The Summer of Our Discontent

by | Sep 8, 2015 | Atticus On The Trail, Creative Nonfiction, Politics

STATESBORO, GEORGIA – We know everything and we know nothing.

Following Donald Trump’s announcement in June, the last three months have been laden with more speculation and attention than any campaign has a right to enjoy a full year and a half out from its election. Nearly every single segment on every single cable news show has been saturated with speculation as to whether Trump can continue to dominate the race, both in numbers and conversation, whether that’s during a report on Bernie Sanders’ momentum or Hillary Clinton’s struggle to bury her albatross of an E-mail scandal or Jeb Bush’s continued swoon. It’s been dubbed “The Summer of Trump,” which is both accurate and misleading.

The story of this campaign isn’t one man’s vanity-based run at the Oval Office, or the subsequent damage he’s done to the American brand of politics or the Republican Party, rather it’s the fact that we have seen the beginning of a New Politic, an era in which the tried and true manner of picking our leaders has crumbled to the wayside to make way for a new method that is both concerning and enticing.

We’re now all residents of the Era of the Outlier, and will be for the considerable future.

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Everybody wants to ask me the same question: can Trump really win the nomination?

I tell them the same thing every time.

There is a very real possibility.

But he’s not a conservative, they say.

He’s a joke, they say.

And the truth is, they’re right. But it doesn’t matter. None of it matters. Trump has come out in favor of socialized medicine, has lauded Hillary Clinton, has admitted that he’s been gaming a system, both as an entrepreneur and lobbyist, that is undeniably broken. He gives money to Republicans and Democrats alike, he says, “because I want them to do what I tell them to do.”

The rebellious streak is so long and noticeable that many have speculated whether Trump is a Manchurian candidate sent by the Clintons to disrupt the GOP primary and pave a clean path for Hillary’s eventual coronation. Not to mention the horrid, nationalistic and ignorant statements he’s strewn along the way that have probably doomed the GOP to lose the Hispanic vote for a generation.

But again, it doesn’t matter.

It’s never been about policy with Trump because the base is simply feeding off the bad vibes and anger he’s shoveling their way. It’s a symbiotic relationship that has shown, once and for all, these people, these Tea Partiers, have never been concerned with taxes or healthcare reform or supposed governmental takeovers. The only thing that has ever mattered to Donald Trump’s base, a constituency of at least thirty percent of the Republican Party, and possibly more, is that they have an avenue and a voice with which to speak their displeasure.

For those who pay attention to the scrum outside of elections, this sounds reductive considering the rhetoric of Republican lawmakers up and down the aisle for the past seven years, but that criticism of the Obama Administration and his supposed flunkies Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have only stoked the fire rather than satisfy it. The criticisms – hints at “The Other” or questioning of Obama’s birthplace or motivations – have only gone so far to give what Trump calls “The Silent Majority,” after Nixon’s own famous electorate of terrified squares, what they crave.

And what do they crave?

Anger.

It is the only true and honest byproduct of an aging and isolated majority that is rapidly seeing its already-diminished control whittled away by the year. White voters, particularly working-class white voters, have been in a position of decline since the 1970s, a deterioration that has only been hurried by a series of disastrous trade policies in the ’90s and 2000s. Though the real anger should be reserved for the economic elite who have pushed and massaged these deals, the Republicans have managed to direct and persuade the dissatisfaction in a matador-ish fashion in the direction of The Other, or the immigrant, or the young African-Americans or the Hispanics or the women or the homosexuals, via a carefully chosen series of wedge issues. The anger has been passed around in a veritable shell game for decades now, though the Republicans are coming to learn, day-by-day, hour-to-hour, what happens when you run out of places to redirect.

Much like when Victor von Frankenstein came face-to-face with his most dear creation, the Republicans are now discovering what it’s like to finally be on the wrong end of all that wrath.

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Strangely enough, the rise of Bernie Sanders has followed an eerily similar track. The erosion of the American Middle-Class has given rise to a new brand of Democratic politics that has always gestated just under the surface but has very rarely found purchase in the country proper.

Sanders, as explained, is the type of politician who encompasses the anger of his base a well as he distributes it. His job is to the take the lectern and dole out sermons on wealth inequality and the disadvantages created via globalism and corporate-led “reform.” It’s no surprise this message is gaining momentum just as Hillary Clinton’s campaign has stumbled repeatedly and been reduced to a daily aggregate for the latest decided-upon-and-focus-group-tested explanation for exactly what happened in regard to her E-mails as Secretary of State.

His campaign is working so well, and in the past it also would have gained traction as he’s a notably powerful speaker and advocate, because his opponent is so inept. Much as Jeb has already shown he’s an incompetent messenger and salesman, Hillary has never been able to string together so much as a proficient campaign in her political life. Exemplified by her failure to pass healthcare reform during her husband’s first term and her eventual loss to Barack Obama in 2008, Hillary’s most glaring weakness is her inability to communicate with the voter, which is an ultimately damning trait in this new world of hyper-awareness and round-the-clock coverage.

Jeb enjoys the same feebleness of personality and seems at all times more at home discussing policy than relating to the electorate. Trump’s assertion that he’s boring has been so on point that even Bush has apparently taken the criticism to heart as recently he’s been screaming his way through campaign events like a man possessed.

This shaky pair of frontrunners come custom-made for the general election and would wage a respectable war and more than likely a close race if given the opportunity, but now, in the time of social-media driven echo chambers, they’re stumbling from the starting gates. Neither is particularly anchored to any given issue or cause in this campaign other than the issue of fulfillment and the cause of getting themselves elected. In comparison to these politicians, the hotheaded duo of Trump and Sanders are shining in every regard and making good copy along the way.

In the Era of the Outlier that makes all the difference.

This electorate is pissed off and they’re not entirely sure where that anger should be directed. For some it’s the Mexican border. For others it’s the G8 countries that seem to control and widen the inequality gap with little regard to human suffering or want. Though the two sides are as far apart on the political spectrum as you can get without falling off, they agree on one thing wholeheartedly: politics as usual isn’t going to cut it anymore.

Donald Trump – Caricature by DonkeyHotey

Bernie Sanders – Caricature by DonkeyHotey

About The Author

Jared Yates Sexton

A born and bred Hoosier, Jared Yates Sexton is the author of An End to All Things (2012, Atticus Books), The Hook and the Haymaker (2015, Split Lip Press), and Bring Me the Head of Yorkie Goodman (2015, New Pulp Press). He currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Georgia Southern University.