Americans are ready to vote out the bums
It’s been called the Second American Revolution. The US election season is upon us and it is unlike anything seen in perhaps 50 years, when Barry Goldwater broke free of the Democrat-Republican chain gang and ran (unsuccessfully) as a libertarian independent. Then there was Ross Perot, founder of Electronic Data Systems, who challenged Bill Clinton for the presidency in 1992, again unsuccessfully.
This time Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have smashed the chess board completely. Both are outsiders tapping into a well of voter anger that threatens to unseat an establishment fighting to hang on to whatever shards of credibility remain. The US Congress has an approval rating of 16%, according to Gallup, slightly higher than the 9% approval rating recorded in 2014. The political establishment is in trouble.
Underscoring the point, Trump and Sanders walked off with stunning victory margins in the New Hampshire primaries last week. These primaries will roll through the 50-odd states of the US over the next six months as Republicans and Democrats choose their candidate for the presidential election in November. Perhaps most surprising was 74 year-old democratic socialist Bernie Sanders’ 23-point margin of victory over Clinton. Both Sanders and Trump are determined to scale back US involvement in foreign wars and reverse the outsourcing of US jobs to China. Sanders is also proposing a minimum wage of $15 an hour, while his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton – seen by many as a shill for corporate and banking interests – wants $12 an hour.
For nine months the mainstream media wrote off Sanders and Trump as electoral novelties whose stars will shine brightly for a period and then implode. That hasn’t happened. The Bush-Clinton-Obama baton change has been going on for more than two decades and Americans have had enough.
President Barak Obama promised change and peace and delivered neither. In what may turn out to be the worst decision ever made by the august Nobel prize committee, in 2009 he was awarded the peace prize for his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between people," but he then went on to rain bombs on the peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria while meddling in the affairs of a dozen or more countries.
Trump is a polarising figure who has promised to “make American great again” and to stop the flow of illegal immigrants to the US by building a wall along the Mexican border. His critics call him racist, xenophobic and unhinged. Once in office, he has promised to tear up and replace President Obama’s universal health care plan, which has pushed up the price of medical coverage for most working Americans. He also wants to slap import duties on goods from China to restore the balance of trade to favour the US, which does not augur well for SA and other countries seen to be benefiting from preferential trade deals.
Another pillar of his campaign is to smash terrorist group ISIS. He admires Russian President Vladimir Putin’s no-nonsense intervention against ISIS in Syria, and wants to scale back the military adventurism that has characterised US foreign policy since 9/11.
Trump has spent virtually nothing on campaign advertising, relying on his outrageous sound-bites and TV pulling power to get his message across. “My campaign for president is $35m under budget, I have spent very little (and am in 1st place). Now I will spend big in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina,” he recently tweeted. His rival Jeb Bush has out-spent them all, with $118m in campaign contributions, yet he is polling disastrously – another sign that the game may be up for the establishment.
In January Trump boycotted a Fox News debate against fellow Republican contenders, citing his dislike of Fox reporter Megyn Kelly, who was mediating the debate. Instead he held a rival event in Des Moines, Iowa, to raise money for army veterans. In a previous Fox debate he bridled at a question asked by Megyn Kelly and wondered aloud whether her challenging tone was because she was menstruating. The mainstream went ballistic and demanded an apology, but Trump doubled down, heaping yet more insults on Kelly and his Republican rivals – and his ratings soared. No-one has dared take on the big TV networks, except Trump, whose absence resulted in Fox debate viewership dropping to 12,5m, half the 25m recorded in the first debate in August last year, according to Nielsen. That hurt Fox where it counts, in advertising revenues.
In the age of teleprompter politicians, Trump is marvellously unscripted. He punks his rivals each time they level a missile at him, replying with a dozen of his own. His brash New York street fighting style, lack of decorum and his winning attitude have carried him this far and, many believe, may yet take him all the way to the White House. His support is seen as a protest against crippling conformity and political correctness.
Sanders has won hefty support for his promise to break up the big banks: “I will rein in Wall Street so they can’t crash our economy again,” he told supporters in January. He wants limits on ATM fees and credit-card interest rates, tougher laws to stop abusive lending practices, and an overhaul of the Federal Reserve to make it more answerable to ordinary Americans, “not just the billionaires on Wall Street.”
Sanders and Trump have hijacked the electoral debate away from the political grandees. Now even Hillary promises to fight Wall Street and the “too big to fail” banks, but her fighting talk is etiolated by her willingness to accept generous fees from Goldman Sachs and others. CNN reports that she and her husband raked in $153m from speeches delivered between 2001 and 2015, some of them at $200,000 a pop. According to former President Reagan staffer and Wall Street Journal editor Paul Craig Roberts, this is clearly the pay-off the Clintons got for serving powerful military-security interests. “I can remember when Bill and Hillary (Clinton) were in public office when their speeches were free. No one wanted to listen to them when the speeches were free,” he recently wrote.
Americans are tiring of politicians using public office as a platform to personal wealth. I spoke to several dozen people about this election, young, old, male and female. Hardly a representative sample, but not one of them said they would vote Clinton, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz or any of the other so-called establishment figures. Most plan to vote Trump or Sanders, and there was a sprinkling of undecideds. There’s real anger in these choices.
Sanders will make it possible for young people to get university education without being indebted for the first 10 years of their working lives, so he has a strong showing among young voters.
“Many American voters, perhaps as many as 50%, have realised that the political establishment (Republican and Democrat) does not represent them. They regard Sanders and Trump as outsiders who are not part of the establishment. Therefore, they see hope in them,” said Craig Roberts to questions put to him by Finweek. But he holds out little hope that either Trump or Sanders will deliver the kind of reforms needed to reboot the country: “In my opinion, neither would be able to make a difference. Revolution is required.”
Scott Scharf, a dentist from southern Minnesota, says he plans to vote Republican, “but I am not really excited about Trump. Sanders is a socialist and I would most certainly not vote for him. I would have more confidence in Trump than Sanders, but I worry about how other countries perceive our country if Trump becomes president.”
The biggest issues facing the country? Balancing the budget, putting an end to money printing, reducing the size of government and its spending, says Scharf.
His son Gunnar Scharf is 24 years old and recently graduated from university. He wants a Republican president and plans to vote for Trump. “It seems as though the Democratic party leans towards too liberal of ideologies, year after year.”
The issues he’s most concerned about are government over-spending, the deteriorating state of education and external threats in the form of terrorism. “I think that president Trump and Bernie Sanders both may do what they say that they'll do, however Sanders’ ideologies are more extreme than Trump's. I see Trump running this country like a business and in a more unbiased manner. “
Seventy-nine year-old investment manager Don Brown from Minneapolis is likewise planning to vote for Trump. “He’s often blunt and hard, but tells the truth. Our country has gone through an eight year period under President Obama which has been unlike any I have seen in my life. Our country, right from the get-go when he became president, has been degraded. The good that America has done over the years has been belittled and only our sins have been talked about by the president.” Brown says Trump is most likely to deliver on his promise of smaller, leaner government, more jobs, and a restoration of America’s pride in itself.
One traditionally Republican supporter said this time he would vote for Sanders over Trump, “as Sanders would not get anything done and a government in gridlock is better than a productive government.”
The prospect of a Trump-Sanders showdown is by no means certain at this stage of the game, but the issues they have raised on the campaign stump will reshape American politics, perhaps for generations to come. Which is why this is being called the second American Revolution.
* This article first appeared in Finweek.