“We need a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States while we figure out what the hell is going on. We are out of control.”
These are Donald J. Trump's unrepentant words and they are supported by at least twenty percent of Republican voters in the upcoming selection of the party's presidential candidate.
Much has been said since then: bigoted, un-American, Trump should be stripped on his honorary degrees etc. I doubt much of this matters to the man in question for his eyes are fixed upon one target at this time. Much print has already been spent on the wrongness of his comments and, for the record, I think they are pretty awful.
The deeper question is, surely, what does this all mean for the US system of republican democracy?
Since the beginning of the US Civil War, the Democrats and Republicans have dominated US politics. Yes, there have been independent movements and candidates: socialists, greens on the left and on the right characters like Ross Perot. Overall though, the two huge party machines have, so far, overcome and endured.
This election cycle feels different. We have Donald Trump who is brilliant at self-publicity and outrage. On the left, not getting the media attention but just as different from the mainstream, Bernie Sanders is soldiering on, drawing the crowds and continuing a quiet insurgency into the heart of the Democrat nominations. Safe money may well be on Hilary Clinton but all the "moderate" would-be presidential candidates, whether Republican or Democrat, suffer from one major disadvantage: they represent a system that no longer represents the interests of the vast majority of US citizens.
US politics is designed to the a two-party system. It is also designed not to be a democracy. The Founding Fathers studied in-depth ancient literature but especially the Roman Republic which was, in its way, a representative democracy. The higher orders set the agenda and made the decisions. Their votes carried more weight so by the time the poorer (and larger) cohorts had their time to vote, usually it didn't matter. Any of that sound familiar?
Previously the popular vote did not really matter. It does now. Why is that?
Since late in the Bill Clinton presidency, the media has depicted a breakdown in communication between the US left and right wings of politics. Whether this is an accurate portrayal of politics at the top is very doubtful but certainly at all levels of political coverage, there is no dialogue between supporters that does not eventually break down into insults and name-calling. This is no way to run a nation. After nearly two decades of this communication breakdown, it is little wonder that folk on both left and right are looking outside the centre for their answers. People are no longer able to seek for, never mind find, any consensus with each other.
The politics of Sanders and Trump are poles apart but both are similar in how they speak their mind, are not polished, are willing to take on received wisdom and do not suffer fools gladly. These are qualities that are popular and rightly so. People of all political persuasions are sick of fakery, false outrage and outright dissimulation. Both Trump and Sanders are the real McCoy.
My own politics are much closer to Sanders' than to Trump's. US politics is shifted so far to the right compared to that in Europe that even Sander's socialism is unremarkable here. As an outsider though, it is clear that existing status quo of American corporate politics would be far more at ease with a victory for Trump than they would with Sanders, the latter representing far more accurately the role of tribune of the people. Trump is a billionaire and from a monied background, although that should not be held against him. Although very popular with blue-collar voters, he will only represent the rich. He has no concern for little people; an example being his dealings with his neighbour Michael Forbes over the development of the Balmedie golf course in Scotland .
It comes to pass therefore that on the right Trump is getting the headlines while Sanders is digging away on the left. The question I have is whether the US Republic is able to adapt to this breakdown in communication, popular consensus and what it means for the long term outlook for politics in the USA?
It is certainly an issue that is not going to be resolved any time soon.