Greed, Needs, & Business as Usual

Confronting the realities of the 2016 U.S. Presidential race

[Photo credits: Derek Michael Brennen]

One thing has become very clear to me this election season, and I’m sure its on your mind as well. We have a completely fractured electorate, and I don’t mean fractured in two. Too many of us have forgotten that a wide political spectrum exists in America, going beyond the typical dichotomies like Republican/Democrat, Left/Right, North/South or Urban/Rural. How much weight do these terms even have when all of these categories are further subdivided? Voters are increasingly dissatisfied with their own party, for a multitude of reasons, and the lack of unity in either party is proof of it. The political narrative spoon fed to the American public by corporate media is black and white, but the fact is, there is a lot of “grey” that simply gets ignored. So let’s examine: What could be causing so many rifts in our so-called “two party system”?

The word “populist” has been used recently to describe several presidential candidates, regardless of their party affiliation. From what I gather, you could conflate the term with “centrist” or “moderate”. You can imagine the political spectrum as a bell curve, with populism at the center, between progressivism and conservatism. A substantial portion of voters are populists. They are not committed to any particular ideology, but have a strong commitment to themselves. In simplest terms, they are the status quo, and the majority. They are followers rather than leaders, and are swayed by appealing to their greatest hopes and fears. The defining traits of populism are pragmatism and impulsiveness. Populist issues often bridge partisan divides, but populists are still very susceptible to fear and demagoguery. Their concern is not with the past or future of our country, but with the present moment and whatever speaks loudest to their conscious.

Populists occupy both the Republican and Democratic party. These constituents are not looking to break new ground for their cause, but to defend the ground they feel they are losing. You could say each party is divided between populists, looking out for themselves, and activists, committed to the “best interests” of society, whether they truly are.

For example: a populist Democrat would support the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and others like it because it would create temporary jobs and decrease dependence on foreign oil, but an activist Democrat, or a progressive, would oppose the construction of more oil pipelines in America, in favor of renewable energy, on the grounds that the extraction and overuse of fossil fuels is an environmental liability. A populist Republican would likely support a flat tax, as it at least has the facade of equity, while an activist Republican would support regressive tax policies that disproportionately burden the poor, and let wealthy individuals off the hook.

William Jennings Bryan, zoomorphized as a snake, devouring the democratic party in an 1896 editorial cartoon [Photo credits: Library of Congress]

Populism is like 10,000 people murmuring to themselves, whereas activism is like 10 people with megaphones. Activist conservatives and progressives are louder and more determined to accomplish their goals of change, but they don’t necessarily have the numbers. No candidate with a radical agenda (liberal or conservative) could succeed without balancing out their message and appealing to populist ideals. Candidates like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are decidedly crazy; one has theocratic tendencies, while the other considers himself a god. One tried to stop Barack Obama from becoming president by questioning his identity, while the other symbolically filibustered the Affordable Care Act for 21 hours, at times reading from “Green Eggs and Ham,” and comparing the defeat of Obamacare to the defeat of Adolf Hitler. Their showmanship and their pseudo-commoner act are enough to win moderates over, but the exclusionary rhetoric, endless alarmist antics, and forceful nature is the icing on the cake for far-right zealots.

The wide majority of voters in either party have no problem with immigrants and a clear pathway to citizenship. Most also agree it is entirely unjust to discriminate against LGBT individuals. There is no reason a presidential candidate who peddles xenophobia and slander should be viable, let alone popular, but the sad truth is, xenophobia sells.

Last August, I went to the Iowa State Fair to see Bernie Sanders speak. It seems this year, more than any I can remember, candidates have seized the opportunity that is the Des Moines Register Soapbox. Tons of people crowded around to see him, practically blocking the thoroughfare. It was like a dream come true, for myself, and apparently for many others. The excitement in the crowd was palpable. You always feel welcome at a Bernie Sanders rally; the crowds consistently reflect a diverse mix of ethnicity, age, sex, and all walks of life. Sanders supporters are angry, but they know where to direct their anger: not at their neighbor, but at their ruler: Corporate greed.

Senator Sanders at his New Year’s eve event in Des Moines, Iowa [Photo credits: Justin Waters]

Also speaking at the state fair soapbox was long-shot (and now former) Republican candidate, Bobby Jindal. With regards to policy, he’s everything the GOP would adore: a gun-toting, Bible-waving, baby-saving, border-watching, small-government, anti-Obama diehard, but there was one problem: it didn’t come in the right package. Relative to his counterparts, he had no discernible personality, and as much as he attempted to be an old white male, the goal proved futile. But before suspending (ending) his campaign for president, he offered a gem of ethnocentrism so bold and well-polished, you’d think it came strait from the Donald’s mouth, or the grand wizard of the KKK:

“Immigration without assimilation is an invasion”
Bobby Jindal, wondering what happened to his 15 minutes of fame. [Photo credits: Darren McCollister/Getty Images News/Getty Images]

I kid you not, this is the kind of things xenophobes, excuse me, “patriots”, say when they are trying to “1-up” each other. This phrase embodies A LOT of what is wrong with America. First off, just because words rhyme together, that does not make them true. Now that that’s out of the way, I can get to the real issue. Immigrants are not obligated to assimilate. Learning the dominant language of the country you are living in is a good idea; its practical. However, it is not an obligation, and demanding that people do it is nothing short of asinine! As an immigrant, you don’t have to be the embodiment of everything that is America. You don’t have to give in to the “melting pot” narrative, and you don’t have to give up your identity.

What is dividing us in 2016? Greed, needs, and business as usual. Everyone wants a slice of the pie, but at the expense of their neighbor. Unity has become elusive. Do we pillage the environment of its resources for monetary and industrial gains, or do we attempt to preserve it for our health? Do we provide a social safety net for poor citizens in need, or do we cut it entirely to save the state a buck? Do we go on the offensive, shedding blood for peace and security, or do we reject using violence as a means of ending violence? These are the questions we musk ask ourselves and our candidates. Anyone asking themselves, “where is America headed?,” must first consider: “Where have we already been?”