We are witnessing an extraordinary set of not unrelated developments in our political system as both of the major political parties are struggling to redefine themselves after an extended period of dysfunction that can be traced back to the 2000 election. The great heist perpetrated by an overtly political Supreme Court legitimized the dishonest ascension of an unprepared and dangerously unserious candidate to a position of decision-making that would ultimately require depth and vision that simply was not fulfilled.
It is impossible to know whether either the events themselves would have occurred or whether different reactions to them had they occurred would have averted the large scale dysfunctionality we have experienced since then. Surely even a serious and adequately prepared chief executive would have been taxed to handle them but there can be little doubt that the past decade and a half has split this nation more than at any time since the 1960s.
In light of the contemporary presidential election cycle, it is ironic that both parties are at this early date seeing an unexpectedly strong showing by candidates that are tapping into vast reservoirs of discontent. The strength of the anger, frustration and distrust of leadership and institutions of power portend a continuation of a mini revolt that will last beyond what ordinarily might be seen as deadly if not juvenile blunders.
Donald Trump has committed the seemingly unforgivable sin of insulting veterans and more specifically prisoners of war. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, essentially dissed a Black community that is reeling from high profile cases of police brutality and institutional discrimination based upon race. In neither case have the candidates even attempted to walk back their actions. It remains to be seen whether or not their fledgling campaigns will be damaged by such actions but my guess is significantly large proportions of the electorate will give them a pass in deference to a hunger and thirst for what is seen as honesty as opposed to sinister and overt calculation.
On the Republican side of the equation, the Donald is tapping into a vein of discontent with an appeal to more traditional conservatives who are genuinely dissatisfied with the prominent position the Tea Party wing of the party has assumed in plotting out the direction of the GOP. On the Democratic side Bernie is effectively galvanizing growing discontent among the Progressive wing of the party that has seen their party falter on too many major issues such as single payer health care, the Trans Pacific Partnership, and failure to rein in continued reliance on fossil fuels.
In 2000 John McCain's Straight Talk Express created an excitement and buzz in the early primaries. I distinctly remember the uneasy feeling I had as I trudged through the snows of New Hampshire for Al Gore in January only to see that bus everywhere. He was truly on to something and I thought he would be the most formidable opponent. Bush derailed that effort and McCain's 2008 effort never got their mojo back. Obama promised hope and change but ran into a buzz saw as the Tea Party took root and filibustered or thwarted many initiatives.
So here we are after an extensive period of deadly calculation and a yearning for straight talk and two candidates more than willing to eschew pollsters, pundits and party operatives in order to tell it the way they see it. The chances of either becoming President defy conventional wisdom but if it energizes a lively discussion of important issues among large swaths of the electorate and if it manages to give people a sense of two distinctly different strategies for solving them it will have proved to be a positive development as we move forward.
It is still early and a lot can and will happen between now and November 2016. Joe Biden is potentially a wild card entrant and the Republican field is still growing. The country is hungry for decisive action on many issues with war and peace leading the list. If the current trajectory is a prescription for rendering a truly compelling mandate for the next President then we should welcome the apparent chaos that is now upon us.