If you are a regular watcher of cable news and reader of the major papers, by now you will know that Trump is the newest incarnation of Adolf Hitler and that Bernie Sanders is a nice old man who plans to plunge the US into debt and force every capitalist out of the country. Trump’s supporters are racist redneck hillbillies and Sanders are pie in the sky people who can’t get laid. Anyone even semi-literate can see that, to mainstream media, both of these aging men are THE WRONG CHOICE!!!!!
Perhaps it is my vantage point, that of a now unemployed white male in his early fifties, that makes Sanders a realistic choice and Trump completely understandable. During my working life, I watched as people’s work weeks extended, along with the panic of job loss. I have watched a generation of workers who barely recognize the word pension and are only mildly acquainted with the idea of benefits. I was convinced of the power of creative destruction inherent in Free Trade, certain that the new jobs available would supercede the old jobs, in satisfaction and reward. I did not foresee the downward spiral of wages, as almost any employer could hang the sword of Outsourcing above their employees heads. I would have never believed that in 2016, $15 – $20 per hour would be a standard rate for advertised jobs.
In short, though I could not quite see how a trickle down would raise the level of all seacraft, But those who spoke for it were intelligent, respected people from politicians (Liberal and Progressive Conservative), academics and business leaders. Who would know better? Would they not tell us if what trickled down would have a yellow tint?
Fast forward to the present. Put aside that the “normal” Canadian has not had a raise in the last few decades. The conventional wisdom has changed, slowly and surely. We now believe that government can do little or nothing right. We are terrified that a terrorist will pop out of our closet at night. We note that post-secondary education is needed for all but the most mundane of jobs but decry the idea that such education is a societal investment (only spoiled students call for lower tuition) – student debt builds character.
If we slowly accepted the new common sense, we were much faster in accepting the mythology of the superhero CEO and the job creators. With the tacit blessing of those who voted them in, our political leaders reduced business taxes to encourage investment, convincing voters that every tax cut would create more jobs. So good a job has been done that the poorest voters were often the loudest defenders of the businesses most intent on laying them off. Somehow, those most in need of union protection now deeply believe that unions are their enemies.
In this election year, people are starting to open their eyes. We saw this in Canada, where people chose a leader who committed to spending more, to whom the idea of deficit was not abhorrent. Promises were made to people who thought, “It’s about time I got something and those rich bastards paid a little more.” Even then, it took an almost universally hated government nearing a decade in power running a horrid campaign to acquire 39% of the votes and a majority government. Little heard in the crowing of the winners and whining of the losers was the implicit threat of the voter. “Do what you said or we will turf you,” is the subtext of the last Canadian election.
In the US, both Sanders and Trump are bringing similar economic messages to the masses and they resonate. Your jobs are being taken and shipped to countries where they pay a fraction of your wages. Inequality is rising. Every benefit is going to the management class. The job creators are not creating a job for you. The mainstream candidates, Bush, Cruz, Clinton, et al are bought and paid for by the rich and will do their bidding if they win. It does not matter who you vote for, they will be thrilled if you spend 6 hours a day working at McDonalds to pay the rent, another 6 at Burger King to cover food and another twenty hours at odd jobs to cover day care. They are proud that, in order to have the education needed to compete, a student will only have $30-$40 thousand of debt.
In a country of people whose credit cards are maxed and whose retirement features dog food entrees, they is an increasing realization that people have been led to screw themselves. Their infrastructure is crumbling and they know, deeply, that the fate of their children will likely be even worse. Complicit as they were, bought by tax cuts and lower prices, they are starting to understand the result. And the desire to bring out the pitchforks and torches is real.
Both Sanders and Trump are shouting the message that what we bought with the assumptions and common sense of the last decades has been the demise of the middle class and democracy. They are telling us that the vote is a sham unless they bring in someone not beholden to the very people whose goal is to take more from everyone else. Their truth is that both parties are corrupted to their core and only an outsider can, maybe, bring any change that will benefit the many.
People hate big change. It’s frightening. People like the familiar. If we are looking now at leaders like Sanders, Trump and Trudeau, the level of dissatisfaction is threateningly high. And if change is not real, look out your window for the mob with the torches.