If you’ve been keeping up with this season of presidential primaries and caucuses thus far, you’ve most likely noticed something distinctly different about the race: the large suc- cess of anti-establishment can- didates. The increasingly com- plete and diligent scrutiny of our politicians – on both sides of the isle – combined with a polarized Washington has helped create this situation. On both sides of the aisle, relatively fringe individuals challenge their more moderate counter- parts, forcing greater polariza- tion on either side.
This era of American distrust of our political system can be largely attributed to the nature of media exposure and cover- age. Rather than our politicians becoming “worse,” Americans are now simply more aware of what would have been swept under the rug before.
The Clinton-Lewinski scan- dal, which gave quite a bit of ammunition for conservatives and some liberals to lob at Pres- ident Clinton, is not as unique as some may think. Dwight Eisenhower had a long-term mistress during World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt was ro- mantically involved with his cousin and John F. Kennedy’s romantic exploits are fairly well known. During FDR’s election, few Americans were aware he was wheelchair-bound because the press provided very few wheelchair photos. This kind of concealment would be near impossible now given the thor- ough press vetting presidential candidates are given.
The modern American’s dis- illusionment with the political
system can be easily tracked to events like the Lewinsky Scan- dal, Florida vote recount and graphic coverage of the Iraq War. Anti-establishment candi- dates are riding this high tide of cynicism and mistrust to secure delegates on their way to the White House.
The Gallup polling com- pany finds that the percentage of Americans expressing a fair amount of trust in the Ameri- can political institutions is even lower than in the wake of the Watergate Scandal, despite Richard Nixon being now con- sidered a slimy character.
With trust so low, Donald Trump, who has never held an elected office, and Ted Cruz, who is a junior senator yet to complete one full term, have turned this inexperience into a virtue. Similarly, Bernie Sand- ers, although having served as a Senator for decades, has a relatively thin record of achievement, and represented a marginal portion of the Demo- cratic party until recently. Cruz recently cracked that the point of his campaign was that “the Washington elites despise” him.
The other major pillar that allows the anti-establishment candidates to pose threats to the more established candidates has been the gridlock and angry po- litical climate that has haunted the Obama administration, al- beit not entirely attributable to the administration itself.
The inaction and filibusters characteristic of the last seven years has left the electorate dis- satisfied and discontented. This sentiment has led to the hunt for an unsullied outsider, free of the ideological compromise and political gamesmanship charac- teristic of career politicians.
Several groups stand to gain from recent developments. The pure ideologies of both political parties are being offered their best chance in recent memory to have the more extreme ele- ments of their party not only direct the rhetoric but also offer a legitimate chance at securing the nomination.
Nascent movements, includ- ing socialism through Sand- ers and quasi-fascism through Trump, are being given a chance to have influence in an unprecedented way. Whether these extreme policy proposals can be implemented remains to be seen and largely hinges upon the makeup of the Congress. In the meantime, these radically different visions for America continue to drift further apart.