Trump and Sanders? Yes
Donald Trump walked away from the so-called "Acela primaries" in the Northeast a complete winner, sweeping the Republican contests in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island in convincing fashion. All eyes are now focused on Indiana, where Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has declared war: If Trump can defeat Cruz at the Hoosier Alamo, will Cruz yield?
That's about as likely as Bernie Sanders' folding his tent, despite the near impossibility of his securing the Democrat nomination: Hillary Clinton has it all but locked up. Yet there's little joy over the prospect of another Clinton presidency: she has the charisma of an actuary.
There's something oddly reassuring about the chaos in this year's presidential primaries: It makes me believe in something like hope. So long as people are restive, and are ready, willing and able to voice discontent, the republic remains alive.
I'm hoping the determination of outsiders to change the course our major parties have set is a sign of fundamental change. We're pouring new wine into old skins, and the old skins are breaking. There's nothing particularly new about this sort of disruption, no matter how painful it may be to endure it.
Amid all the hand-wringing by the chattering class this year, I've yet to see one writer or commentator mention a wonderful book published in 1970. Written by the American political scientist Walter Dean Burnham, "Critical Elections and the Mainsprings of American Politics" argues, simply, that political parties become tired and complacent. From time to time, they are remade to reflect new interests, passions and pressures arising from the electorate.
So what are we learning this year? From the right comes Trump. His is the voice of new pariah class among the politically correct: when he says he wants to make America great again, what he really means is that those who bear what the left calls "white male privilege" aren't mere tokens to be spent in the pursuit of the dreams of our new identity politicians.
In the dawning new era in which Caucasians will become a minority, Trump's is a defiant claim to assert the rights of this new minority to equal respect. His appeal to white working-class voters is simple: Your lives matter too. The formal rhetoric of democracy demands no less.
And what of Bernie Sanders?
Sanders, too, reflects unheard voices demanding their right to be heard. In Sanders' case, those voices are those of folks dispossessed in an economy marked by increasing inequality. His appeal is simple: all lives matter; without economic opportunity for all, we are a republic in name only.
I love the presence of Trump and Sanders in our political life. Both represent voices that demand to be heard in the new political landscape being forced on us by demographic and economic change.
And what of Hillary Clinton? She's a tired old ironing board of a candidate, a place to press old laundry. She may well win this year, but her election will result in nothing more than a holding action. She has the creativity of a tree stump: Her life is but an elaborate preparation for the main chance.
Burnham teaches that from time to time the country changes in fundamental ways the political class just can't comprehend. So voters force change on the parties. We're in a transition period just now. I look forward to the years to come. Something new is emerging in our midst; it's just not yet clear what this new thing will be. •