On the Ashes of the American Dream

Presidential campaigns in the U.S. are very long — probably the longest in the world. The time from the moment the first candidate announces his run in the primary race to Election Day spans 15 to 18 months. At first glance, this seems like an unbelievable waste of energy and resources. However, this peculiar process does have some logic behind it.

In prosperous years, when the electorate is inclined to vote to preserve the status quo, a long campaign period weeds out boring party loyalists, pushing the establishment toward spontaneity, and, as we would say in Russia, to the development of a worthy successor.

When the political tides are turning, and citizens start to perceive the status quo as a threat to their welfare, there’s plenty of time for new ideas and political figures. And then, at the end of the long, exhausting race, there can emerge only those reformers who, having spent the past year-and-a-half under the crosshairs of the press and the hail of their opponents’ criticism, managed to survive and prove the soundness and resiliency of their platforms.

The establishment view, which has no objection to the trend that only “mainstream” politicians are allowed into the general election, has failed — at least in its obliviousness to the U.S. electoral process.

After all, do we have before us the “mainstream” politicians or the anti-establishment tea party, which held the better half of the Republican Party in its grip for five years, literally sweeping aside leadership in the House of Representatives and, until recently, had no less than three candidates for the presidency?

And Ronald Reagan? He’s a legend now, but from 1976 to 1980, when he battled with the Republican establishment, the press called him a “hack actor” and a “cowboy with a golden gun.” When did he become “mainstream?” When he ran for a second term or after his triumphant presidency was over?

And does the sitting president count as “mainstream?” Remember, in January 2008, the clear favorite (not only in the Democratic primary but in the general electorate) was Mrs. Clinton, but the early elections in Iowa and New Hampshire were taken by the first-term senator from Illinois, Barack Obama.

The significance of those events is greatly underestimated. Just imagine, a second term for Hilary Clinton or John McCain would be winding down now.

In the 2015-16 season, two “outsider” candidates are breaking the mold: the self-described Socialist Bernie Sanders (with the Democrats) and millionaire Donald Trump (with the Republicans).

Half a year has passed since then, during which the ratings for both candidates have been surging. Trump took the lead in the Republican primary back in July 2015. Since then, neither the successor of the old party dynasty, Jeb Bush, nor the mainstream media, nor Bush’s surpasser — the young neocon Mark Rubio — nor any other presidential candidate, with all their desperate attacks on him in the press and in the debates, has been able to shake the popularity of this politically incorrect newcomer. Sanders is falling behind the “undefeatable” Hillary for now, but in the past few months, the gap between them has been shrinking.

Both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump did very well in their first elections [caucuses] in conservative Iowa, essentially losing to their closest opponents “by draw,” and they both have a chance to come out the winners in the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9.

And so often in American history, these two states, with their completely distinct voter mindsets, tend to “appoint” the eventual victors of the interparty showdown. In this sense the national ratings can be ignored — they very often change dramatically after post-New Hampshire corrections.

There are still more than four months left of the primary campaign, but Trump and Sanders have already passed through their first serious trials. “Outsider” candidates rarely make it this far — and those who do become their respective party’s nominees.

I won’t give any kind of prediction here concerning the outcome of the presidential race. Now there’s another matter of greater importance. These primaries have become some of the most striking we’ve seen in the past 10 years. Across the ocean, people are describing them as “chaotic,” “turbulent” and “an election of protest.” All of this is true, but it would be more correct to call them “recessionary.”

If all the public and media’s attention is focused on the businessman who has dismissed the ability of professional politicians to effectively govern a superpower and the elderly congressman who propagandizes about socialism in America, it means that voters are disenchanted and bitter, that the “mainstream” doesn’t have anything to offer them.

The famous political commentator John Judis, after studying polling data, found that a new coalition of voters has emerged, which he calls “the Trump-Sanders constituency.”

But distinguished analyst Michael Brendan Dougherty said straight off that neither the Democratic left-wing liberal establishment nor the Republican right-wing conservative establishment are happy about the socio-economic and political demands of the so-called radical center, one part of which has embraced Bernie Sanders and the other Donald Trump.

I agree with my American colleagues. American leftists have gotten too carried away with minorities and have completely lost sight of the working class, which has fragmented under the left’s submission to racial issues. But today, the majority of American right-wingers look more like puppets for transnational corporations that are strangling the middle class than they look, as a whole, like a fully formed conservative right.

Only at first glance does it seem that a socialist and a millionaire form diametrically opposed sides. In fact, as is made clear by the books and interviews from these candidates, both Sanders’s “political revolution” and Trump’s promise to “make America great again” are attempts to bring Roosevelt’s New Deal back to life and up to date — the New Deal that during the Great Depression made peace between trade unions and the business sector, federal power and local government, and was called “the new definition of the American dream.”

The fact that it’s precisely people like Trump and Sanders, and not party elites, who embody the American dream of the 21st century in the eyes of voters, speaks to the elite’s lost connection with humble, middle-class Americans, who are seeing their dream destroyed. Sixty-two percent of U.S. citizens believe that the country is heading in a bad direction; 67 percent are sure that the next generation will not live as well as the current one; 75 percent are convinced that American leaders are corrupt.

The white working class and small business owners, students and teachers, war veterans and public sector workers, all form the Trump-Sanders constituency. Leaning toward Trump are older and slightly less-educated people; toward Sanders, young voters and intellectuals. The millionaire and the socialist are winning over the same demographic from two different ends.

If this demographic shows up on Election Day, we will have a new American majority.

As I said before, I won’t give predictions about this election’s outcome. But I can’t help but make this prediction: However this election ends, in 2018 and 2020, the resentful Trump-Sanders electorate will not have disappeared, and the American dream will not have been magically restored.

It means that the younger generation of Democratic and Republican politicians will be forced beyond the limits of their respective party’s current political constructs in order to win over the majority that threatens the establishment with votes for Trump and Sanders.

They continue to threaten the establishment, standing on the ashes of the American dream.

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