The Election of 2016: a Potential Catalyst for New American Populism

By Dylan R.N. Crabb

Looking back on the United States presidential election of 2016, I can theorize about how a political novice like Donald Trump won the election and how his rhetoric resonated with lower-class Americans. Trump used simplistic language in his speeches, providing little details regarding public policy and appealed to an instinctive anger against an economic system that rewards the most ruthless among us while punishing the most empathetic. Empty promises to create more American jobs, disregarding the interconnected nature of the globalized 21st century economy, appeals to low-income and (formally) uneducated voters who care first and foremost about what can be done for them in the short-term. President Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 is a reflection of several institutional failures in America, first and foremost the failure of our educational institutions in their mission to teach critical thinking skills as well as historical contexts for our most pressing political issues.

The blame for our institutional failures lay at both ends of our proverbial political spectrum: the so-called Left-wing and Right-wing. Judging by the corporate media pundits who dominate our television stations and air waves, the Left-wing seems to consist of pathological desires to force more equitable outcomes out of our economic system while disregarding the irony of authoritative measures for supposedly populace outcomes, and the Right-wing seemingly consists of a dogmatic rejection of any populist, Keynesian policy which has proven its effectiveness in every other industrialized nation preferring a rigid alliance with private interests at the expense of public interests.

American news networks have also failed Americans as they have created a political environment in which partisan laborers for one or another of our political duopoly simply shout and demean each other while not actually listening to each other, seemingly incapable of any nuanced critique of each other’s ideas. A lack of nuance in news media can be just as dangerous as government propaganda because it breeds ideological converts rather than thinkers and analysts.

American educational institutions focus on stylistic and superficial job preparation rather than long-term, skills-based career building and philosophical study. Collegiate scholars today seem more concerned with earning the “right” degree for the sake of making a living rather than expanding their understanding of history and the world and earning the confidence to challenge existing power structures. Students of political science in particular seem more concerned with starting a career with the political party of their choice rather than building new paradigms for social organization.

The election of 2016 presented Americans with two negative options: a candidate representing a status quo already failing most Americans and a candidate representing a pseudo-populist reform with late-capitalism pulling the strings – the same old shit or a new brand of shit sprayed with a bottle of CK One cologne.

Whereas half of American voters do not even participate in our elections every four to eight years, I think this corruption-induced apathy presents an opportunity for alternative political candidates and parties. We have already seen an outspoken socialist win and retain a municipal seat in Seattle, Washington, one of the U.S.A.’s major cities. Populists, reformers, liberals, and socialists need to capitalize on this opportunity to subvert the corrupt duopoly of our two largest political parties and build coalitions across the nation, capturing local seats and building local bases of power that actually resonate with Americans. I think President Joe Biden has proved himself to be just as ineffectual as President Trump at manifesting the will of the people. I suggest new leadership is needed in America, leadership that is neither red nor blue.

A Shifting Pendulum in American Politics

By Dylan R.N. Crabb

 

The Democratic Party is moving further to the political Left, embracing more collectivist modes of ideology and doubling down on their identitarian activism.  Today’s typical “Progressive” is now a caricature of my generation (Generation Y, the millennial generation) and it’s embarrassing; from screaming at Republican senators in the nation’s capital, to banging on the door of the Supreme Court of the United States after the confirmation of a new conservative-leaning Justice, to forcefully shutting down academic events hosting conservative speakers, it is apparent that Leftists (not liberals) are becoming more radicalized in this strange post-truth era.

How did we get here?

I think it started with internet connections and the World Wide Web which dramatically increased access to information for the general public.  Greater access combined with more diversity is a double-edged sword in media because, with more choices of programs, confirmation bias becomes more prevalent; individuals will naturally gravitate toward programs that confirm what they already believe.  This is why it is so important to make an effort to seek out points of view alternate to your own.  The American public is currently experiencing the negative, balkanizing effects of confirmation bias.

What’s the solution? 

I think the solution to our wide-spread confirmation bias ironically involves the very tools that encouraged this virus of the mind, although it also requires a change in mindset in each individual.  We need to consider different sources, the motivations behind particular narratives, and power bases behind specific media companies.  The ideological leanings of a journalist or commentator affects their news coverage as does the primary financing of an organization.  In short, we need to be more skeptical.

Skepticism requires curiosity and acting on curiosity requires initiative.  Journalist Tim Pool points out one the most stark differences between the political Left and Right today: the Left generally has no qualms with alienating individuals whom disagree with their mainstream narratives while the Right is constantly seeking out disagreements for the sake of discourse – the Left pushes people away with their dislike for nuance while the Right is actively recruiting people.  This new inclusiveness on the Right will likely lead to a new conservative movement among younger Americans.  We’re already seeing rising conservative media outlets catapulting young and energetic talking heads to national fame – figures like Ben Shapiro, Tomi Lahren, Roaming Millennial, and Dave Rubin are immensely popular with young people partly because they don’t condescend young people about how “oppressed” they are by forces beyond one’s control.  A general narrative on the Right is one of an individualistic spirit of exploration and invention endemic in American history.

Liberalism was once the champion of individualism and personal liberty but liberalism has been corrupted by its own hubris.  Leftists coming to dominate the fields of entertainment became obsessed with the appearance of diversity while ignoring diversity’s most important facet: the intellect.  Now, the intellectually lazy neo-liberals are being beaten in the marketplace of ideas by their Right-wing counterparts who still see value in showcasing diverse opinions regardless of appearances and communicating across ideologies.  If the Left wants to have a fighting chance in this new media landscape of individualism and curiosity, I think they need to rediscover liberalism and the intellectual traditions of Western civilization – from Hammurabi’s Code, to the oratory of Pericles, to the revelations of the Enlightenment, to the rational populism of Presidents Roosevelt.