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Omdahl: Malcontents Bolster Trump, Sanders Campaigns

By Staff | Sep 18, 2015

By Lloyd Omdahl

Columnist

The phenomenon of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders attracting thousands of supporters has added new uncertainties to an otherwise “ho hum!” election cycle. Their surprising strength has unraveled the establishments of both major parties. Even more strange is that their supporters have the common denominator of discontent.

Sanders represents the discontent of the working poor with the widening gap in the benefits derived from the economy between those at the top and those at the bottom. Even though many of these people have jobs, they still need food stamps, Medicaid, fuel assistance and other government subsidies to stay above water.

Working class income growth has been stagnant while economic growth has boomed during the period of 2001-2013. Among the states, this gap is greatest in North Dakota where household income has grown only 20 percent while economic growth went up 85 percent.

So Sanders has taken the platform to speak for the discontented who are not getting a greater share of the economy.

Trump is benefiting from the anger of two major groups. First, there are the anti-immigration folks who see America being overrun by illegal immigrants.

The anti-immigrant crowd has never been a small group in the United States. Even though most of us are immigrants, we have strongly opposed the arrival of other immigrants; especially unwelcome were Catholics, Irish, Chinese and now the Hispanics.

The second contingent of Trump supporters consists of fundamentalist Christians who are unhappy because conservative victories in Congress and judicial appointments have not protected their moral values. It makes no different to them that their champion is divorced, obscene, bigoted and mean-spirited.

So when Sanders and Trump supporters claim that America is headed in the wrong direction, they have different ideas as to the kind of America they want to put back on track.

This idea that the country is headed in the wrong direction is nothing new in political rhetoric. There are always a large number of malcontents in the electorate. The size of the crowds responding to Trump and Sander indicate the breadth of discontent this year is greater than usual.

On the whole, that is strange. Here we are in the United States of America, where we revel in prosperity, opportunities, liberty, materialism and food, and we are still unhappy.

As the huge crowds indicate, many people don’t think the system is working for them and they’ve come to feel like news anchor Howard Beale in the movie “Network” when he said “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”

Because so many Americans find the policymaking system unresponsive to their needs, they are now expressing their anger in the most elementary method: support someone – anyone – who damns the system.

But the discontent is being fueled by different priorities. The Trump people are not interested in Sanders’ ideas for redistribution of the wealth, and the Sanders supporters will not support Trump’s immigration policies or a conservative religious agenda.

We have had major policy confrontations in the past but few of them seem to be as serious or fragmented as they are today. The gaps in priorities suggest that a good deal of compromising is going to be necessary to reconcile these contrary views.

Unfortunately, compromise has become a bad word. We’ve come to the point in history when the establishment policymakers would rather see the United State stagnate than compromise.

The establishments have failed to reach a compromise on either the income gap or immigration, so for inaction it is a pox on their houses.

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