How Idealism Played Into the 2016 Primary Campaigns

As the 2016 Presidential Primary season winds down, it’s interesting to take a look at how we got here. In the battle for idealism and change, there were differing results within the two major political parties. On the Democrat side, pragmatic Hillary Clinton clawed out her win over idealist Bernie Sanders. On the GOP side, the non-politician Donald Trump stood the victor from the original field of seventeen in a true shocker. The tides were changing. Politics as usual was not to be tolerated this year.

Idealism seeks to set a new standard using a collective effort to create a different process. For many, having the first woman nominated for POTUS for a major party is extremely idealistic. The goal is that the new system will be better and more pure to the collective ideals. It can be either liberal or conservative. Average Americans rise up in disgust of the process and demand change. Bernie Sanders, long term political Independent, represented that for the left. The right found an odd combination of capitalist tycoon, media showman, and ego extraordinaire to lead their party. What a contrast those two men exhibited in particular. The democratic socialist represented one side of the spectrum. The always outrageous celebrity represented the other.

If qualifications were what really mattered, idealism would never have gained a foothold. John Kasich on the Republican side, and Hillary Clinton, for the Democrats would have crushed it within their parties. Kasich had experience as both a governor and member of Congress. When you know how it works at the state and federal levels, you have a good perspective. Clinton was not in elected office during her time in the governor’s mansion in Arkansas and the White House. But she was an active political partner with her husband. She had firsthand knowledge of, and was involved in his decisions. To go on to become a US Senator and US Secretary of State in her own right only added to her expanded view and knowledge of how our government works. But as we all know now, he didn’t survive his battle, and she had to fight her way to the top for hers. So how did Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders enjoy such success against their more qualified contenders?

I would argue there were similarities and differences between the perceived idealistic candidates of the two parties. Similarities include anger. With Bernie calling for a revolution and Donald demanding he be given what he earned, they each had supporters burning with righteous indignation. Both of those candidates railed against rigged systems, and used that as a basis for complaint when results didn’t match their expected outcomes. Both of those men promised it would be contentious at convention. Both of them had hardcore, committed supporters who bought into the rhetoric, but failed to look at the realities. Both men projected, to a certain degree, entitlement. They assumed the enthusiasm of their supporters should have been evident in all voters. Both candidates allowed ego to burn them at the end. Last but not least, both bore the unrealistic expectation of their supporters that they could usher in a new breed of politics.

Differences include motivation. Bernie clearly had a populist vision of everyone doing better. Donald? Well, Donald is for Donald. While Trump smokes everyone with his brilliant manipulation of media, he has no real experience with governmental operations. Sanders has been mayor, US House member, and US Senate member. He knows how the game is played. As a politician, Bernie was accustomed to sometimes experiencing the displeasure of the voters he was elected to serve. Donald, as the boss, has only listened to that he has wanted to hear. That’s not good for the person elected to represent 350 million or so different people. But by and large, it was the intolerance of Donald Trump against certain ethnic and religious populations measured against Bernie’s inclusiveness that proved the biggest distinction.

Trump played into a red hot anger among white Americans who felt they were no longer being heard. He appealed to those who felt political correctness had gone too far, and they liked someone who finally stood up and said the things they said among friends. He fed their fears, and stoked their fires of discontent. Through him there was a voice for their outrage. He validated their sense of might makes right. His aggression and intolerance of others echoed their sentiments to a terrifying degree. Donald magnified everything that is wrong when you speak without knowing, and made a mockery of the election in the country around the world.

Bernie’s message was the equivalent of the news anchor in the movie Network, who encourages all those watching to go throw their windows open and yell out “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” into the night. Their distaste for politics as usual was palpable. They were confident in his message, and for many young and first time voters, his idealism represented hope for change for the future. He talked of a future that all could benefit from, while not leaving our impoverished behind. But his message also bore the weight of a no compromise mindset. And that’s where idealism gets lost.

Those who are not looking for qualified and competent leadership, but radical change instead don’t understand the system. Democracy is not fun. It’s hard and it’s messy and it’s more complicated than it should be. But we cannot undermine it in the name of all or nothing. That’s the thing about it….sometimes you’re happy with the way things are going, but often you wish our elected officials would focus on the issues that are more important to you. Everyone is not going to be happy all the time. But if we demand revolutions, rather than reasonable change, it’s hard to deliver on that. If we seek to exclude others from a nation built on the collective efforts of almost every ethnic background in the world, we fail to live up to our ideals.

Running this country is hard. It’s harder when you have unrealistic expectations. Trying to appeal to disgusted and disengaged voters by promising top to bottom change is a recipe for failure. Bernie didn’t make it happen, and Donald won’t. Like it or not, the presidency is one continuos effort at biting your tongue, and trying not to royally offend those who didn’t vote for you. It’s a master class in the fine art of compromise, and that is a skill neither Sanders nor Trump possess.

Donald Trump, in his career as a businessman, has never suffered the wrath of a voter to whom a promise was broken. He’s never been subjected to a public calling out as elected leader of anything. Yes, he’s getting a lesson in push back by the media and public after his most recent attacks on the judge hearing his civil suit, but he can still walk away at any point if his ego cannot withstand the onslaught. There is a failure to respond very well to the attacks that highlight his lack of capacity to be President and his unwillingness to take responsibility for the things he’s said. Throughout the campaign season he has virtually demonized and demeaned almost every single voting bloc, with the exception of white males. His biggest concession so far appears to be the use of a teleprompter and focused speech the night Hillary Clinton was named the Democrat Presumptive Nominee for the presidency. He had a reasonably rational speech, given some in his recent history. But within days, he was back to shooting from the hip. The Republican establishment does not like Donald Trump, and find it extremely distasteful that they cannot control him. Mainstream American Republican voters LOVE that he cannot be controlled.

So does it matter if the person with the absolute control over life and death of millions, if not billions of people around the world, refuses to listen to the advice of others? Is that really a good thing? Are we learning the hard way here that bluster and noise have no comparison to reason and questioning? Is it possible to believe that anyone who has been involved in 3,500 lawsuits over thirty years is who we want running the free world?

But Bernie has baggage of his own, of a different type. He set himself up as the ethical one, decrying the creation of Super PACs in his name. The problem is he DID have one or more, and not another campaign compared with the number of issues identified with campaign donations as his. He was alerted to problems on more than one quarterly report, but May, 2016 seems to have been a high water mark. His campaign was issued more than 638 pages of financial irregularities, including donations in excess of the $2,700 limit, as well as 43 pages of listings of foreign donors. But while his supporters continued to call out Hillary Clinton for speeches to Wall Street and accepting their money, Bernie was the one with questionable finances. Why didn’t this matter to his supporters?

Because for both Sanders and Trump, those voting for them wanted something different. Idealism can blind you to the reality, when the hopes are for change. Looking into the future helps prevent seeing things in the present. The outcome, the end game, the results are all that matter. Republicans liked the guy who says what he thinks. There is value to that. But there is no value to dividing the population. There is no pride in demeaning entire segments of the population based on sex, ethnicity, or religion. Many Democrats liked the guy who called out the greed in American politics. They didn’t care, or bother to learn, what his truth was. If your campaign has such financial problems that reams of paper are necessary for their corrections, you are either committing fraud, or don’t know the system. How can you turn back Wall Street influence if you don’t know how to manage the system that gets you that authority?

Idealism is important to bring new or young voters to the process. But when you’re not really a party member, but use the party resources for your own benefit, problems will arise. In Bernie’s case, that resulted in voters not knowing the primary election process, and feeling extremely frustrated with not being able to vote at times. There is a reason for the primary elections, and that is to decide on the nominee from the party. If you’re not part of the party your candidate is running for, you must register for that party in most states. Too many younger voters had no idea of their responsibility in getting registered. When their votes ultimately didn’t count, or they weren’t able to vote due to not registering, it was easy to complain the system was rigged. It wasn’t. But seeds of discontent are very easy to sow. Especially when you are considering a young and enthusiastic voting population. It’s easier to tell your supporters that the powers that be don’t want you to succeed, than to admit you didn’t lay enough groundwork for your supporters to be successful.

Now that the primaries are over, and despite Bernie’s promise for a contested convention, the two major players in the race to the White House have been established. The distinctions could not be more stark between the two. One has idealism related to change based on a 50 year history of public service to others, and one has a history dedicated to himself. The reality is that only one of those candidates, historic in winning her party’s nomination, wants this country to move forward and allow all to succeed. Only one is a role model for even temperament, deliberate and rational thinking, and compassionate reasoning. Her idealism is pragmatic in its approach, with the results of decades of service to back it up. The office of the presidency is too important, not only to this nation, but the entire world, to have a flavor of the moment making decisions there.

Idealism and demands for change got us here, whether it was voting for the first woman to be nominated from a major party, the outsider speaking out about corporate greed, or the showman who promises much entertainment. Now it’s time to make sure that the person who represents the best chance for progress gets elected. It’s time to bring those new voters into the fold, so they understand their part in making sure this country has adequate and appropriate leadership moving ahead. It’s time to bring the people together to make sure as we move forward, we ALL move forward. That, is idealism in politics, at its finest.

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