After struggling in recent primaries, Donald Trump has turned to one of the more popular phrases of this election season — “the system is rigged!” Of course, there’s a reason that line of rhetoric has been so effective. As I’ve written before in previous articles, I view the rise of populist candidates like Sanders and Trump as a direct response to the plutocratic nature of our government.
When a democratic government isn’t seen as reflecting the will of its citizens, then that government loses legitimacy. And when a government seems illegitimate, voters become attracted to “authentic voices.” Unfortunately, what qualifies as authentic often boils down to the Trump style of “telling it like it is,” especially if that telling taps into racist sentiments.
But in the case of the primaries, Trump isn’t exactly wrong. Neither the Republican nor the Democratic nomination processes are all that democratic; as Adam Gopnik points out in his article, “Wild Parties: In Defense of Political Factions,” they were never really meant to be.
Basically, Gopnik’s argument states that parties are instruments of American democracy, not institutions within it, therefore they don’t have to operate democratically. Now while I agree that that’s technically true, try telling that to a Trump or a Sanders supporter who thinks their candidate is being cheated out of a nomination. The issue isn’t whether or not parties need to operate democratically; the issue is that voters believe they should.
I don’t believe Gopnik’s wrong, but the line between instrument and institution has certainly been blurred. In many cases the influence of partisanship has overtaken real democratic institutions.
Regardless of how you categorize political parties, there’s no denying that they rely on legitimacy in order to operate. And while there’s already a lot at stake this election season, I can’t help but wonder if the fate of our political parties may also be on the table.
Both Trump and Sanders supporters have threatened a break within their respective parties if their candidates don’t receive the nomination. By some estimates, “Bernie or Bust” participants make up nearly 30% of all Sanders’ supporters. Given that we live on a college campus, I’m sure we all know a few of them.
At the outset, a movement like Bernie or Bust seems awfully foolhardy. And that’s not to say there aren’t legitimate reasons why you might not want to vote for Clinton, but I have a hard time believing she’d ever be worse than Trump or Cruz. Given the extent to which the two parties dominate the political spectrum, a significant defection from Democratic votership would surely secure a win for the Republicans.
Ironically this is the same thinking behind the Bernie or Bust campaign. According to the Citizens Against Plutocracy website, the philosophy behind Bernie or Bust is that by accumulating enough pledges to the cause, Democrats will be forced to unite behind Sanders so as not to allow a Republican in the White House.
While this sort of all-or-nothing hostile takeover of the Democratic party seems highly unlikely, it does point to Sanders’ influence. While his campaign has found little support in the Democratic establishment, the party has shifted left, albeit somewhat superficially, to accommodate Bernie’s supporters. Clinton herself has become so adept at adopting Bernie’s rhetoric that I wouldn’t be surprised if she delivered her next campaign speech with a thick Brooklyn accent.
On the Republican side, Trump has hinted towards riots if he doesn’t receive the nomination. And despite the public chastisement he’s received from establishment figures and the talk of a brokered convention, it seems the the GOP is poised to grin and present their presumed nominee.
But what happens if Trump does lose? Or if the Bernie or Bust movement gains real traction? It seems both parties are willing to bend to accommodate their populist movements — but at what point does a break become inevitable?
Other options have always existed, like the Green or the Labor parties, but it’s difficult to imagine those ever being viable options. That is, unless a significant portion of the electorate decides that their own parties are illegitimate and seeks out an alternative.
CAMERON DICHTER is a College sophomore from Philadelphia, studying English. His email address is camd@ sas.upenn.edu. “Real Talk” usually appears every other Monday.
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