Donald, if I were a diplomat, I’d call you an overzealous populist, but since I’m no such thing, I’ll call you what I actually think you are: a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic demagogue. And I don’t toss those words around lightly.
Nobody is perfect, and in politics, imperfections tend to be blown out of proportion. But you have time and time again proven your awfulness. Every time I think you’ve peaked, you call for a ban on Muslim immigration or suggest women should be punished simply for exercising their constitutional rights. All this being said, I must be crazy because I feel like I’m indebted to you. Trump, you’re like a black light, exposing the hideous underbelly of our political system. And for that, I must thank you.
For myself and millions of other millennials, this election cycle is our first. For the first time in our lives, we’ll have the opportunity to participate in that great American institution: democracy. Yes, come November, we’ll play a role in choosing the next chapter in American history—
Except, not really.
If this election cycle has taught us anything, by the time the general election rolls around, most of the choices have already been made for us.
Say what you want about Donald Trump, the fact this man could overwhelmingly win the popular Republican primary vote and still not get the nomination because he failed to reach some arbitrary number is proof positive “we the people” are not in charge here. The fact Bernie Sanders won by double digits in New Hampshire and still came out with less pledged delegates than Hillary Clinton is another example. Hell, before this whole primary process began, the Democratic National Convention was already stacking the odds in the establishment’ s favor, limiting the number of debates between the Democratic candidates.
Things got really egregious several weeks ago when Ted Cruz won every delegate up for grabs in Colorado. Was it because Coloradans overwhelmingly favored Cruz over Trump? No. It’s because in the summer of last year the Republican Party in Colorado decided to do away with its presidential straw poll.
What is a presidential straw poll? In years past, Republican Party members who attended the state’s caucus took a vote on their preferred presidential candidate. Now, for a long time, this vote didn’t mean anything because the state’s delegates weren’t allotted based on its outcome. But then the national Republican Party changed the rules, requiring delegates from caucus states like Colorado be bound to the straw poll’s results.
Faced with the prospect of actual citizens having a role in choosing the nominee, Republican leadership in Colorado unanimously voted to do away with the vote, allowing delegates from the state to pledge themselves to their preferred candidate.
Of course, some make the reasonable argument undemocratic actions like those taken in Colorado are a safety valve, a way of insuring potentially apocalyptic candidates like Trump don’t have a shot at the presidency. Surely, if the people are allowed to elect a man like Trump, our democracy is not long for this world anyway—or that is how the logic goes. But it’s flawed logic: sacrificing democracy to save democracy is a paradox, my friend.
But you know what? I’m not really angry at the Republican or Democratic establishments. I don’t agree with what they’re doing, but I understand why they’re doing it. If you have the ability to tip the odds in your favor without facing any real consequences, you’re going to do it—that’s just pragmatic.
No, instead, I’m angry at the bafflingly large contingent of journalists who defend these parties’ undemocratic behavior.
On April 11, NPR Morning Edition co-host Steve Inskeep began the radio program talking about Donald Trump’s failure to secure any delegates in Colorado. Inskeep noted how a miffed Trump had declared Cruz’s delegate acquisitions “a corrupt deal.” Inskeep asked NPR commentator Cokie Roberts and Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker if Trump’s condemnation of the delegate system was warranted.
Roberts immediately responded “No, of course not … it’s the rules of the game. But apparently Mr. Trump didn’t know that.” She went on to say the eccentric businessman should have tried harder to court delegates if he wanted to beat Cruz.
I’m all on board with being smugly dismissive of Donald Trump, but the problem is Roberts isn’t just dismissing Trump when she says this; she’s tacitly endorsing a system that actively disenfranchises people.
Inskeep, to his credit, followed up by saying, “People have attacked these rules for generations as being undemocratic and have even tried to change them. Wouldn’t Trump have a point if he arrives in Cleveland with the most votes behind him?”
This time, Parker weighed in with her own smug dismissal: “Well, yeah, I suspect that’ll be a great argument for the base and certainly for the people who feel like, ‘well, gosh, does my vote count at all?’ But, you know, part of the game is to prevent someone like Trump becoming president.”
Did Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker just mockingly disregard those calling for more representation in a country that is—hold on… let me check—a representative democracy? Wow.
But she raises the same rational argument mentioned earlier: this seemingly broken system is a safety net meant to stop populists, demagogues and fascists from hijacking our country. Aside from the aforementioned point about the absurdity of sacrificing democracy to save democracy, there is another reason this argument doesn’t hold any water.
The media and the Republican establishment have painted Trump as a catastrophic anomaly, something never before seen in American politics. But Trump and people like him aren’t new. Whacky populists are permanent fixtures of all democracies. What’s new is people are supporting this whacky populist in unsettling numbers.
There are millions of people angry and desperate enough to back a candidate who openly discusses his penis size during presidential debates. My point is, even if Trump is denied the nomination, his supporters won’t stop being angry and desperate, and more likely than not, we’ll all be dancing this same jig several years from now with someone even crazier than Trump—isn’t that a scary thought.
If the establishments of either of these parties want to stop Trump’s populist momentum, not just Trump himself, they’re going to have to pursue substantive change, not just continue using the same tactics that got them into this mess to begin with.
What kind of change am I talking about? Well, for a start, maybe they could actually incorporate “the people” in a system that purports to be “of the people, for the people.”