The Rise of Angry Mob Politics

By JOHN BUTERBAUGH

This has certainly been a whirlwind of a presidential campaign season. Since the 1950s, the heir apparent for the Republican Party has always won the nomination. Either they have been vice president, on the presidential ticket, a runner-up for the nomination, or they were a president’s son. Meanwhile, since 1960, the Democratic Party has generally elected fresh faces, all but one of whom were in their early 50s or late 40s upon their inauguration.

This year is far different. Anti-establishment fervor in the Republican Party is so strong that the heir apparent (Jeb Bush, a president’s son no less) apparently was not the heir. How it is that Donald Trump, a college-educated man worth billions of dollars, is earning the support of people who make far less than he does? How is it that a Bernie Sanders, an aging socialist, is winning the hearts of young people and Redditors everywhere?

To answer these questions, I must first explain how anti-establishment sentiment arose in the first place. The selection of Sarah Palin as the vice presidential nominee in 2008 partly fueled the rise of angry mob politics. Sarah Palin empowered a largely uneducated populace to express views that even under President Bush’s first term would have been considered way out of the mainstream. As part of Sarah Palin’s Tea Party movement, growing animosity toward entitlement programs, political correctness, and liberal arts education emerged.

Palin in effect galvanized angry white males, working-class or middle-class white Americans who fueled the Republican Revolution in the mid-1990s. Many of these Americans had every reason to be angry. “It took Nixon to go to China” and outsource American jobs there, resulting in the demise of American industrial cities starting in the late 1970s. President Clinton’s NAFTA deal sent a number of low-skilled jobs to Mexico. Of course, I would be angry if my job were sent to Mexico, and I didn’t have the academic skills to work in the professional sector. I would want someone to get my job back instead of forcing myself into a profession. Scapegoating Mexicans or the Chinese for my plight would be perfectly natural. I would feel insecure and would need reassurance from a fellow angry white American to feel “great again.”

Anyway, Palin never did take the opportunity to run for president. She could have gotten a lot of votes in the 2012 Republican primaries, although she would have split the evangelical vote and Mitt Romney would probably have won anyway. Instead, a billionaire who “talks like the people” but doesn’t “walk like the people” has capitalized on the movement that Palin started. Independently wealthy real-estate magnate Donald Trump did everything right in his campaign announcement. He knew exactly how to play his audience of disaffected working-class Americans — using fear and anger. Fear over Muslims destroying their way of life; anger over losing jobs to Mexico and China. Immediately, Trump’s populist trade policy won over the working class, his anti-Muslim rhetoric won over Southern Christian conservatives, and his militaristic attitude kept neocons excited. Trump’s self-funded campaign meant that he could not be bought by special interests.

While Trump claims he has the support of the silent majority, it’s clear they are actually a vocal minority. Trump’s favorable rating is only 24%, meaning that the majority of Americans disapprove of him. It’s no surprise that Bernie Sanders has a greater lead over Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton does in general election polls. Unlike Hillary, Sanders and Trump strongly oppose TPP. The positions of the two men on free trade are slightly different — Sanders wants fair trade whereas Trump supports free trade unless China and Mexico are “beating us too badly.” Additionally, unlike Trump and Hillary, Sanders actually has a positive favorable rating as people perceive him as honest and trustworthy. Hillary is also losing white male voters to Sanders.

Sanders’ crossover appeal is immense. He is actually outperforming Hillary with independent voters despite not being in the ideological center. The reality is that the American people are slowly but surely recognizing that the current American political system is an oligarchy and no longer a republic. 78% of Americans want the Supreme Court to overturn the Citizens United ruling. As a result, the next president must appoint justices who can be expected to do just that. The Judiciary is the only branch of government that has any power to make real change in this day and age. A Republican-controlled won’t allow a Democratic president to get anything important done.

Even if Sanders only accomplishes the feat of nominating Supreme Court justices who eventually overturn the Citizens United case, he will have been a very consequential president under the current system. The effect of limiting the power of the wealthiest Americans to shape public policy would allow politicians to follow the voice of their constituents as opposed to the donors who put them in office.

When the interests of the people are ignored and when unemployment becomes too high, societies will face instability and civil unrest. The short-lived Arab Spring was a response to governments that ignored the interests of the people. Look at Iraq. During the Saddam Hussein regime, Sunni Muslims held high positions in the military and a great deal of power in general. Under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, even highly educated Sunnis were barred from military service because they were members of Saddam’s Ba’ath Party. This was the only source of employment for many Iraqis. When opportunity faded away for the Sunnis, their natural inclination was to turn to the ISIS. At least under ISIS, they had power and ISIS certainly had a record of getting things done, right or wrong. ISIS blames the Western world, and even other Muslims, for much of its problems.

While not as extreme as the rise of ISIS, the rise of the angry white mob in the United States is a response to very similar problems: the feeling of losing power to people with a different ethnicity, nationality, or religion. A government must do what it has to do and resolve growing tensions within its borders. Otherwise, the angry mob in America could grow into something much nastier. Unemployed people have more time to protest when they don’t have to go to work anymore. We can’t resolve internal tensions when there are so many barriers to economic opportunity or political freedom.

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