By Robert A. Vella
With Donald Trump’s sweep of five northeastern states in primary elections held yesterday (Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island), and Hillary Clinton’s near-sweep (Bernie Sanders won Rhode Island), the 2016 presidential election in all likelihood will pit the renegade anti-establishment Republican against the status quo, politics-as-usual Democrat this November. Barring any major scandal or upheaval, such as a GOP coup attempt at a brokered convention, Americans will be forced to choose either a firebrand nationalist who offers ill-conceived change through bigoted passion, a socially-reassuring but uninspiring candidate who’ll do nothing to fix this ailing nation’s serious structural problems, or none of the above. It’s not much of a choice, and I suspect a record number of citizens will stay home on election day.
The smell of decay is never pleasant, and it will further putrefy as the death of American democracy slowly runs its course. Think about this: many traditional Republicans view Trump as crazy and dangerous and would rather see Clinton win the election whether they end up voting for her or not; and, many young people and progressives – who also might not vote this year – view Clinton as the standard-bearer of a corrupt corporatist establishment largely responsible for the rising economic and political inequalities now plaguing America and much of the western world. Robert Borosage highlighted this demise of democracy within the context of yesterday’s elections while quoting a defiant Mr. Sanders, from the Campaign for America’s Future – The Atlantic Primaries: Trump and Clinton Consolidate:
Sanders won Rhode Island, the only state that had an open primary, allowing independents to vote. The others were limited to registered Democrats only, effectively blocking independent and many young voters from casting a ballot.
“I will not stop fighting for an America where no one who works 40 hours a week lives in poverty, where health care is a right for all Americans, where kids of all backgrounds can go to college without crushing debt, where there is no bank too big to fail, no banker too powerful to jail, and we’ve reclaimed our democracy from the billionaire class.”
Borosage also vividly characterized the presumed general election match-up:
Clinton surrogates fret about the threat posed by Trump, urging Sanders to stop challenging the former secretary of state. But, in reality, Caligula’s ass could beat Trump in the fall. Nearly one of four Republicans voting last night say that they won’t vote for him. Americans are looking for change, but they are not gong to elect Donald Trump president of the United States.
However, even the improbable is possible in a low-turnout election and beyond which Borosage himself warned about near the end of his editorial:
In a time when voters are looking for change, Democrats are moving towards nominating a status quo candidate. Clinton has been part of the Washington establishment for over a quarter century. She’s a committed interventionist at a time when Americans are tired of endless wars. She seems constitutionally unable to put forth a large, compelling vision of where she would like to take the country. Sanders, his campaign scorned from the start, has come from nowhere to run even with her in national party polls. But she’s won the most votes, and seems increasingly likely to win the most pledged delegates.
Even her smartest supporters worry about the absence of vision. Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who stumped with Clinton, noted she had work to do to reach an electorate in a “revolutionary mood.” “You are not going to win this general election by proposing incremental changes,” Mr. Murphy said, adding that he hoped Mrs. Clinton “doesn’t shy away from proposing some big ideas to try to reorder the country, to the benefit of those that are hurting.”
Neither Clinton nor Sanders nor any Democrat with a pulse is likely to lose against Trump, whether they offer a “big idea” or not. But electing a candidate whose hallmark is continuity and whose promise is incremental change will fail to meet the challenge of this time. And the movement that Sanders has begun must continue to build, or Trump’s faux populism will seem comic compared to the vicious right-wing reaction that will seek to fill the void.
What’s certain to occur before the party nominations are sewn-up is an effort by Clinton to rally Sanders’ supporters to her candidacy – a difficult task considering the ideological divide among Democratic-leaning voters. What’s also certain to occur before November is an effort by Trump to allay the fears about him within the larger electorate; specifically, establishment Republicans, centrists, moderates, and anti-establishment progressives – a difficult task as well, but one that is easier to achieve during the brief late-campaign stage when less-informed voters start paying attention to politics.