It has gotten this bad. A contested convention or a third party run? Whatever it may be, it is hard to shake the feeling that the fluidity of democracy is too much for the politicians to handle. Grassroots voters have proven too easy to manipulate (a la Trump) and now the established political class is pondering a reset (and revaluing) of the people’s democratic voice. At the same time, too many Americans feel under-represented in a political system that may be too constricting. Has our democracy come down to bully or be bullied?
In a recent article from the nationalinterest.org, Robert W. Merry writes, “The country stands at the threshold of what appears to be a political realignment of greater proportions than the nation has seen since the advent of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal some eighty years ago…Donald Trump has honed his message precisely to address the beleaguered citizens of Middle America.”
The GOP has not had a stable political platform since the end of the Bush era and the old establishment guard is out of touch with everyday Americans. By the end of this election cycle we may see the emergence (or at the very least the roots) of a new GOP.
Tea Party leaning Republicans feel their leaders (i.e Marco Rubio) have failed them. They believe Republicans in Congress have not gone far enough in rebuking and attempting to repeal legislation, not only brought forth by Democrats, but any idea embraced by President Obama. They have come to distrust Establishment Republicans and view them as working for moneyed interests such as Wall Street banks and mega donors like the Koch Brothers. Conservative Tea Party Republicans have come to view the GOP Establishment as D.C elites who have not done enough to dismantle the overreaching power of the federal government.
Then there is a conglomeration of Middle America that includes the “left behind” population who was gravely affected by the workings of globalization and is unaware of how to protect themselves against a rapidly changing job market. These are the people who played by all the rules (either by getting a degree or working in local industries that were viewed as secure). The Global Financial Crisis was a significant wake up call and demonstrated that economic well-being was not guaranteed. The massive job loss that transpired in this era shed light on the fact that many Americans do not understand the financial system that rules over their lives and that the wealthy elites had security in the form of bailouts. These are the Americans who believe the system is rigged against them. They may have been formally inactive in politics (maybe even a bit apathetic) but due to severe economic losses (lack of healthcare, food, housing, and jobs) they are looking for leaders who would shake things up. And then came along Donald Trump.
Donald Trump is tapping into an anger brought about by a corporatized economy that has taken away the kind of jobs Middle America has relied upon since the World War II era. This has helped to impart the culture wars atmosphere that we find ourselves in today. As average Americans loss their jobs, they also feel as though they are losing a sense of their identity. Trump knows that economic insecurity can lead to racial tensions, thus his pernicious tiptoeing with racial radicals (i.e white nationalist groups). He has secured the vote of disaffected people (the “silent majority” as used in his voter’s slogans) and is manipulating them to believe immigrants have uprooted them from their livelihood. Trump is cleverly attempting to scapegoat the problems of Middle America onto the immigrant labor force that keeps this country running.
In reality, Trump himself employs the very immigrant population which he uses as a political punching bag. A report from the Washington Times claims that one of Trump’s companies, the Mar-a-Lago resort, applied to bring in 70 foreign workers. Additionally, Trump has admitted that his clothing line is manufactured in both China and Mexico. When Fox News host Chris Wallace confronted Trump on this issue, he bombastically manipulated the exposure of his hypocritical rhetoric. He implied that he does not want to use China but that he has no choice. Trump knows how to use the globalized market to secure his own wealth but is teaching average Americans to loath the success of foreign companies, the very companies that provide cheap goods to this same group of people.
One of the most troubling aspects of this situation is that he has never given any plan or policy proposal on how he will bring jobs back to America. The reality is that the jobs that dissipated in the recession are never coming back again. The irony is that Americans are in the lucky position to compete for 21st Century jobs that will come to this country first. The major problem is that most Americans who found themselves kicked out of the job market are not skilled for the jobs of the future. These are jobs that will require a high level of education and global experience, such as the emerging industries of robotics and alternative energy. It is not hard to see that we have quite a big schism between the haves and have-nots. This is going to be a difficult problem to solve and if this not dealt with adequately it will lead to social unrest. We already see the roots of this forming.
I cannot say for sure if the majority of people who believe that Donald Trump is going to bring back their old jobs understand this incongruence. I highly doubt that they do due to his clever use of identity politics.
But the shrewdest tactic he is employing is his attempted coup on the Conservative faction of the Republican Party. Trump has skillfully branded himself to appeal to conservative Evangelicals by propositioning himself as religiously driven and pro-life. He guises himself as constitutionally literate by espousing common language used by Republicans to fortify his hold on the mantle of American values, this includes standard ideological positions on gun rights and freedom of religion. But Donald Trump has no experience in commandeering the complexity of doctrinal debates regarding the American Constitution. Sadly, we have reached a point in our history where we must deeply reflect on who (and what) we want to be as a powerful country in a new century, but instead are being used as bargaining chips for the votes of very wealthy people.
The Establishment faction (as represented by Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney) is unable to re-brand its politics to suit the frustration of Americans. Part of the problem is that more foreign-owned companies are operating on American soil than ever before but are not hiring workers at previous numbers. Americans who are losing their jobs to the unforeseen forces of a globalized market look at Establishment elites as having a leg up on the competition. They are able to see that when it comes to the growing wealth gap, they are the ones on the lower end of the scale. This enables tension towards wealthy elites whom they feel do not represent their interests. If more and more Americans are facing food and job insecurity, they will vote for the candidate who promises to feed them. They will not have the luxury of weighing the differences between Republican and Democratic ideological platforms.
Mitt Romney’s recent reappearance on the political stage is no accident. It was a risky move, one in which may actually agitate the majority of Trump supporters. The most important takeaway from Romney’s speech was the heavy allusion to a contested convention. To put it simply, a contested convention is when no candidate has gained enough delegate votes in order to win the nomination to advance as a party’s pick to run for president. The delegate system is quite complex and varies from state to state, but mainly delegates are committee and state leaders who attend conventions to select the presidential nominee for their party. The delegates then show support (as based on various usage of percentage points) for a candidate based on the results of a state’s primary or caucus. What the Republican Establishment is proposing is quite unprecedented in modern politics. The last time we came close to something akin to a contested convention was in 1952 with Dwight D. Eisenhower.
For the first time in modern politics the Republican Establishment is not rallying around its front-runner. The emergence of Romney back into the political arena is being used to usher in the acceptance of a brokered convention, but its usage may be more political than conventional. The formula currently being forwarded is that the longer the remaining candidates stay in the race, the more likely votes will be siphoned off to candidates whom will form an unofficial bloc (Rubio, Cruz, and Kasich) thus disallowing Trump from gaining the percentage of delegate votes needed to win the presidential nominee.
Time will move very quickly and soon we will know if this is political quackery or genius. What can be clearly understood is that the GOP will have to figure out how to deal with a severe fracturing within the party. There exist today the roots of a new faction/political party in America. How and what it will develop into is history in the making.
In a way, Donald Trump masterfully understands how to manipulate the natural changes that take place within political platforms. As societies develop, new political cultures develop with it, which means that the existing two political parties must learn how to build new coalitions that adapt to changing dispositions within the voter base. These paradigm shifts occur like clockwork and are typically difficult to perceive. They are based on changing demographics, realities of modern life, and the emotional aptitude of the people. Trump may promise to build a physical wall for our protection, but who will protect us against the racial, political, and economic walls he is building between the people of America?