It is stunning to watch the political crisis unfold in the Republican Party. The two Republican frontrunners, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, are leading the pack by an enormous margin, yet they are both despised by their very own Republican Party. This is utterly astonishing.
Indeed, there is good reason for the Republican Party to despise its own leading candidates. Both of these candidates are destroyers. Their campaigns are based upon hatred, fear and exclusion. They are slashing and burning and leaving a path of destruction in their wake.
As these candidates are demonstrating right before our very eyes, it turns out that stoking the fears of the populace can indeed result in a flood of popular support.
At first blush, this outpouring of support is quite shocking. It shakes the very foundation of our own beliefs as to who we are as Americans. Are we Americans really this prejudiced? Are we really this hateful? Are we really this paranoid?
But upon further reflection, there seems to be a rational explanation for this popular reaction. Our society is currently undergoing tremendous change. We are experiencing a demographic change that is on-track to convert the white population from the majority into the minority for the first time in American history. And we are seeing immigrant communities spring-up in America from all sorts of exotic countries around the world, such as from Africa, the Middle East and India, with their own dress, culture and religion.
We are also experiencing tremendous social change in our society. We elected our first black president. Women and minorities hold many positions of authority throughout our public and private sectors. And gay people have been let out of the closet with the Supreme Court recognizing the right of gay marriage, and the military permitting gay soldiers.
Our society is also undergoing tremendous economic change. Globalization has ushered in an era of horrendous economic inequality. With greater and greater ease, corporations are eliminating high-paying American jobs and shipping them overseas to low-cost foreign countries, and then redistributing the savings into the pockets of their senior executives and wealthy shareholders. This is utterly devastating to the middle and lower classes.
So our society is currently facing tremendous demographic, social, and economic change. The prospect of such significant change naturally creates feelings of uncertainty and anxiety.
And then along come politicians like Messrs. Trump and Cruz who seek to exploit this uncertainty by appealing to people's baser instincts of fear and insecurity. They sound the alarm sirens that our society is a disaster and is on the verge of doom. Code red! They cry out that we are under all sorts of impending threats to our very own safety and security.
They rage against the enemies who are supposedly inflicting all of this misery upon us. President Obama, Hillary Clinton, ISIS, the IRS, the Environmental Protection Agency. Of course, if you stop and think about it for even just a moment, none of these parties are inflicting horrible misery upon us.
Maybe this is the reason that these politicians also rail against very vague enemies - foreigners, big government, Muslims, regulation, politicians in Washington, D.C. In fact, the big bad enemy is often referred to simply as "them" or "they" without identifying anyone in particular. Of course, this is simply because there actually is no real enemy. But this doesn't matter. In fact, in some respects it is even more terrifying that this impending attack will come from a mysterious enemy that is entirely unknown! Egads!
But not to fear, say Messrs. Trump and Cruz, because all that is needed is a strong candidate. All we need to do is elect one of them, and they will protect us and keep us safe.
How? Well, they don't bother with those sorts of details. They don't provide very many specific policies or proposals. Instead, they incite a lot of fear in people, and then they attempt to project strength through image and tough talk. Mr. Trump tells us that he'll make America great again, but he doesn't tell us how. He just pounds his chest and insists that he is the toughest.
As the poll numbers reflect, however, all of this fear-mongering actually works. At a time of underlying change, people who are already feeling uncertain and anxious withdraw into defensive postures and identify with politicians who emphasize fear and falsely project strength without offering any real solutions. It is quite an astonishing phenomenon.
But Messrs. Trump and Cruz present an enormous problem for the Republican Party. Their brand of politics appeals to only a limited segment of Republicans, but in a larger sense, these candidates alienate people, exclude people, and offend people. Repelling voters is not exactly the optimal strategy to increase support for a national political party or win a national general election.
But there is an even bigger problem. It would be an utter catastrophe for the Republican Party if either Mr. Trump or Mr. Cruz were nominated as the Party's national presidential candidate. The Republican Party would almost certainly lose the national election because not only would Democrats come out in force to oppose such an extreme Republican candidate, but also, many Republicans would not support such an extreme candidate either.
It could result in a resounding defeat for the Republican Party, cause many Republicans to stray from the Party, and set the Party back for many years to come.
The Republicans, however, brought this crisis upon themselves. The Party shifted too far to the right and became too extreme. It began to serve the interests of only a small extreme minority instead of serving the interests of all the American people. It fostered extremism in the base of its Party, it polarized the political process, and it caused gridlock throughout the nation.
The lesson is clear. We are better off when we work together, compromise with each other, and accommodate opposing views of other people.
Now that is democracy. And that is who we are as Americans.