American politics, it is often said, is a choice between the lesser of two evils. In the end, we are faced with two imperfect candidates, one presumably less imperfect than the other.
With the rise of irregular candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, however, the “lesser of two evils” idea has taken on a new meaning: instead of warring parties, there are now civil wars within parties as the status quo attempts to rein in the “radicals” who are raising hell within the ranks.
Despite their very different demeanors, Sanders and Trump have both bucked party orthodoxy and, in the process, deeply divided the liberal and conservative faithful, earning them reputations as loose cannons. Rest assured: their cannons are about as loose as meatloaf on Sunday. If these buffoons are what passes for “anti-establishment” these days, then I’ll take my seat, somewhat sadly, at the table with the party dinosaurs, imperfect though they may be.
Sanders Lives In a Dream Castle of Other People’s Money
Take Sanders, for instance, the “independent” senator from Vermont who has mobilized millennials and aging hippies with his absent-minded-professor looks and edgy socialist rants. However, aside from a folk album he recorded in his younger years and the high probability he roots for the Russian when he watches “Rocky IV,” Sanders isn’t edgy at all.
While his proposals for free college and healthcare sound revolutionary, they are nothing more than the tax-and-spend liberalism that has defined the Democratic Party for decades, albeit on steroids. Instead of just reckless spending, he’s proposing astronomically reckless spending.
Rather than incrementally raising taxes on the people who actually fund the government and slowly but surely digging our economic grave, as Democrats are wont to do, Sanders is calling in a backhoe with a proposed $18 trillion in new spending, or America’s entire annual gross domestic product.
On the off-chance you aren’t a NASA computer and these numbers are difficult to grasp, consider this: in 2014, the U.S. government raked in just more than a record $3 trillion in revenue. Sanders wants to spend six times that, or 500 percent more, over the next decade. Given the timespan, this may not sound terrible, unless you consider that tax revenues over the past decade have only increased by roughly 50 percent. Apparently being a radical now means being radically bad at basic math.
His healthcare plan is so radical that it expands coverage via enormous tax increases. Sound familiar? That’s because President Obama did the same thing just six years ago (granted, on a smaller scale), and now millions of Americans are dealing with the repercussions in the form of rising premiums.
Screw the Establishment (Unless They’re Buying Drinks)
Perhaps even less radical than Sanders’ traditional economic model, however, is the fact that he’s been a politician for more than three decades, the last two-and-a-half of which he has spent in Washington. Nothing says maverick like a man who has dedicated his life to DC, mingling among the establishment masses.
Sadly, the most “outside the box” aspect of Bernie’s platform may be the one-trick-pony nature of his campaign. Suddenly illegal immigration, radical Islam, Vladimir Putin, and a record national debt are no longer important enough to even merit discussion. The only thing that matters to Americans, the vast majority of whom live decent lives, is wealth inequality. That’s radical, alright. Radically naïve.
Not to be outdone, the Republicans have welcomed their own wannabe outsider in the tangerine-faced narcissist Donald Trump. In an effort to upstage P.T. Barnum as the greatest con man in American history, the guy who has gone on record for years staking out liberal positions across the political spectrum has somehow managed to garner support from a sizeable chunk of America’s far Right. The guy who claims the Bible as his favorite book despite being unable to recite a single verse has somehow managed to capture the loyalty of a large share of evangelicals.
The guy who was proudly pro-choice, pro-bailout, and pro-Hillary, not to mention pro-Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer now, much like Sanders, makes outlandish promises to garner populist support, such as vowing to deport all illegal immigrants and build a wall along the southern border. Even better, he’ll make Mexico pay for it. If you’re buying any of this, I have some oceanfront property in Arizona you might be interested in.
Republicans, it seems, don’t want a radical at all, but rather a Democrat, and an establishment one at that. There’s been no shortage of those to vote for, which makes Trump’s rise all the more curious.
The Idiocracy Arrives in a Clown Car
Meanwhile, as he masquerades as an everyman in a truck-stop hat and five-figure suit, Trump displays the demeanor of an upset toddler. Whether he’s insulting the appearance of his female opponents, engaging in Twitter battles with daytime TV hosts, or boycotting debates because he didn’t get his way (a.k.a. taking his ball and going home), The Donald seems to permanently reside in the middle of a playground fracas. How’s that for presidential?
A cult-classic motion picture titled “Idiocracy” is quickly becoming more of a documentary than the black comedy intended. In it, people have devolved to be so dumb that they feed their plants sports drinks instead of water and elect as president a former professional wrestler and porn star. If Trump gets elected, “Idiocracy” will sadly prove to be a watershed moment in life imitating art. Hide the Gatorade.
We are told that the rise of Sanders and Trump is the result of establishment clowns who have repeatedly ignored their base. Somehow, however, in an act that literally defies every single law of nature, the radicals have managed to out-clown the clowns—the political equivalent of travelling faster than the speed of light or throwing an apple into the air, only for it to remain there.
American presidential politics has never been the height of political discourse. But, thanks to today’s so-called “mavericks,” it has become a Greek tragedy of unbridled, untenable populism. If that’s all the anti-establishment types have to offer, then I have no choice but to side with the traditionalists they claim to mock. I don’t love it, either, but it’s clearly the lesser of two evils.