 by supposedly stealing 3% of Al Gore's votes, expresses his first hand expertise about "...what two party tyranny can do to a more-than-nominal third-party challenger." Nader expounds "Just appearing on the ballot is a challenge for independent candidates. While any Democrat or Republican who wins their party’s nomination is guaranteed a place on general-election ballots nationwide, smaller parties must, in many states, petition election officials to be listed. And that is a delicate process, easy for the major parties to disrupt. Their operatives have a number of tools at their disposal to knock third-party candidates off the ballot, render their campaigns broke, and harass and ostracize them."
Turns out that the Democratic Party is not very democratic at all, and shamelessly used those aforementioned tools to thwart Nader in each of his campaign runs. Nader claims that in 2004 it was Democratic Party operatives that targeted his efforts. Big Donkey hired private investigators to harass his petition circulators, sometimes threatening them with criminal prosecution for the presence of fake names that those same "saboteurs" had signed on his petitions. Some of his petitions were invalidated by state officials for arbitrary reasons. Litigation was filed against the Nader campaign for the sole purpose of draining his candidacy's resources. In some states he was completely forced off the ballot.
The big two intends to keep itself in power indefinitely, and will use every underhanded means at its disposal to do it. Any wonder then, that Bernie decided to run as a Democrat, especially in light of the fact that the last independent, non partisan candidate to win the Presidential election was the first one - good old Delaware-crossing George himself, making ear to ear grins on the inauguration platform through his wooden teeth!
Donkey in Elephant's clothing, or just another gold-plated Pachyderm?
Right across from Bernie's dilapidated repair shop, in a much bigger building where the hydraulic lifts are all gold plated, Republican candidate Donald Trump, nattily clad in spotless silk coveralls, has been doing a pretty credible job of stealing clients away from that elephant-sized dealership on his side of the street.
In spite of what the blinding, casino-style neon sign outside his establishment announces, many among the GOP faithful contend that Donald Trump is not a Republican at all. According to Carl Cannon writing in Real Clear Politics, "In a recent interview, Ari Fleischer, who was White House press secretary under George W. Bush, said it was clear that Trump was “no conservative.” The real issue is more basic: there’s not much evidence he’s even a Republican...Americans can change their political orientation over time—Ronald Reagan did it—but you’d be hard-pressed to find a Republican who during the last 28 years has variously listed his voter registration as Republican, Independence Party, Democrat, Republican again, and (as recently as 2012) registered himself in New York as “decline to state.” In the midst of that orgy of fickleness, Trump ran briefly for president—as a Reform Party candidate."
So why has Donald Trump so firmly affixed himself to the GOP standard during the last two Presidential campaigns? An Internet meme in wide circulation, and widely believed, claims that he did so because the intellectual level of the average Republican voter is much less than that of the Democrats across the way, and Republican backers would be much more likely to believe anything he said, even if he lied. Although this meme is satisfying for many blue-staters to believe, like most crap on the Internet it is not true. Trump has said some god awful things, true enough, but he never said that; at least not in public and in the reported venue.
So why, having continually rocked the Republican boat with his shocking statements and proclamations, is Donald Trump running as a Republican - even when the Republican leadership finds him dangerously distasteful? The truth is, in spite of his frequent flip-flops, well publicized deviations from party doctrine, and heretical association with the Clintons, Trump has been a Republican throughout most of his political career.
Yet the outsider has sensed an opportunity for profitable deviation in his party, realizing that the hard working, god fearing Republicans on the bottom of the pecking order may not be as duped as meme-makers believe they are. Middle to lower class GOP supporters realize the mainstream fat cats who run the party have been neglecting their economic needs, their gospel of trickle down economics not trickling like it should. Although, in true Machiavellian style, Trump has employed fear-mongering tactics to attract nervous white voters fearful of being plowed under by an avalanche of immigrants, he has also loudly opposed trade agreements. A large part of his support has come about by speaking to the hearts of the party's non-one percent supporters, those who have legitimate fears about losing their jobs when billionaires outsource them.
This willingness to get in line behind Trump, a man whose intense xenophobia has been compared to that of Adolf Hitler, demonstrates clearly that there are gaping holes in the mainstream party platform that cannot be filled by a mainstream candidate. Could this be another sign that America is ready and willing to move away from its bland, tasteless two-party diet, sample new flavors, and risk the potential indigestion?
Revolutionary Moment or Business as Usual?
Does the popularity of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders mean the two-party system in America is in trouble?
America Speaks - Or Tries To
So is the two-party machine about to plunge irretrievably into the depths, or are Trump and Sanders just two ugly cracks in the bulkhead that can be easily shored up and patched over before the floundering vessel is charted back upon its usual course?
As it turns out, the end of two-party politics may not come from the raging ocean without, as expected, but from the pressures on the bursting boilers within. The Grand Old Party seems to be splitting apart at the rivets even as we speak. There is a movement known as the #NeverTrump conservatives that have made overtures to several prominent politicians about forming a third-party alternative to the irrepressible mouth who is the presumptive nominee. 2012 Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has also allegedly been holding mysterious meetings with this in mind, secret trysts attended by those dissatisfied with the direction the GOP has turned in 2016.
Conservative talking head Erick Erickson describes a very common feeling among the GOP disaffected: "If Trump is able to get the nomination, the Republican Party will cease to be the party in which I served as an elected official. It will not deserve my support and will not get it if it chooses to nominate a pro-abortion liberal masquerading as a conservative, who preys on nationalistic, tribal tendencies and has an army of white supremacists online as his loudest cheerleaders."
But as loudly as we protest Trump's verbose, racist-tinged nationalism, and decry Sander's fantastic, supposedly unreachable Democratic-Socialist proclamations, Trump and Sanders remain in place as top Presidential contenders. The two-party machine detects dangerous divisions, and takes action.
Over in the Democratic corner the powers that be have been doing their utmost to ward off the Sanders threat to the status quo. Front-runner Hilary Rodham Clinton, she who speaks in echoes to empty rallies while Bernie plays to packed houses, has mobilized all the resources of the DNC machine to her rescue. The mysterious machinations of Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz; the donkey-driving boss lady who would defend the practices of predatory payday lenders over working class Democratic voters, allegedly rigs the game in Hilary's favor. So who really is the Democratic front-runner, and would Sanders be enjoying Trumpian supremacy in the campaign if not for the concerted effort of the Democratic Party to push him aside?
Point being that the two most enthusiastically followed candidates are the two most disassociated from the tired, tasteless, unappealing business as usual of their own parties. In backing the fortunes of Sanders and Trump the American people are speaking loudly, and whether you approve of the content of portions of their respective messages, what Americans are saying is that they are tired of politics as usual. Americans want candidates who can think independently and at least give the appearance of being sincere. Americans are disillusioned by the Super-PAC beholden, string dancing marionettes controlled by hidden masters lurking in the darkness above the stage. For the first time in years, the voice of America is letting its discontent be known.
George the lumberjack couldn't have spoken better, even through his mossy wooden teeth.