Recently, after speaking with a left-leaning friend of mine at great lengths, we came to a conclusion on something that we both agree with: Our leaders in Washington have a unique lesson to learn from this election cycle as it’s unraveling.
With primary season well under way, millions of Americans are showing up across the country to vote for non-establishment candidates. My friend and I concurred that, while we understand how the enthusiasm for anti-establishment candidates came about, we hope our respective parties can learn a lesson from the voters without electing one.
On the left, Bernie Sanders is receiving droves of support from progressive and millennial voters. On the right, businessman Donald Trump is leading in delegates and is backed by an older population looking for a new type of leader in Washington.
While Hillary Clinton, the left’s establishment candidate, currently holds the edge for the Democratic nomination, there’s no discounting what Sanders has been able to accomplish in some states, including Maine. Trump couldn’t win Maine, but he’s blown out Ted Cruz and company in plenty of states already. The Republican establishment has had little success swaying voters toward Marco Rubio or John Kasich and away from the anti-establishment frontrunners.
Early in this cycle, we’ve learned already how sick the American people are with the establishment wings of our two major political parties. Voters who have never voted before are showing up to the polls this cycle because the ideas of Trump and Sanders are vastly different than the views held by their establishment counterparts.
Their ideas aren’t better, more practical or plausible, and it’s unlikely many of their policies would ever get congressional approval. But, their ideas are different and more radical, which is what’s motivating the American people.
The Washington Machine has, for too long, taken the power away from the American people. Decisions like Citizens United have given corporations and the wealthy more power in our political system than the average citizen. The hierarchical structure of our political parties puts pressure on our elected officials to vote along party lines and against the beliefs of their constituents. For some while now, Americans have felt like their opinions do not matter and that they cannot compete effectively against the Washington Machine.
That was until Trump and Sanders came along.
Trump has motivated older generations of Americans who have longed for a candidate who isn’t a career politician. In their eyes, his name is unambiguously tied to success and his funding of his own campaign shows them that he hasn’t been bought out by big industry. Sanders has inspired the millennial population with the belief that their voice matters in our political system, and has set records in individual contributions as a result.
Their success is fueled entirely by the anti-establishment sentiment of the American people. Voters are coming to the polls this cycle like never before, putting strain on the resources of state parties throughout the country. Their radical ideologies and policy solutions are directly creating the influx in voter participation, simply because it’s not what the establishment has suggested.
Americans are sick of receiving the short end of the stick. They’re fed up with the status-quo of Washington politics and want to stop polarization from stopping progress, and only two candidates are able to contend that a vote for them is a vote for something new. Their undeniable skepticism for partisan media outlets nullifies any probability that they’ll consider changing their vote, as even media has become a source of direct contact with establishment politics. For them, Trump and Sanders are the demagogues they’ve been waiting for.
What Washington will soon learn is that Washington itself must change, or voting patterns will begin to shift. In some regards, these patterns have already begun to deviate. Votes will no longer be cast only by those who are politically engaged, but instead by a broader demographic seeking drastic change within the party they endorse.
But our leaders in Washington can learn this lesson without having to be governed four or more years by a radical candidate with impractical solutions to our nation’s toughest problems. Radical candidates like Trump or Sanders unify portions of the electorate, and one of them may even take the presidency, but their legislative agendas will still be challenged by establishment politicians in Congress. Party establishments should accept and acknowledge voters’ motives during this cycle, and come to terms with the fact that votes are being cast specifically against the establishment.
If the party establishments do not begin to transfer political power back to the American people themselves, future elections will be filled with even more contentious candidates than the ones offered to us this cycle. Americans will grow more frustrated without change, until they become so empowered that they have enough votes to dismantle the establishment.
And then my left-leaning friend and I will agree, once again, that the party establishments should have changed while they still had the chance.