In journalism, as in life, it’s a perennial challenge to identify and extract the trends swirling around us, then craft them into a coherent appreciation of reality; to make sense of the intimidating array of independent, seemingly disconnected, experiences that the world haphazardly heaps over our heads and around our sides like logs into a bonfire.
The voter research we conduct at the NYU Arthur Carter Institute on a place called Bush-Obama America -- the 128 counties (within 34 states encompassing every major region) that voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 then for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 -- unearths millions of citizens in politically mercurial pockets of the country. And the results can be mystifying.
Collectively, these counties paint a ‘purple’ portrait that defies the increasingly crumbling notion, which dictates, with few exceptions, that America can, ultimately, be tidily divided into hues of red and blue.
In the midst of these ‘Bush-Obama’ interviews -- despite our best efforts to avoid a predetermined scope -- we often find ourselves leaning towards confirmation bias, half-expecting that the voter we’re speaking to will be tethered to the platform of who they voted for in the last election. And often we’re wrong. Things -- meaning people’s civic opinions and worldviews -- are much more messy.
What truism of standard punditry applies to Sheela Odom from Pitt County, North Carolina: a single woman of 57 years and a self-identified conservative Republican who voted for President Obama in 2008 (though now she believes “Obama really does not want America to be the number one superpower anymore and...he’s truly a Muslim”), then voted for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and now supports democratic socialist Bernie Sanders?
“He’s a down-to-Earth person,” Odom said. “I think he speaks his mind, I think he’s honest, and he’ll tell you right away, ‘I’m a socialist, I want to do this.’ He’s gonna actually raise taxes. There’s no doubt about that. And it will hurt some people, but in the long run -- like I say -- I think he’s got America at heart. You know, our best interests in his heart. I don’t believe that the other two [Trump and Clinton] do.”
Odom worked in customer service for years until she was laid off in 2009 after a company takeover. She's now moved in with her elderly mother and her mother’s husband and supports herself with part-time work in addition to being an Uber driver. “Well, I had always been in a good place from the time I graduated high school, which was ‘77: it was easy to get a job back then,” she recalled.
“Back in Raleigh, on a whim on a weekend, had three opportunities for a job within a week. And things are just different now, it’s just different. Um… I don’t know exactly how or why the climate’s changed, but um… It’s just difficult now for me.”
Odom also expressed a growing distrust in media: "They say the economy is doing better and you look around and say, ‘hey, it looks good,’ and then on the other side you hear that it’s not doing that good and the jobs market is down and then on one hand they say it’s up. Sometimes it’s hard to believe because one media outlet will say one thing and the other conservative groups will say something different. Sometimes it’s hard to know what truly to believe. I can only go on what my life’s been like."
Although Sheela’s story is anecdotal hers and other Bush-Obama counties show her wavering, even apparently counterintuitive, politics are not an anomaly. Many voters aren’t electing their most preferred candidate and oftentimes they’re voting against rather than for a party.
This dissonance, of course, did not spontaneously generate; rather it may have been hidden from greater view by a combination of detached party agendas, depressed civic participation, and an Obama coalition strong enough to reach the critical mass needed to prevent party realignment.
But now that the country is in the heat of a non-incumbent presidential election season, that underlying messiness is sprouting into visibility -- manifested, in part, by the Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders candidacies.
Cultural analysis, at its essence, is the business of honing narratives, so that nations aren’t left with the hollowing, wrenching fear that the current direction of their society is not promptly comprehensible. Traditionally, when in doubt, reliance upon data, historical patterns, and polling can help clarify analyses. But, at times — times like these — conventional logic becomes inadequate, and all data tools seem to do is present more paradoxes.
The twilight of the Obama presidency has been accompanied by growing discontent among the electorate. Hillary Clinton, who has run on continuing Obama's legacy, has made history as the first woman to clinch the Democratic Party nomination. And yet, while the two-term president currently enjoys a 54% approval rating, 53% also say they want a change candidate this year and Clinton has net negative favorability ratings. Only 26% of the country thinks it's headed in the right direction.
A Gallup study released this month found that Americans have a lack of confidence in major institutions. News dropped to a record low. And at 9%, Congress is now less popular than the British Crown at the time of the American revolution.
Meanwhile, millennials -- now the country's largest demographic, yet still its least participatory -- have no solid loyalty to either longstanding major party. Half of them identify as political independents, according to a 2014 Pew study; though this is in tension with a poll conducted this spring by the Harvard Institute of Politics, known for its analysis of youth voting patterns, which found a lesser figure, 36%, identify as independents. (Disclosure: I am an ambassador for the school's civic engagement outreach program.)
The 2016 presidential election, starring the two most unpopular nominees in modern history, looks as if it may be decided by the vexing question of who voters loathe the least.
By the end of her long primary fight, Hillary Clinton had soundly defeated Bernie Sanders. But for months, polls found that the democratic socialist -- previously thought to be a champion of mostly white uber-liberals and young people -- outperformed Clinton in general election match-ups with the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump, whose demagoguery (and penchant for conspiracy theory, including implicating Obama in the Orlando shooting) has become so blatant that it's jolted incessantly neutral media outlets into a 'Murrow Moment.'
There are still murmurs of GOP delegates attempting to unseat Trump at the party convention. Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, who himself came to power last year through convoluted palace intrigue, called Trump's recent statement about a judge of Mexican heritage “the textbook definition of a racist comment,” before saying he'd still vote for him, but that others should follow their "conscience." A recent NBC poll found 47% of voters may consider a third-party candidate.
These overlapping and conflicting realities are only the tip of the iceberg that American politics has hit -- leaving many of those in the old thrones of power at the nexus of politics and media suspended somewhere between bemused chagrin and existential reexamination.Motivated by two very different worldviews, but drawing energy from the same politics of status quo disruption, a grassroots-funded Bernie Sanders and a (kind of, initially, but not any longer) self-funded Donald Trump have scorned SuperPACs, inside voices, and outside opinion, as they’ve opportunistically staged coups against the orthodoxy and machinery of their respective party establishments, riding a wave of anger directed towards politics-as-usual.
The establishment elements of the GOP — its party leaders, donors and their candidates — were unable to fend off Trump’s loose cannondom during their primary. Be it his populist economic riffs that broke with party platform or his nationalistic racial vitriol, which as Trump staked claim to a new Silent Majority, morphed the more subtle dog whistle politics of the Southern Strategy into a blow horn of what Slate’s Jamelle Bouie calls a ‘racist backlash.’
Some, like Mitt Romney and the Bush family, remain #NeverTrump. Others, many of them previously harsh Trump critics, are hand-wringing, backpedalling, hemming and hawing as they try to contort themselves into party unity while maintaining some semblance of personal and ethical dignity. (Those who walked with Trump may be judged harshly by history.)
Hillary Clinton, haunted by her insider status in an outsider season, had to claw to the finish line in an unexpectedly challenging race against Bernie Sanders. Throughout spring, Clinton had been buffeted by high untrustworthy numbers, polls that put her within the margin of error versus Trump (though now polls have tilted in her favor), questions about her cozy ties to Wall Street, the release of a damning internal State Department report that concluded she broke rules with her use of a private email server, and a looming FBI investigation into a similar sphere of her actions.
In a piece entitled ‘High Trump Anxiety,’ a frustrated Wall Street Journal vented:
The polls show the economy is Mr. Trump’s chief advantage over HIllary Clinton, but he was too busy claiming Hispanics can’t be fair judges to showcase [last week]’s dispiriting jobs report... If Mr. Trump doesn’t start to act like a political leader, and his poll numbers collapse between now and the July convention, he may start to hear rumblings that delegates are looking for someone else to nominate. As traumatic as that would be, the Republican desire to avoid a landslide defeat that costs the House and Senate might be stronger.
Indeed, Trump’s hostile unwillingness to ‘pivot,’ as many hoped, from the chauvinism exhibited in the primary may save Clinton from her vulnerabilities— specifically, from her own unpopularity, and more generally, from the historically tough task of running to succeed an incumbent president of one’s own party.
But a big Trump loss may also do something else — obscure the cavernous depth of disatisfaction Americans have with their federal government, both its parties, and what’s viewed suspiciously by Trump and Sanders supporters alike as a quiet pact of agreement between Washington’s center-left and center-right elites on things such as trade, war, banking, and campaign finance, which the Clintonian New Democrat approach to politics, fairly or unfairly, has come to represent.
Quickly fading from view, due to Trump’s shenanigans, is the sentiment expressed in a New York Times report only a news cycle ago, which explained “early optimism that this would be an easy race is evaporating. In the corridors of Congress, on airplane shuttles between New York and Washington, at donor gatherings and on conference calls, anxiety is spreading through the Democratic Party that Mrs. Clinton is struggling to find her footing.”
That anxiety — now tempered by a hope that Trump might finally have gone too far — may have been spreading precisely because those people in the ‘corridors of Congress, on airplane shuttles between New York and Washington, and at donor gatherings’ may have been realizing just how small of a bubble they exist in as the rest of the world spins. Economic historian Neil Howe notes the “profoundly deflationary trends” occurring within a large majority of the population since, at least, before the turn of the millennium.
For a quarter-century or more, while a professional class of politicos, attorneys, and bankers — as if spurred on by Wolf of Wall Street and West Wing type fantasies — competed to become ‘masters of the universe,’ as Columbia Heights and Brooklyn became flush with chic, aspirant new money, America, as a whole, was stagnating, starving, and hollowing out.
"The Bourgeois Strata"
David Brooks, a centrist columnist for the Times and a staple of the Sunday show circuit, wrote in a wide-ranging mea culpa piece, "I was surprised by Trump's success because I've slipped into a bad pattern, spending large chunks of my life in the bourgeois strata - in professional circles with people with similar status and demographics to my own."
To be sure, only a minority predicted the durability and eventual scale of Trump's popularity. Still, the newly admitted blindspots of Brooks' political analysis are mirrored by the respective party establishments, who appear at times both irked and utterly surprised that voters haven't fallen in line to support candidates palatable to their donor bases, as in years past.
Former Reagan speechwriter and longtime media insider, Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal, offered a self-titled "prophecy" that illustrates the inward-thinking of what one could call the Correspondents Dinner class:
Just as a portion of Republicans - nobody knows how big - will break from the GOP over Donald Trump, some percentage of Democrats, especially among the affluent will, in the next cycle, start to peel off from their party over its lurch leftward. They will not be at home in a party of smiley-face socialism... they do not want their 10-year-old daughters using transgendered bathrooms with men... They will have increasing qualms about spending $60,000 a year to have their bright, kind children turned into leftist robots... together, in 2020 or so, they will attempt to create their own party. It will be pro-growth, moderate on social issues, more or less neoconservative in its foreign policy. It will be smallish but well-heeled.
Putting the probability of her prophecy coming true aside, Noonan’s perspective, but for the admission of her proposed party’s ‘smallish’-ness, suggests she may not fully appreciate just how few people would be its definitive members.
Most people do not make $60,000 a year, much less spend $60,000 a year on elite schools. In fact, ‘most’ may be an insufficient modifier. They are a percentage within the one percent — which if defined nationally, not region-by-region, amounts to only 3 million or so citizens.
However, perhaps Noonan does understand, as Brooks now does, that this strata is exclusionary, but expects it would have such great institutional backing that tens of millions of Americans would be onboard, viewing the interests of elites, who have explicitly separated themselves, as being aligned with their own.
Particularly in this populistic environment, her conclusion, or thinly veiled hope, appears deeply out of touch. Yet, both Noonan and Brooks have long been among the most well-respected figures in elite media circles, given countless last words at self-congratulatory political roundtables and panels.
To be proportional, they are only two among a slew of authors, editors, strategists, think tank presidents, and others on the 'left and right' in the New York-Washington influence economy who have contributed to a tightly tapered — and often shallow — media discourse, far detached from the variable sensibilities of the electorate whose concerns “are not restricted to the narrow Washington policy agenda.”
Media, etymologically defined, is an intervening agency — an instrument through which the world is re-presented. So when those representing our world, are not representative of it as a whole, much can be lost in translation.
Failing Frameworks in Politics and Punditry
It’s often said that there are two Americas. For all the optimistic talk of bipartisanship led by Barack Obama (“We have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states. We are, and always will be, the United States of America.”) political polarization has only continued during the Obama era.
Still, the strict partisanship which implies that there are two Americas belies the fact that there may be four, five, even eleven Americas -- unique, uncountable, loosely defined voting blocs and communities with overlapping and apparently contradictory cultural and ideological allegiances.
Each of these Americas is now more recognizable because of the democratization of media; the phenomenon that has also made media kind of a mess. Yet, this widened court of public opinion (partially) made up of hyperlinks, retweets, and 140-character-at-a-time arguments can claim a degree of righteousness, notwithstanding its near-inherent bias towards sensationalism.
Surely, policy wonks cringe knowing that any given discussion over the newly uncovered shortcomings of an intricate policy can be hijacked by the loudest or most controversial voice by the end of a news cycle. (Look no further than the graphs at Slate's Twitter Power Rankings.)
That trending tendency, embodied by ‘Trumpism,’ can make one yearn for the olden days when debate was defined — or boxed in (depending upon your perspective) — by the competing op-eds of academic elites and prestigious magazine editors.
In the same aforementioned Wall Street Journal column, Noonan wrote of Trump’s search for a VP, “Mr. Trump needs ballast. He would benefit from a solid, uninteresting running mate. Uninteresting would come as such a relief this year. It would be like the old days, when people were boring.”
Media theorist Clay Shirky notes "the moment our historical generation is living through is the largest increase in expressive capability in human history," yet hedges this acknowledged empowerment with the admonition of what he deems a "curious" asymmetry:
"The media that is good at creating conversations is no good at creating groups. And the media that's good at creating groups is no good at creating conversations... media is increasingly less just a source of information, and it is increasingly more a site of coordination, because groups that see or hear or watch or listen to something can now gather around and talk to each other as well..."
As comfortably predictable and relatively civil as the old days may have been, because of blogs, social media, the proliferation of "contributor" models (like The Huffington Post), and other grassroots-propelled platforms, more and more we have a media landscape that is as diverse and divided, as complex and paradoxical, and as simultaneously cynical and aspirational as we all are. It’s made for a more transparent, if worryingly schizophrenic, national conversation.
Black activists and white Democrats have never exactly been in lockstep (see: the tense politics of unionization and housing in blue states); but it was the revelatory power of social media that reminded America — citizens and professional analysts alike — of those differences when online reactions to Black Lives Matter protestors disrupting Bernie Sanders at a rally in Seattle last fall deeply varied.
If the opinions expressed in that aftermath were limited to those of columnists and mass-based identity group spokespeople (think the NAACP in the 20th century), our appreciation of what happened and why it happened may have been skewed. Instead, everyone weighed in.
The underrepresented, or those who felt misrepresented, could represent themselves. Atlantic staff writer Conor Friedersdorf's widely shared interview with one of his young black woman readers who e-mailed him in the wake of the Seattle Sanders/BLM dilemma represents a hybrid approach that may be a way forward.
However, in the aggregate, for so long, top-down media framed issues in a manner ill-suited for the incongruities and ambiguities that exist in the real world it attempted to represent. Academics speak of inductive and deductive reasoning. Reductive reasoning should be added to that list.
In light of the Zimmerman trial, Black Lives Matter and now Trump, it is easy to assail the idiocy of terms like post-racial America, which enjoyed a short-lived flurry in the parlance of the political thinkpiece after President Obama’s election.
But the clarity of hindsight hides that the idea of post-racialism seemed plausible to so many at the time because it was informed by a reductionist conception of racism, in which discrimination only exists in the most vocalized or explicit forms: a racist as someone who actively says ‘I don’t like (insert ethnic group),’ or who belongs to a hate organization, or who somehow answers in the affirmative when asked ‘Are you racist?’
None of this is to espouse that the job of making sense of American politics and culture is easy. The voter research conducted here at NYU and other institutions proves it can all be dizzyingly complicated: there are Donald Trump supporters out there who can’t stand the Black Lives Matter movement, but don’t mind gay marriage all that much, yet are pro-life and pro-gun while, at once, also being in favor of greater taxes on the rich and preserving social safety net benefits.
But more recent polling, conducted in view of all that has happened concerning race in the Obama era, probes questions of race with inquiries that are appropriately just as nuanced as the racial tension in America. The ensuing findings — such as the revelation by PRRI that 43 percent of Americans say discrimination against whites has become as large a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minority groups — is providing new sets of qualitative data with which to better interpret how Americans relate across lines of social difference.
The end of overt de jure segregation, and the advent of multiculturalism -- even if often in a shallow tokenized form -- may have given many the false impression that America, as a matter of inertia, would naturally become unified; the passage of time necessitating a melting pot as generations churned.
Now that media is social -- revealing how during polarizing controversies such as Orlando we retreat to our own societal spheres and their attendant corners of the internet -- the jig of that mirage is up, complicating a decades-old story we've told ourselves as a nation.
While the legal regime of a state is something one is forced to abide by in their actions; the idea of a nation, a group of people with agreed upon common ground driven by common cause and belief, is something one has to buy into with heart and mind.
As America trends towards a ‘majority-minority’ nation, and as reverse white flight re-populates gentrifying urban centers, things will only get more complicated. If we are to understand ourselves and our neighbors, if Barack Obama's cross-cultural aspiration of a singular United States has a possibility of fulfillment, it’s a complexity we’ll have to accept and eventually embrace.
While the conflicting data we've been dealt in the Obama era provides little clarity relative to our conditioned expectations; that shortfall, in and of itself, seems to prove that none of the truisms of talking heads -- which neatly and causally ascribe certain discontents to certain identity groups -- can adequately encapsulate the wide breadth of idiosyncrasies within a progressively frustrated, yet less partisan-loyal electorate.
In a purportedly centre-right country, there was a complete implosion of traditional centre-right partisans in the GOP primary. And Hillary Clinton’s continuing enthusiasm gap -- which mathematically doesn’t add up if one assigns that unpopularity solely to ‘angry’ white men -- suggests blue-collar whites are not the only demographic group turned off by the establishment.
The same Gallup study released this month also found confidence in the criminal justice system and public schools -- institutions whose shortcomings disproportionately affect communities of color, the poor, and the young -- taking plunges.
And though they are often caricatured, Trump and Sanders sympathizers, who are supporting very different but equally unorthodox platforms, aren’t baseless in their suspicion of past bipartisan policy agreements. There is a litany of domestic, foreign, and even monetary policy issues that enjoy a quiet consensus among both party leaderships, and hence, don’t become news in a news industry whose bread and butter is partisan conflict.
Former Merrill Lynch Chief Economist, David Rosenberg, addressed that underlying feeling of overstored Capitol Hill consensus in a recent interview.
It is true that while there typically has been one or two major compromise agreements in almost every presidential term of the last 35 years, dealmaking across the aisle in Washington has not necessarily been at the median of public opinion, and hasn't been able to reverse the decline of the middle-class.
Although Occupy Wall Street's leftist politics had a limited appeal, the movement made famous, or maybe infamous, studies such as those at Pew, which found that "starting in the mid to late 1970s, the uppermost tier’s income share began rising dramatically, while that of the bottom 90% started to fall." Eerily, an increasingly popularized Princeton and Northwestern joint study notes how since 1980 there has been no statistically significant independent correlation between public opinion and enacted law.
Amid the large graveyard of popular but extinguished or stalled policy ideas, there is Congress’ failed gun reform legislation, the unpopular schedule 1 classification of marijuana, and the 9/11 responders bill, which wouldn’t have been revived and passed without the shame invoked by a Jon Stewart monologue.
Awash in a half-decade of red versus blue bickering, it’s typically forgotten that during the ill-fated 2011 ‘Grand Bargain’ negotiations Barack Obama and former House Speaker John Boehner came close to shaking hands on a debt-reduction agreement that, according to a FiveThirtyEight analysis using Gallup polling data, was in line with the preferences of the median conservative voter, including a near 3-to-1 spending cuts to tax revenue ratio as well as reductions to social safety net benefits:
Much to the chagrin of many Democrats, the mix of spending cuts and tax increases that Mr. Obama is offering is quite close to, or perhaps even a little to the right of, what the average Republican voter wants, let alone the average American.
Yet, that same year 70% of self-identified Tea Partiers were opposed to cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. This, after staunch self-proclaimed Tea Party conservatives were elected in 2010 (albeit by a less diverse electorate due to depressed participation) on a platform fundamentally based on cutting discretionary and long-term mandatory spending, which of course includes social programs.
What’s more, these were the very conservatives that killed the Grand Bargain because it violated a ‘no new taxes’ pledge that many signed in order to prove their bona fides and stave off rightward attacks. So voters aren’t off the hook either for sending mixed, or maybe misinformed, messages. Joseph de Maistre’s often incomplete adage, “In a democracy people get the leaders they deserve,” may have some merit here.
Then again, it’s not as if Republican and Democratic talking points based on a soundbite media culture and a wider outrage industry make it easier for a casual observer with a family of four working two jobs to discern who’s in her corner, especially with distrust of news media at an all-time high.
As a consequence of its very nature, the two-party system’s frequently over-determined partisan binary increasingly looks awkwardly superimposed over a cacophonously diverse nation, that can’t quite put its finger on why it can’t stand its major institutions, at least collectively, but can agree in full that the people are not being served by them.
The Fraught Marriage of Government and People
Government scholars point to a highly concentrated campaign finance system, which is, objectively speaking, narrowly dependent upon private wealth and business interests, and gerrymandered districts (which ironically institutionalize non-representative, er, representation) as probable systemic answers as to why legislative production isn’t coherent with public will.
To mathematically illustrate, those who gave more than $200 in political patronage (not a lot in the post-Citizens United world of politics) made up just .22% of the population in 2014. Studies show what common sense would estimate: that .22% has significantly different, often non-representative, policy priorities relative to the the public in its entirety.
Those accredited voices at the peaks of media empires are similarly exclusive in number and in nature. The growing frustration embedded in their commentary is characterized by a befuddlement with an electorate that is both unwieldy and unfamiliar in relation to the long-held suppositions they reached in their elite coastal enclaves.
It reveals a fundamental misunderstanding — again, perhaps further perpetuated by cable news and its quadruple split screen shouting matches — that the fundamental struggle in this country is one between left and right rather than, possibly, inside and out; between opposite ends of a one-dimensionalized ideological spectrum rather than a three-dimensional matrix of competing worldviews; between Republicans and Democrats rather than between a multitude of growing and shrinking demographic groups who generally disapprove of both parties, but pick between them because they are the only options presented by the current electoral system.
A government and its people will always be different things. To an extent, that is the imperfect nature of governance and representation. There are pros and cons to every voting system -- just take a look at the EU -- and so this rising politics of disaffection shouldn’t be overblown as a precursor to certain mayhem.
Hillary Clinton is the most second-most polarizing politician in the country (after Trump), yet she received more votes than any other Republican or Democrat in the primary race, making her victory doubly historic. Although Clinton had the intimidating advantage of starting out with almost complete support from party insider ‘superdelegates,’ she was a sharp debater, and earned her pledged delegate advantage by winning more primaries and achieving wide margins in large, diverse states.
As focus turns to the general election, Hillary Clinton’s slogans ‘Fighting For Us’ and ‘I’m With Her’ may run the risk of exuding a certain partisanship that turns off independents. They are phrases tinged with an identity politics that while validating of her base may even further estrange the white males she struggles with in polls whom may not feel they are included in her ‘us.’
Nevertheless, the electoral college map is the Democrats’ to lose, especially after Trump’s attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel and his vaguely conspiratorial accusations against President Obama concerning the Orlando massacre.
Clinton's vast voter-targeting network, alone, may trounce Trump's bare bones campaign. Through sophisticated and invasive computer-models, voter database organizations -- some partisan like those aligned with the DNC, others nonpartisan such as Aristotle -- have thousands of "data points" on every single voter in the United States.
Info is collected through Facebook, Twitter, other social media, as well as personal consumer information, which is sold as a "product" to interested companies. It all allows campaigns to microtarget fragmented populations. According to one analyst at Aristotle, the firm can promptly deliver a thirty-second ad to the laptop of one specific voter.
The Democrat-affiliated models are said to be even stronger than they were during Obama's re-election run. So while it would be foolish in this pattern-less election season to prognosticate with any confidence, the odds still remain in Clinton’s favor, which means after all the brouhaha over the threats of outsiderdom and revolution that the newly incredulous ‘establishment’ may hold. NBC News listed six reasons specifically.
Still, political analysts will have failed to see major revelations about American voters if it is quickly forgotten after a possible Donald Trump landslide loss that according to a Pew Research poll, 75 percent of his primary voters say that life has gotten worse for people like them over the last half-century.
Or if, blinded by the bias of conventional wisdom, it is forgotten (or erroneously cast off as a statistical brain-teaser) that Bernie Sanders — though not seen as comparatively electable — is better trusted by Democrats than Hillary Clinton and is substantially more popular with independents than both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. There are many grains of salt and asterisks number crunchers could assign to the Vermont senator’s favorability ratings, but those qualifications don’t debase its central reality.
His range of support — which evidenced by a second place finish in the primary has its limits — still tells a tale that is in deep tension with the plausible but staling notion that the nation’s default is center-right. The popularity of the democratic socialist’s positions, then, merit envelopment into the fabric of longview, birdseye thinking about United States politics.
At the midpoint of 2016, featuring a reality TV star presidential candidate prone to bombastic insult and co-starring his centre-left opponent as she faces sexism and an FBI investigation, there are no foolproof estimates as to where national politics will be by the end of the year.
Two things are probable: Republicans will have more fodder to continue their caricature of Democrats as hoodwinked government-lovers who empower pay-to-play limousine liberals that think they’re above the law. Democrats will have much more clay with which to sculpt Republicans into the grumpy Party of ‘No,’ unbothered by bigotry, run by billionaires, and spurred on by white nationalism.
One thing is certain: Washington will eventually be in even deeper trouble with Americans if those privileged few within the “bourgeois strata” — and the outlets that report on them — think they can go back to business as usual in 2017.
Because while inharmonious discontent can quickly calcify into apathy, there’s no guarantee that America’s wounds can continue to be papered over by the reductive binaried debates of traditional partisan politics. Those gashes may, instead, fester. And there is nothing more dangerous than a wounded animal.