Presidential Election 2016 has seen an unusual number of comparisons to powerful but immoral leaders in history. I have been asking myself, is this just the media attempting to drive up ratings? Especially with the campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, their “outsider” views have been painted as extremist and threatening.
It is possible that a quest for ratings is all this phenomenon amounts to (traditional media are in decline and the quality of their reporting is failing as well), but I suspect there may be more to it. I think that America is at a turning point- politically and culturally. Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have made their election campaign platforms based on anti-establishment sentiment. Rather than being thoughtless popularism as many have complained, I see it as calculated and sound political strategy. Much like the people of pre World War II Germany, Americans are angry at their economic situation and at their Government, which has faced many embarrassing setbacks in recent years. Our failing educational system and broken national media has left the American people in search of a scapegoat. Election 2016 is now about finding a party to blame.
The easiest target in election 2016, of course, are Muslims. The rise of ISIS (Daesh) in the horrifying power vacuum of the Middle East. New immigrants and refugees to the United States of America are also prime targets for fear mongering. But the establishment itself is the same sort of target. It all depends on which side of the polarized right-left divide you happen to fall on. Unlike pre World War II Germany, however, America has many more diverse cultural and interest groups. It will be possible to unite one faction against another, but much more difficult to unite a significant majority against a minority.
The argument that Trump promises too many things that he cannot follow through on can also be used against Bernie Sanders. Sanders promises a great deal, but the power of a President is limited and the power of an “outsider” president is even more limited. The degree to which he is even an outsider is in question, having been an elected official since 1981 according to his own campaign website.
Ultimately, I think we see these comparisons to monsters from history because Americans as whole feel on the edge of something. A change is coming in election 2016, and the right and the left are reacting to unknown change on the horizon with a fight or flight response. It is a natural course, known to the wise to be a way that human societies behave for thousands of years.
“In book VIII of The Republic, Plato begins to describe several stages of government that are intolerable, yet unavoidable. Plato predicts a society with an enormous socioeconomic gap, where the poor remain poor and the rich become richer off the blood and sweat of others. In this instance, the people will long for freedom and liberty. They will use it as a battle cry against their oppressors, sparking a revolution.
From this revolution, blood will be spilled and many will die. During this time of violent transition, the people will rally behind one man, or a few men, whom they believe to be their savior. The people will lift this champion to great heights and anoint him with sacred responsibilities to bring liberty to the land. When the smoke clears the old regime will be gone and a democracy will be supplanted. And while this is reminiscent of several historical revolutions, including the American revolution, Plato warns that the trouble only intensifies from here.”
From Plato and the Disaster of Democracy.
My hope is that America, as a society, fails to agree on which of the “candidates” are a savior in presidential election 2016. Compromise and the differing of opinions are the nature of politics. Should we abandon politics, as some have already done, then the alternatives we are left with are oppression and disintegration.