The latest polls show Bernie Sanders opening us a double-digit lead over his democratic rivals and with his big win in Nevada, momentum seems to be building. Donald Trump and his supporters appear to be delighted by this. I assume because they think Sanders would be the easiest Democrat to beat in a general election. Sounds eerily familiar. Four years ago, the Clinton campaign quietly rooted for Trump in the Republican primaries – confident that the American public would never elect someone with his childlike temperament, personal flaws, and divisive personality….and we all know how that turned out.
The election has a long way to go, but centrist candidates on both sides of the aisle have been road kill for Trump and Sanders and it appears like we may be heading toward an election in November between two of the most polar opposite candidates in modern history. How did this happen, especially when most of the country identifies as moderate?
For years, state governments have been manipulating congressional district maps to ensure that their party will remain in power in a particular district permanently. This is why less than 10% of congressional races are competitive and why the most extreme candidates from both sides tend to win. If a district is dark blue, then only democratic candidates can win, and the race for the congressional seat is decided in the primary. Voters will then tend to elect the Democratic candidate who is the most liberal with their policies. The same is true in reverse with Republican districts. Over time you end up with a congress that is the most extreme from both sides and who refuses to work with each other. Any elected official knows if they reach across the aisle or God forbid, compromise on an issue, they will be painted in their district as soft and will probably be voted out in the next election in favor of a candidate that holds the party line 100% of the time. While gerrymandering doesn’t affect presidential elections as much, it a central reason why our congress has become totally dysfunctional.
Cable TV News and Radio
The rise of cable TV news and radio has blurred the line between news and opinion. Network news used to follow journalistic protocols to ensure that their reporting was truthful, unbiased and in the best interest of the public. It wasn’t perfect but it was pretty good, and the public had confidence in journalistic integrity of the networks. However back then the networks did not view news shows as a profit centers; they made their money on entertainment shows and treated news as a public service that was more of a responsibility of the network.
However, cable television and radio saw the profit potential of news especially if it were a bit more sensationalized. They also recognized that news shows with a political bias earned substantially higher ratings. People liked hearing newscasters on television and radio who shared their political beliefs and who told them every day how right they are and how downright evil the opposition is. As the popularity of politically biased news rose, people rarely if ever got there news elsewhere. Most people today only get their news from one biased source and never hear the other side of any issue. Today, people live in echo chambers where they only hear and read news that aligns with their political bias – and with the emergence of social media this phenomenon has become even more extreme.
Contempt for the status quo
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, people are fed up with the status quo. The wealth disparity in this country is at an all-time high, college debt is choking the middle class, and health care is a disgrace. The last thing most people want is a repeat of what we have always had, and you can’t blame them. Therefore, it shouldn’t be a surprise that people tend to feel that anything or anyone who will shake things up in Washington will be an improvement.
How do we fix this?
think it’s sad that people can’t disagree without hating each other. I also think our system has got a problem when 90% of our congressional races are not competitive. Like most of us, I think we need a system that reflects the will of the people. Getting there won’t be easy. I wrote a few months back about Unbreaking America: A movement that has the help of celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Douglas. Followers of the movement believe both parties have failed the citizens of the country and think only the demise of our two-party system can save us. I encourage you to watch the video and make your own decision. It’s a fascinating thesis. The founder of the movement, Josh Silver, spoke at L’ATTITUDE last year. He seems like a smart and genuine person. It’s difficult to imagine how our political system will evolve in the coming years, but it definitely feels like we are at a breaking point. My hope is that more people will reject party loyalty that only benefits those in power and pundits’ personalities that only want you to watch their shows and buy their books. We need to be smarter.