Two hundred and thirty-nine years after the American adoption of democratic rationality, it looks as though we have come full circle and embraced the cult of personality once more. The trend began with the election of Barack Obama, a junior senator with an untempered ability to channel collective passion and deliver groundbreaking oration to craft his life story into the quintessential narrative of the American Dream. However, as the dust of 2012 began to settle, the political landscape started looking much more judicious and organized. On the left, the Democratic National Committee prepared to coronate Queen Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney’s major loss indicated to the right that its base did not want another elite blue-blood, distanced from reality. Furthermore, with the revelation of the National Security Agency’s domestic spying and an increased consciousness in the racial bias of police brutality and the public education system, the GOP appeared to be primed for a strong surge of libertarianism.
Flash forward to 2016, and the Republican front-runner is a reality TV star and abuser of eminent domain Donald “[Avoiding STDs] was my personal Vietnam” Trump, and Clinton is being out-cooled and out-polled for the millennial vote by democratic socialist Bernie Sanders. Wait, what?
The country is choosing to overthrow the political party with a strongman, big-government, Wilsonian concept that Trump and Sanders alike exemplify. While this disruption has reaped many much-needed benefits, it is giving way to a Europeanization of American politics which will ultimately lead to economic instability.
First, it is important to appreciate the positive implications of this realignment. The DNC was practically rigging the election for Clinton. Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz restricted the number of Democratic debates to six during the primaries under the threat of an exclusivity clause because she suspected that Clinton would perform unfavorably in a medium which values authenticity and trustworthiness — two tenets of the Sanders campaign and appeal — and suspended Sanders’ campaign after one now-fired staffer gained access to a software error revealing Clinton’s voter information. On the other hand, America’s salvation from a third Bush dynasty presidency can be largely attributed to the advent of Trump and populist rhetoric. Furthermore, these primaries speak wonders about the decreased power of finance in elections. Jeb Bush practically burned through money, pulling the absolute elite of American political donors, yet somehow spent $2,800 per vote in Iowa and received less than 3 percent of the vote.
However, the disruption of the dynasty has led to a fervor of moral indignation, inhibiting a great deal of rationality and sparking emotionally charged but oft fallacious discourse. According to a January 2016 USA Today poll, millennial Republicans favor Trump at 26 percent, and young Democrats favor Sanders to Clinton at 46 to 35 percent. On top of that, Trump won seven states on Super Tuesday, as many as Clinton, and Sanders took Oklahoma, a state with a proportionally young population and surging youth political momentum.
While these candidates may seem like polar opposites, they share a reliance on yet-to-be-specified advisors, an unabashed desire to expand the government and a fundamental misunderstanding of economics. Trump has no allegiance to economic research or moral philosophy, instead espousing the same few buzzwords and phrases to pander to the electorate which crave nationalistic fervor and “winning.” Similar to Italy’s infamous Silvio Berlusconi, Trump’s businessman appeal is heightened more by bombastic, self-aggrandizing rhetoric than by actual record. Trump’s actual economic prowess is moderate at best. Trump’s current wealth, derived mostly from his real estate deals and many failed business ventures, is far lower than it would be if he had simply invested his multimillion dollar inheritance in a general stock market portfolio. Additionally, at the last CNN-Telemundo Republican debate Marco Rubio pinpointed the abysmal ambiguity of Trump’s economic policies — and really, the strongman charade as a whole — when he stated, “[Trump] says five things … everyone’s dumb, he’s gonna make America great again, we’re going to win, win, win, he’s winning in the polls and the lines around the state.”
On the other end of the ego spectrum lie millennial Sanders supporters, who ignore the absolute fallacy and fantasy of his economic policy. None of his ambiguity, misunderstanding of fairness of opportunity versus outcome or disdain for consumer choice is to say that he is not acting out of purely good intentions. After all, Sanders was arrested for civil rights activism decades before it would have been respected by the mainstream. However, the exact wave of emotional fervor that leads nationalistic millennials to embrace a reality television star is the same as that which is leading millennials to “feel the Bern,” even when the Bern simply is not backed up by math.
America cannot afford to turn to fascist and socialist extremism. We have a winner-take-all, two-party system which will exclude moderate, reason-backed economic policy if we effectively Europeanize our main political parties. Millennials need to stop thinking with their feelings and start listening to the facts to secure a hopeful future of general prosperity.