The leadership of both major political parties in the U.S. should be undertaking some soul-searching in this primary season. After Tuesday’s contests, it appears more likely than ever that the two parties will nominate candidates, for the general election, both of whom are distrusted and disliked by a majority of Americans.
It leaves the prospect that most voters in the fall will be forced to vote out of fear, rather than out of hope for a better future. That’s a deeply dispiriting outcome, should it come to pass, and both major parties must share the blame.
On the Republican side, it’s easy to say that the party deserves Donald J. Trump. Since the 1970s, when the Nixon administration hatched their so-called “Southern Strategy” the GOP has regularly made use of racial tensions and distrust to attract the support of white voters. Stoking white animosity with talk of “welfare queens” and the infamous Willie Horton, the GOP is certainly no stranger to racist appeals, some subtle, others far more overt.
That strategy, mixed in more recent years with hefty doses of conspiracy, paranoia, and disinformation, fed by the right-wing talking heads on Fox News and elsewhere, has pushed the Party of Lincoln to the edge of an abyss. As they look over the edge, members of the party’s establishment may now be horrified at their creation, but they did far too little to stop it. Indeed, they cynically used the latent bigotry and anger within their coalition to advance a political agenda geared, virtually in its entirety, to aiding the already rich at the expense of the rest of the country. Donald Trump has simply recognized the Republican electorate for what it is, and appears to be in the process of running away with it. The GOP establishment deserves every minute of it.
But Democrats would be wise to temper their glee over the Republicans’ woes, because this election season heralds troubles on the left as well. The Democratic Party establishment, including its backers in the media, has left its own reputation in tatters with many in the party by rigging the primary process for their chosen candidate, Hillary Clinton.
At every step, the party apparatus has tilted the scales towards Clinton, even as she faced a remarkable rebellion from a previously little-known independent socialist from Vermont, Bernie Sanders. They scheduled few debates ahead of the primaries, and held them at the most inopportune times, clearly hoping to reduce viewership and deny any platform for a challenge to their hand-selected candidate.
Clinton also benefitted from more longstanding bias in the party’s primary system, such as the use of superdelegates, as well as the frontloading of all the Southern primaries, which gives a huge advantage to centrist, establishment-oriented candidates, like Clinton. Outside the Old Confederacy, Sanders actually leads in delegates, but you’d never know from the media narrative created by the Democrats’ biased process.
While it has provided Clinton with a formidable lead in delegates, her candidacy suffers from a significant enthusiasm gap, particularly among young people and liberal-leaning independents. These are groups which have supported Sanders by huge margins and which Democrats will need in November to beat Trump, or whomever the GOP ultimately selects as its nominee, as well as reclaim the U.S. Senate.
Both parties are suffering from a crisis of faith in the establishment. Despite their differences on many issues, more and more Americans have come to recognize what many have dubbed the “neoliberal consensus” shared by the ensconced leadership of both parties. It’s a consensus influenced largely by big money, one that favors loose regulation, low taxes for the wealthy, cuts in entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, and the advancement of major corporate power through an international trade regime that has gutted the livelihoods of tens of millions of average Americans. It’s an agenda that has been advanced by every president since Ronald Reagan and it has hollowed out the middle class and left most Americans hungry for change.
In what direction that hunger will take the nation remains to be seen. Both Trump and Clinton remain unpopular with most Americans and a fall match-up between the two could well be the ugliest slugfest in recent history. It will be the ultimate “lesser-of-two-evils” election. A Trump victory is a frightening prospect that could take America down a tragic path. A Clinton victory, on the other hand, would offer more of a status quo that most Americans reject.
Such an unpleasant prospect for voters speaks volumes about the state of this nation’s two major political parties. Before casting blame elsewhere, party leaders should take a look in the mirror. This is a mess they helped to create.