The Trump hysteria now gripping the Republican Party has an aura of slapstick comedy, like a Punch and Judy show performed by politicians. The GOP crack-up is an irresistible spectacle—men in nice suits talking dirty and bopping one another with profane verbal assaults. We the people find ourselves laughing involuntarily. Some of us also tremble for the future of the republic.
But Democrats should resist the temptation to indulge in schadenfreude, because they’re flirting with their own version of crack-up. The Dems are stalked by very similar contradictions, and face the same storm of popular disgust among once-loyal constituencies.
The 2016 election is shaping up as payback time in our crippled democracy. The people have discovered ways to express their long-smoldering contempt for the regular order. Power politics, they discover, can be both mischievously fun and also purposeful.
Bernie Sanders delivered that uplifting message again with his upset victory in the Michigan primary. The press had been hinting crudely that Senator Sanders should really give it up, so Hillary Clinton could proceed unblemished to the nomination. Bernie wisely ignored the media dopesters.
As I wrote a few months ago, Donald Trump has taken the low road to political upheaval, while Senator Sanders has taken the high road to peaceful revolution. But both candidates are addressing many of the same fundamental wounds and inequities that working Americans have experienced for a generation. Trump is foul and unfair, a shrewd demagogue. Bernie is the honest visionary, urging young people to take themselves seriously as citizens and claim their role in a “political revolution.”
Trump and Sanders are forcing the political system to confront some malignant deformities in American life that both parties have tried to ignore, because, in their different ways, both are to blame. People feel betrayed, abandoned by representative democracy in favor of powerful interests.
Year after year, political leaders and presidents of both parties essentially lied to the people about fundamental matters—war and peace, lost prosperity, and the bruising generation of lost jobs and declining wages. The big media mostly looked the other way. Prestige news outlets witlessly reported the deceitful reassurances that leading economists provided with their statistical flimflam.
Famous corporations, from General Electric and General Motors to Microsoft and Apple, cleverly exploited workers on both ends of the global economy, from Mexico to China. Yet it was a nonstory in the media, despite the distress cries of American workers and the scandalous death-trap factories overseas, where workers (usually young women and girls) made shirts and shoes and semiconductor chips. Both parties in Congress signed off on trade agreements backed up by phony job predictions from so-called Washington think tanks like the Brookings Institution, the Peterson Institute, the Business Roundtable, and the American Enterprise Institute.