A year ago, before the lengthy American election cycle began, no one would have expected a self-proclaimed socialist and a billionaire real-estate tycoon turned reality TV show host to be two of the front-runners of the American presidential candidacy race. Nevertheless, Vermont Democratic Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders and New York businessman Donald Trump each won the New Hampshire primary for their respective primary. And, both won by quite a margin—Sanders (Democrat) surpassed Clinton by over 20% and Trump surpassed the next Republican contender, John Kasich, by 18%.
These results were not, however, unexpected in recent days. Both Trump and Sanders started out as fringe candidates, but over the past few months they have created movements that have gained huge momentum, so much so that recent polls were predicting this outcome, and neither candidate was far off from the same result in the Iowa primary last week. How and why did this election cycle take such an unexpected turn?
Trump and Sanders are often compared to one another. Despite being polar opposites on the political spectrum (and in almost every single way possible), they share a few key similarities in the nature of their campaigns. Both candidates are not traditional politicians.
Sanders sat in the Senate as an independent for most of his time as Senator and declared himself a Democratic Socialist, rather than as a member of the Democratic Party. To progressives, he has an impeccable voting record, is incredibly consistent, and has always voted on the “right side of history.” Sanders is in no way a part of the Democratic establishment and is often seen as a “breath of fresh air.”
On the other hand, Trump is predominantly a businessman, but is also well known for his reality TV show “The Apprentice,” where he would yell “YOU’RE FIRED!” at amateur businesspeople and sometimes celebrities. As a businessman with no real affiliation to politics or political experience, he stands out in the crowded Republican field filled with Senators, members of Congress, and governors.
Because he has no experience in politics, he is often seen as someone daring and courageous, someone more like the common person, which is rather ironic because he’s, well, a billionaire. He’s therefore, like Sanders, seen as refreshingly different from all the establishment candidates who spew out the same old lines.
Another (at least perceived) similarity between the two is in regards to their funding. While most politicians are funded by Corporate America, Wall Street, Super PACs, and other such entities, Sanders and Trump have moved away from this formula. Sanders, principally opposed to taking money and thereby being at the mercy of Wall Street, has only received contributions from individual donors, averaging at $27 per contributor.
His supporters feel as though this will allow him to be directly accountable to the people, and not to the multi-million dollar corporations that fund other candidates. Donald Trump, on the other hand, claims to be self-funded (although, according to Politico, most of Trump’s funding does in fact come from donors). His supporters think this allows him to say what he feels is right, and to be above the sly games politicians have to play. Not only is it surprising on face value that Trump and Sanders have come this far, but it is also surprising that they’ve done it while being so contrarian and anti-establishment in their own ways.
It seems that by being anti-establishment, or, at the very least, by not following the established path, Trump and Sanders have created a massive tide of support. This goes to show how discontent and disconnected the average American feels to their political system, to their government. The broken political system has created so much frustration in the American electorate that voters feel as though the only effective politicians will be outsiders.
The perception of politicians as deceptive, sneaky, and manipulative is pervasive, and it seems as though more and more Americans are buying into it. Further, each candidate speaks to a different kind of discontentment. Sanders is reaching out to the isolated progressives who are frustrated by the lack of social progress in the U.S. Further, many left-wing Democrats feel as though their party establishment no longer represents them.
Rather, the establishment represent the wishes of Wall Street with a slight leftist tinge. Sanders goes against this in as many ways as he can, both deliberately and unintentionally. In a completely different way, Trump speaks to the discontent right-wing Republican on the fringes of the party who feel threatened by the social progress that has occurred in the U.S. Many of these individuals feel as though political correctness is destroying the country, when, in reality, the lack thereof is almost always thinly veiled sexism, racism, or discrimination of other kinds. Moreover, the simple fact that the two most “extreme” candidates won the primary for their respective party in the same state shows how polarized and divisive American politics has become.
After the umpteenth government shut down, it’s clear that the two parties are not working together for the best interests of the American people. Rather, the American right wing has hijacked the Republican Party and hinders any possible progress. It is surprising on face value that Trump and Sanders have come this far, but it is also surprising that they’ve done it while being so contrarian and anti-establishment in their own ways.
Whether or not Trump and Sanders become their party’s candidate for the presidential race, the fact that they have even come this far shows that the United States is undergoing a time of great social tension and upheaval. A once impossible scenario has become the reality. This scenario is representative of the discord, discontentment, and distrust of the government growing within the U.S. Moving forward, anything can happen.
These movements could continue to gain traction, or they could fizzle out and die. However, the supporters of both movements don’t seem to be just tagging along for the fun of it—Sanders’ and Trump’s supporters seem immensely invested in the success of their candidate. Regardless, having come this far is more than anyone could have expected even months ago, and is indicative of many problems the American state is facing.