One of the marvels of the presidential election of 2016 — at least to my mind — is a great act of unconsciousness in the headquarters of each party.
Both the Republican and Democratic campaigns have been dominated by unexpected, almost shattering rebellions. In both parties, large segments of the membership are terribly unhappy and angry. In the case of the Republicans, this has forced the choice of a presidential candidate whom the RNC desperately did not want. For the Democrats, the fight still goes on, and although it may not lead to the overthrow of the candidate of choice of the DNC, it may lead to substantial changes in the party’s direction.
In both cases, the rebellions are a result of a feeling on the part of great swaths of the party that they are marginalized, penalized, at terrible disadvantage, and that neither their party nor the government has any interest in their grievance.
Now here, for me, is one of the most marvellous aspects of this situation:
Neither the RNC nor the DNC seems to feel the least curiosity as to why people feel this way. Their only concern is to either quash or control this rebellion.
More alarmingly, it does not occur to the party leaders that because large segments of their membership are distressed, perhaps there is a problem the party should address, a problem the party might have a responsibility to remedy.
In the case of the RNC, the reaction seems to be, “Well, we didn’t want Trump, but now that we have him, perhaps that will placate the peons. And we may be able to control him.”
As far as the Democrats are concerned, the leadership has roughly two reactions: “What does Sanders want? What can we feed him to shut him up? What sort of concessions will be a sufficient bribe?” And, “Doesn’t he know he’s lost? If he’ll just shut his mouth and fall into line, everything will be fine.” Both sorts of responses have behind them the idea that Sanders somehow controls the rebellion, that he called it into existence, and, like the Pied Piper, he can lead his followers wherever he wants. There is here no awareness that Sanders did not call forth the upheaval, that he has only given it voice, and it will not go away when he does.
In the blindness, in the spell-like trance under which both party leaderships labor, a great opportunity is missed. That party which first wakes — if either ever does — and sincerely responds to the anguish of its members is likely to place its imprint on the politics of the country for decades to come.
Yet perhaps the party leaderships do not respond because they cannot.
What is the cause of the marginalization, the great lack of opportunity, and the sense of impotence under which so many labor?
I think it is this: That our elected leaders and legislators do not feel they owe their positions and status to the voters. Rather, they owe their allegiance to those who enabled their election, not to those who merely cast ballots.
It is common knowledge and common scandal that elections nowadays are, by and large, bought. Not that anything illegal is done. Not that there is any explicit agreement, either by light of day or dark of night, that Congressman X will do favors for Corporation Y in consideration of some huge campaign contribution. There does not need to be. Because everyone knows, though they are careful not to mention it out loud, that, “He who pays the piper calls the tune.”
So perhaps there is a good reason the RNC and DNC do not probe the tender sore of anger from which so many of their members suffer. Perhaps to look too closely at this wound would itself threaten a great source of power — the cozy connection with wealth — on which the party leaderships depend.