Donald Trump supporters have a point. So do Bernie Sanders’ legions. They are correct when they say that our society is rigged in favor of those who have been able to game the system and accumulate massive wealth at the expense of everyone else. It is obvious that Trump has been successful in exploiting that anger through his facile demagoguery, pushing the buttons of the haters who want scapegoats as a substitute for rational strategies. It also is obvious that Sanders, for all his protestations of substance, addresses economic inequality with really poorly thought-out superficial approaches that simply don’t add up.
But let’s not lose sight of the reality that the oligarchs run things, that our government under laws doesn’t really mean they have to follow those laws. They go unpunished when their corrupt transactions destroy the lives of so many millions here and around the world. When the public education system is allowed to rot, they merely send their children to private schools to study courses like Entitlement 1-A and Hubris 101. They fly first class while all of us other riffraff are crammed into ever-shrinking seats, if we can even afford to fly. They have multiple vacation homes, while millions face foreclosure. If they do step over the legal line, their army of lawyers protects them. That’s actually rare, because their lobbyists are able to bribe the lawmakers and those who administer the regulations with campaign contributions. In return, the rules are written and enforced so that they don’t apply to the powerful. In the process, they’ve taken our “Shining City on the Hill” and strip-mined it.
At the core is a political structure that is the foundation for this inept, unprincipled government house of cards. So along comes Donald Trump, who pretends to challenge this stodgy system by employing mindless bigotry. And along comes Bernie Sanders with slogans that appeal to the gullible youth, allowing him to give fits to Hillary Clinton, the candidate of the Democratic Party organization.
The narrative could well be about Hillary potentially making history as the first female president of the United States; instead, she has been held back by questions about her character. Furthermore, instead of trailblazing, she travels a well-worn path, campaigning for the status quo.
Trump plays to America’s worst instincts. He’s been able to roll over those who lay claim to the experience and thoughtfulness necessary to govern. When House Speaker Paul Ryan, who fancies himself a Sir Lancelot, mildly defies Trump, the vulgar knight in tarnished armor, the two take a meeting. Afterward, they put out a joint statement saying they are “totally committed to working together.” Is that hard-hitting or what?
Right now, very few Americans give a hoot about whether either the GOP or the Dems are unified, since they’re viewed as the enablers of an unfair system.
Perhaps it’s time to rethink our elections, with their emphasis on the two parties. Since running as an independent doesn’t seem to work, perhaps now is the time consider a national election approach, like the “top two” setup in California’s statewide races. In the primary there, all the candidates for a given office are lumped together on the ballot, regardless of party. The two who get the most votes run against each other for the grand prize.
Of course, both Democrats and Republican regulars scream bloody murder at the very idea. They insist that the two-party system provides stability. They’re right about that. Unfortunately, it’s the stability that comes from being stuck deep in a rut.
That kind of reform might be a start. What’s also absolutely required is significant changes in the way we finance elections. That’s difficult, but necessary if we have any hope of changing a system that’s supposed to operate with the “consent of the governed.” Instead, it is stymied by dissent that is getting angrier and angrier. Justifiably.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.