For many, thinking out of the box resonates. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders each in their own way have captured a very large share of voters with one simple idea: They are thinking out of the box. But first, according to them, you have to understand why the old way doesn’t work: The establishment is incompetent, corrupt, and is failing a large majority of the American people.
There is a new homologous reality equally filled with the anger and dissatisfaction that Trump and Sanders are selling, and there are plenty of takers. It was just seven and a half years ago when President Obama took office that the unemployment number was hovering at 10 percent; today it is at 5 percent. The threat of ISIS (an issue that has been viewed as a national security threat by Republicans) has not only been acted upon by the Obama administration but has seen progress. Air strikes have done substantial damage to ISIS’s infrastructure and hierarchy. But in the year of the outsiders, their message has carved a political space where this sort of progress is pushed into a vacuum almost as if it never happened.
When Trump declares he will make “America Great Again,” his tone and demeanor take his audience back to a different time, an America in the late 19th century where those left out of American industrialism held revival meetings. Except rather than the curing of an individual who is ill, Trump speaks about a debilitated America. “We don’t win anymore,” he bellows, and “When I am elected, we will win again!” Trump presents the world to his followers in black and white, both in terms of racial preference and winners and losers. And his strong intimation is that the people who are our leaders today (starting with the current president, who, according to Trump, is not even one of us) hold us back from not one or two but a string of victories, including defeating ISIS and winning trade wars with countries like China and Mexico.
A revival of spirit cannot be complete without exorcising the devil that is leading to our downfall. Here is where Trump built the foundation for his campaign, beginning with being a leader of the “birther” movement against Obama’s legitimacy to be president, to the battle cry of building a wall between the United States and Mexico to keep those who would take our jobs and country from us. Last year, in describing people coming over the border between Mexico and the U.S., Trump called them mostly drug dealers and rapists. “These are very bad people,” he warned. In demonizing individuals or large groups of people, Trump has tapped an energy resource America never seems to run out of, xenophobia and racism.
Bernie Sanders wants a revolution, and nothing else will do. Sanders has made Wall Street and the big banks the scourge of the middle class and rulings like Citizens United the death knell for democracy. Metaphorically, he wants to drive the money changers out of the temple, and like all revolutionaries, he retains the high ground that anoints him in this quest. His followers religiously believe in him; they embrace his moral theme, which brings Sanders as its messenger above any kind of scrutiny. His advantage in running for president as a Democrat against Hillary Clinton while she is proved to be mortal in the political arena (voting for the Iraq war or her paid speeches to Wall Street) is that Sanders is beyond reproach to his followers. And for the young and those who feel that purity means more than the reality check of what goals can be accomplished, their loyalty to Sanders cannot be swayed.
In capturing the attention of the liberal base of the Democratic Party, Sanders has shown the ability to convince those who seek immediate transformation and mobilize them into action. Moreover, like Trump’s base, Sanders voters are willing to unequivocally accept their intrinsic definition of what and who are duplicitous to the American dream. Now, when Trump and Sanders have raised the stakes high enough, the very future of America is in jeopardy. Not only can acknowledgement of what’s wrong with the country be understood by those outside the D.C. Beltway, but change can occur. With their claim of independence from special interests, their followers believe that their candidate’s omnipotence will inevitably triumph. These jejune beliefs are a feast for extraneous debate and voter turnout.
It is within our human nature to wish to be part of a movement. There is no doubt that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders characterize their run for the White House as a movement. Americans who have already voted for them and those who may yet vote for them are bonded in their distrust and contempt for the establishment and business-as-usual politics. To be an outsider in this year’s election is not only sending a message to Washington, for younger and first-time voters it has brought nascent energy.
The question that remains to be answered after November is will outside-the-box thinking become more central in meaningful change or continue to stay on the periphery of affecting the outcome of policy innovation?