WASHINGTON, July 19, 2015 — The two most dynamic candidates on the presidential stump right now are Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. In a country of milquetoasts who need counseling when you tell them “no,” Trump and Sanders are a blast of unfiltered, sometimes fresh, sometimes toxic air.
Trump’s comments about Sen. John McCain’s military service are an example of toxic. Trump, who got draft deferments, claims that bone spurs in his feet made service impossible, and who didn’t support the Vietnam war at the time anyway, doesn’t think that being captured by the enemy makes a man a hero.
He’s correct; cowards and idiots get captured and killed in battle along with the good and the brave. It’s McCain’s courage and honor in captivity that make him a hero, a point that Trump seems not to understand.
Trump’s McCain comments are the clear downside of a candidate who says what he thinks, without filters. Trump lets it all hang out. Many voters find that attractive in a candidate, until they realize that “all” means all, and some of what hangs out should never see the light of day.
Neither Trump nor Sanders has a chance at his party’s nomination; Trump’s verbal diarrhea and his determination to wallow in it is one reason for that. But the rash of loose bowels they’ve caused in the political establishment comes from a purgative our body politic needs more often. The pinched and constipated faces of Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, Hillary Clinton and half the D/RNC underline the need for laxatives all around.
Why are Trump and Sanders so popular, at least for now? In a milquetoast world full of milquetoast candidates who triangulate their audience to the nth degree and say nothing – think Hillary – these two strike people as refreshingly frank.
They simplify complex problems down to simple stories, but in those stories are truths that resonate with people who think the other candidates are lying or being mealy-mouthed.
If you find Trump appalling, remember that a lot of people have been affected by illegal immigrant-related crime, or know someone who has, or think they know someone who has. The drug gangs aren’t coming in from Canada. Establishment Republicans seem determined to legalize undocumented immigrants because corporations want the cheap labor, and Democrats want to do it because it will give them a lock on power for decades.
If you’re horrified by Sanders and his socialism and appeals to economic envy, remember that American CEOs really do make on average 331 times what the average worker earns – $11.7 million – and over 774 times what minimum wage workers earn. Wage disparity in this country is unusually high, and it can’t all be attributed to differences in productivity and market equilibria.
Sanders’ ideas about funding college education fly in the face of some cold, hard realities, but they resonate because of some other realities: Kids graduate under heavy debt loads with limited job prospects that make the debt hard to pay.
Each tells an oversimplified story, but in parts they ring true. Sanders wants to treat a sick patient with leeches and by shaking his rattles, while Trump aims his blunderbuss at a problem that needs a scalpel. But unlike the other candidates, they clearly say that they see the problem, even if they don’t see the problem clearly. The other candidates are waiting for focus groups and polls to tell them what they see and don’t see.
Trump and Sanders are attracting crazies, because to the nuanced people in the middle, simple stories sound crazy and people who are passionate and angry look crazy. There are a lot of angry people in this country who don’t want nuanced stories with on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand waffling. You can’t fix problems if you aren’t willing to stand up, identify them, and agitate to fix them. That doesn’t describe Jeb and Hillary.
While Hillary acts like a bobble head and Jeb blands his way across the stage, Sanders and Trump see the problems that make people mad and tell them that they have every reason to be mad. The rest of the field act as if they’re building their resumes, guarding their power and feathering their nests, not caring about anyone else at all.
American liberals are so lost in guilt over the evils of their ancestors and their race that they can’t notice, as Trump does, that illegal immigration brings with it some real problems, including real killings, real thefts and real rapes. American conservatives are so horrified by sodomy that they’ll throw unwed mothers onto the streets rather than risk subjecting a baker to the risk of baking a gay wedding cake.
Trump and Sanders aren’t good at nuance. They’d probably make awful presidents. But their popularity with voters isn’t a sign that the voters are crazy. The voters aren’t the problem, and neither are Trump and Sanders. The problem is Washington and the major parties. The problem is political timidity, tactical thinking, treating politics as a game rather than as a craft vital to our society.
The problem is fear. The millions who support Trump and Sanders aren’t fearful; they’re mad as hell.
They’re not crazy. They’re fine.
It’s the parties that are a mess.