This year’s presidential primary election exposes a segment of the American population who are angry about the status quo. It has given rise to two so-called anti-establishment candidates — Donald Trump (Republican) and Bernie Sanders (Democrat). They have one thing in common which departs from established practices. Both refuse to accept campaign money from big corporations and special interest groups. Trump relies on his own wealth to fuel his campaign. Sanders relies on the small donations from over a million ordinary citizens. In so doing, they give voices to the frustrations and angers of millions of people feeling left behind in the American system. What are those folks angry about? The following are six big issues:
The first one has a racial tone. There are many Americans (so-called angry white men) who are not happy to see an elected president who is black although they dare not say so because of anti-discrimination laws. Since day one, the Republican lawmakers in Congress have united to oppose President Obama in every way, resulting in unprecedented gridlock of the government for years. In 2012, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican Leader, declared he wanted to make Obama a “one-term president”. McConnell carried little influence and Obama was later re-elected by a significant national majority. This has made the opponents even angrier who gravitated first to the Tea Party and now to Trump. So all things done by Obama, regardless of any positive outcome, are considered bad policies to be opposed. The problem is, how to oppose Obama differs among leading members of the Republican Party. Thus the party is severely divided from within, a result of reaping what they’ve sowed. The most angry faction is now led by Trump who call themselves conservatives. Another angry conservative faction with a religious zeal is led by Ted Cruz. This leaves the establishment faction powerless whose candidates like Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush have already dropped out of the race.
The second issue is globalization. The traditional industries in America continue to decline notably in automobiles, publishing, and less-heavy manufacturing where companies have outsourced employment to low-cost countries like China and Southeast Asia. This has caused job losses in the millions and also stagnant wages for many years. The blue-collar workers are affected most. Globalization is a phenomenon that American companies have caused, promoted and profited greatly, but their gains are not passed down to their employees. Propelled by exploding information technology, globalization is a modernization path of no return. Whether we like it or not, every country must adapt and take advantage of the new opportunities. The US should look to Germany and Japan to see how they combat similar job losses rather than complain about the brave new world. It is easy to scapegoat China and other countries running a trade surplus with the US (“They are stealing our jobs!”). The scapegoating also makes a devil out of free trade that goes hand in hand with globalization. Jobs tend to flow to places of lower costs, and talents flow to places of opportunities. That’s what we call competition and productivity. The US cannot bring back those jobs. Instead, they should continue to create new high-paying technical jobs like they have done before.
Immigration is the third big issue. The fact that the US has 11 million illegal immigrants mostly from Mexico is a result of ineffective border control for decades. It is also a result of great opportunities in America that attract people from the south. So far the government has failed to do much, not to mention a comprehensive reform bill that died in Congress earlier. Only the slow-growth economy following the last recession has succeeded in reducing the flow of illegal immigrants. Trump plays to the angry voices by advocating building a wall along the southern border to prevent “rapists and drug dealers” from coming over. He also says Mexico should pay for the wall because it is running a trade surplus with the US. In so doing, Trump has angered millions of Hispanic voters who will say no to him in the general election in November if he becomes the Republican nominee.
The fourth issue is health care. Most Americans know that they are only one step from bankruptcy if they become severely ill. The reason is that medical costs have run out of control. Due to high premiums, over 50 million Americans could not afford health insurance prior to Obamacare being implemented in 2014 (after passing Congress in 2010). In the last election of 2012, Mitt Romney made Obamacare the big issue and vowed to repeal it if elected, but he lost significantly. Trump and all the other Republican candidates promise to repeal Obamacare again this time, without any plans to replace it. They are blind to the fact that they will be facing 10 million enrollees of Obamacare who will stand to lose their health insurance if the Republicans win. This is another segment of angry voters who will certainly turn out to vote in the November general election.
The fifth issue is student loans. Like health care, college tuition has run out of control. This is fueled by the collusion between colleges and banks. The colleges continue to raise tuition in order to “stay competitive”. The banks continue to lend money to students to help them “get better educated for better jobs”. At present, nearly 1.3 million college students are burdened with big loans even before they graduate and find jobs. The total amount of student loans has already exceeded all consumer loans combined. That is why many young people are motivated to vote for Sanders who promises free college tuition for all.
The sixth issue is economic inequality. This is seen in the creeping rise of corporate power and the widening gap between rich and poor. The government has failed to do anything about it, and is even seen to be a corrupt accomplice. The middle class has been squeezed for many years. This now seems coming to a boil. Sanders answers to their anger by vowing to make corporations and top-income people pay their fair shares.
What about foreign policy and other big issues? They are all sidelined by the six big problems at home as described above. In short, the American public have no stomach to fight another ground war after the big debacles in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. Besides, the government has no money left to fight wars. Trump only gives the empty promise to “make America great again”. However, a nation cannot be great if its own house is in disorder.
Up to now, we have only seen the millions of angry people who vote in the primary elections. The other angry voters have not come out yet. They will turn out in the November general election. They are the Hispanic voters angered by Trump, and the Obamacare enrollees who stand to lose their health insurance if the Republicans win. These two groups number over 20 millions and look like a tidal wave. Can they determine the result of the general election? Probably, but one thing is certain — American elections are usually determined by only a small margin of a few million votes out of 146 million registered voters. If these angry voters go to the polls in the important swing states such as Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia, we may see a landslide win for either the Democratic or Republican party. This election will be nothing but extraordinary to watch.