America is facing many economic issues which are being ignored by the political class. Over the last 30 years, wage inequality in the United States has increased substantially; with the level of inequality now approaching that prior to the Great Depression. There are 750,000 Americans who are homeless on any given night, with one in five considered chronically homeless. In the United States, 21 percent of all children are in poverty, a poverty rate higher than what prevails in virtually all other rich nations.
The statistical evidence is undeniable, yet a majority of Americans chose to ignore economic inequality. Most Americans fail to grasp its importance and tend to ignore it as they perceive it as a problem of the low-paid working class. While this used to be the case, it is no longer. Modern trends of income inequality suggest it is leading to the disintegration of the middle class. Net worth of the middle fifth of American households has plunged by 26% in the last two years. The income of the median American family, adjusted for inflation, is now lower than in 1998. The wages of the middle class have stagnated while the top earners have seen substantial wage increases – therefore millions of Americans are falling down from the middle class bracket to the working class.
One could attribute the disastrous consequences of economic policy pursued by successive governments to the level of incompetence – however, as many Americans are beginning to realize, that is not the case. While the poorest in society have become poorer, social deprivation has become evident in all corners of society and the middle class have witnessed significantly falling living standards there has simultaneously been a clear increase in the pay received by CEOs. In recent decades the difference between CEO compensation and that of the average worker in manufacturing or “production” has rapidly increased; CEOs in 1965 made 24 times more than the average production worker, whereas in 2009 they made 185 times more. This isn’t economic incompetence – this is government corruption.
Recently a study was conducted at Princeton University on the topic of the US democratic system. The researchers examined 1779 political and economic policies pursued by US administrations and compared them to the expressed preferences of average Americans (50th percentile of income), affluent Americans (90th percentile) and large special interests groups. Sadly, the researchers concluded that the United States is dominated by its economic elite. The report states:
“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”
How does this wide scale misrepresentation occur? America has a two party political system which has fundamentally enabled wide-spread exploitation of average Americans. There are two main parties – the Democrats and the Republicans. Around 50% of America support one of these parties and what happens as a result of this is what is fueling political corruption – a majority of citizens feel obligated to vote for their party, regardless of the candidate. This blind allegiance shown by many Americans has had many unintended consequences.
Having only two political parties puts no pressure on the parties to become principled or ideological. The Democratic establishment knows that liberals and moderates will vote for them as they are to the left of Republicans regardless of who the candidate is, or what policies they put forward. It is the same for the Republicans – they know that capitalists and conservatives feel the political obligation to vote GOP regardless of the many influences that should be taken into account. Gradually, both parties became ideologically neutral and the mainstream of both parties are positioned on the center right of the political spectrum; because Democrats will always vote Democrat and Republicans will always vote for the GOP.
The second consequence of the blind allegiance shown is that it has enabled both parties to have had a unifying influence in recent decades: corporate business. Legislation such as ‘Citizens United‘ has enabled large businesses to give money to candidates during election time which ensures that they are accurately represented if their candidate is elected while simultaneously the constituents that elected the politician in the first place are exploited. Americans regularly hear stories in the news of large campaign donations being given to candidates yet it doesn’t bother them – because they perceive their party as “the lesser of two evils.”
Finally, as a direct result of the two party system a comfortable party establishment agenda is formed. The political establishment – who are the majority of mainstream politicians in powerful positions – consists of both parties. During national and state elections meaningful issues such as climate change and income inequality are conveniently ignored as it doesn’t suit the agenda of the “political establishment” and their corrupt corporate donors. The two party system has catered to this as it has created a country where most states have an obvious preference – there are Blue states and Red states. The only states that feel compelled to engage in real policy discussion therefore are “swing states” – importantly, these are a minority of states.
Americans are beginning to come to the realization that they are being misrepresented by politicians and that when it comes to matters of prioritization Washington will always pick their donors. As a direct consequence of the age of online enlightenment, the truth of campaign financing and the link between donor contributions and the policies pursued by politicians are becoming more accessible. America is brimming with cynicism surrounding politics as people feel a sense of disillusionment and disenfranchisement as they see politics as a game of marketing and spin rather than a mechanism for progress in society. For example, only 17% of people feel congress is doing a good job.
This obvious frustration with the political establishment in Washington forces people to seek alternative candidates and movements. Since the majority of politicians in America are on the center-right, when someone is out of the mainstream – and are on the hard right or center left – that can be very appealing. During this election cycle a sense of anger and frustration with the systematic corruption and inefficiency in American politics has led some people to support the GOP anti-establishment, politically incorrect candidate Donald Trump. Others have chosen a candidate with a proven track record and more substantive populist policy positions: Bernie Sanders.
Bernie Sanders’ poll numbers are surging, on average he received over 80% in all the online polls after the ABC News Democratic Debate including ours and he is also ahead in New Hampshire as well as being closely behind in Iowa. His success can be attributed to a combination of the message he portrays – a deep routed anti-establishment, progress orientated one – and his personality – he is authentic and transparent in his dealings. However, his campaign is far from a personality cult – it revolves around real issues that matter to every American that have previously been toxic to discuss because of the formation of a common discussion and common agenda between the two parties.
Anti-establishment candidates have existed in the past – Ron Paul for example. However the main issue with past campaigns run by anti-establishment candidates is that they became far too conspiracy orientated. By the time Ron Paul’s campaign was finished he had isolated and marginalized too many people to have won. Past campaigns have also forgotten that fundamentally anti-establishment sentiment is based upon populism and you need to try to be ‘for the people’ not ‘for the conspiracy theorists’. Finally, in the past anti-establishment campaigns have become mere personality cults rather than a mechanism for change, a political movement.
What makes Sanders so special and why is it so important to support him? Bernie Sanders and his potential candidacy symbolize a fundamental, systematic, real change in American politics – and it is a change that the institutionally formed establishment doesn’t desire. Sanders is different from past anti-establishment candidates – he has no SuperPACs and is therefore not accepting large campaign donations. He is totally reliant on small campaign donations from average citizens. This principled stance suggests that if he was elected he would actually implement real campaign finance reform.
Secondly, a Bernie Sanders presidency would mean the collapse of the two-party system. Sanders has put forward populist, justifiable policy positions on nearly all the main issues that are not necessarily ideological but make sense nonetheless. If he was afforded the opportunity to introduce these changes people would begin to see the two party system and the “left/right” paradigm for what they are, tools to keep people – who should be infuriated – at bay by demonstrating that the GOP and Democrats are actually very similar when it comes to the defining issues of this age.
Sanders has already transformed the system. He has created a campaign that is appealing and attracted supporters that are so dedicated that – for many of them – they don’t feel morally or politically obliged to vote Democrat – they feel obligated only to vote Bernie and nobody else. For many of them Hillary Clinton – the front-runner – is representative and complicit in the establishment – the cozy combination of political and corporate controlling elites – and therefore she is the polar opposite of Bernie Sanders. Such thinking is actually extremely logical – if your main focus is on changing the way politics is conducted and you are supporting a candidate who stands for radical structural and cultural change, then why would you vote for someone who stands for the continuation of the old system even if they are a Democrat?
We ran a non-scientific poll on our Twitter, you can follow us here, on the topic. Although the sample size is small it actually fits in with the general trend – an increasing number of journalists and politicians supporting Bernie Sanders say they won’t vote for Hillary in the general election if she wins the nomination. I’m not going to argue whether this is a good thing or not, but it is certainly a radical change.
Bernie Supporters! I want your opinion for a new article. If Hillary is the nominee will you vote for her in the GE
— PoliticalPeopleBlog (@political_ppl) December 18, 2015
Surging support for Bernie Sanders is sending a clear message to the establishment: we are not taking this anymore. The reason supporting Bernie Sanders is so powerful is that his rhetoric is also extremely anti-establishment. Sanders doesn’t try to hide the fact that he perceives his campaign to be more than a traditional presidential campaign – he sees it as a political revolution, a movement of the people.
Finally, what proof do we have that Bernie Sanders is the most suitable anti-establishment candidate – wasn’t Obama anti-establishment when he ran in 2008 and what about Donald Trump? The media is owned by America’s six corporate elites. Neoliberal and anti-populist views are often openly conveyed within the American media because its owners are totally opposed to real change. Therefore, if a candidate is covered often by the media in a positive light it means they represent the continuation of the pure capitalist system and all its inherent immoralities and flaws.
Obama – although his campaign supposedly revolved around change – was covered an unbelievable amount by the media in 2008. While Obama’s two terms have been successful he has found it hard to implement change. Somehow the media knew that Obama was their guy – he was (and is) charismatic and intelligent, but he wasn’t really going to be approaching the presidency with a progressive leftist framework.
Donald Trump – unsurprisingly – is the most-covered candidate in this presidential race so far. In fact, he alone has received more airtime (234 minutes) than the entire Democratic field (226 minutes). The media knows if he was elected they would stand to benefit while average Americans – such as their viewers – would suffer the economic consequences.
Bernie Sanders however has received virtually no air time on nightly news and weekend opinion shows. Trump in fact received 23 times more media coverage than Senator Sanders. We should use the media as a societal tool – it is a magnifying glass that allows us to see who the corporate elites want in power – and it is startlingly obvious that Bernie Sanders is not their guy, he’s ours.
If you don’t support Bernie Sanders that’s okay – but one thing is undeniable – the concept of a Bernie Sanders presidency has the political and economic establishment terrified.