What do Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina and Bernie Sanders have in common? For one, they’re all performing strongly in the polls. For another, three have never held prime political positions before, and the only one who has, spent his entire life fighting mainstream politics.
This peculiar fact reflects a growing distrust between the American people and politicians in the government. A Pew survey released last week found that 24 percent of the public has an unfavorable view of both political parties—four times that of a decade ago. The word “politician” has become an insult, soon to be on par with selfish, greedy and corrupt. Unlike in every other job, where increased experience in a field heightens your chances of getting hired, the very opposite is seemingly true in this election cycle. Ironically, for arguably the most important job in the United States, the unsettling fact is that the less experience you have, the higher your poll numbers become. This phenomenon is called the “anti-politician appeal.”
Critics might argue that this trend toward “anti-politicians” is a good phenomenon for our nation. It is true our government has frustrated many people in the past years. Republicans are angry their elected representatives haven’t created substantial change in abolishing Obamacare, ending Planned Parenthood and increasing our military presence in Syria and Afghanistan. Democrats are angry over the lack of gun control legislation, the continual scare of government shutdowns and the perceived “radical” Republicans in the House. From the outside looking in, our government appears to be a bunch of squabbling, self-interested children who can’t stop fighting and refuse to share. Thus, why should we continue to trust politicians when they can’t seem to do any work?
The problem is that electing anti-politicians isn’t going to increase change or decrease dissatisfaction with the government. In fact, it will do the opposite. Carson, Trump, Fiorina and Sanders will try and hide this fact, however, by conveniently using their anti-politician card. Indeed, first they will take advantage of the fact the people are pitted against the government. Once these politicians have distanced themselves from the mess in Washington and become one of us on the “outside,” they can generalize that the whole system, which they are conveniently absent of, is corrupt. After winning our trust and votes, they will then pull a “Prince” stunt, a la Machiavelli, and completely revolutionize the government according to their principles. We can’t get enough of their radical, uncompromising ideologies. For example, Ben Carson famously called Obamacare the “worst thing since slavery.” Fiorina stole the stage at the last debate when she made an impassioned claim against Planned Parenthood, describing the videos released by the Center for Medical Progress as depicting “a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.” Trump’s solution to all of America’s problems is to build a wall. And meanwhile, Sanders has already won a fiercely supported reputation as a man unwillingly to compromise.
This belief shared by all anti-politicians that they can radically transform the government is not, as a cynic might say, laughable. Indeed, the point of elected officials is to continually generate change to satisfy the wills of their constituents. However, what people fail to realize is that the government was created by our Founding Fathers to prevent sudden change. The very nature of our system, with its separation of powers and checks and balances, is the greatest frustration to politicians, who have to learn how to work in the system. Yet while politicians are not the fastest at keeping us happy, they actually have experience in working that system. The greatest and most important difference between anti-politicians and politicians is that while “anti-politicians” have appealing ideas, they have little to no experience actually implementing them. Politicians, on the other hand, have more experience and consequently a greater understanding of how to create actual change in policy. Politicians have learned to navigate as best as they can in this system designed to check powers, and although the people always complain they haven’t navigated swiftly enough, well, who can? Although anti-politicians rely on their anti-politician appeal and radical, sweeping thoughts to win the people’s support, how much experience do they have working in the government? How many of these candidates have actually passed legislation? How many will know how to compromise with Congress to prevent complete gridlock? How many know how to successfully and diplomatically negotiate with foreign countries on dire issues? For Trump, the answer’s simple: “Putin has no respect for America; I will get along with him.”
I caution us to watch out for the “anti-politician card,” which can only be played on those who are easily swayed by anger, those who prefer passion to pragmatism. While the rise of these anti-politicians does raise awareness that the government needs reform, supporting one of them is not the solution. Indeed, we should direct our anger toward the government in a way that will not hurt our lives in the future. In order to do so, remember the next time you support a candidate to think not only about the words they speak, but more importantly, their ability to turn those words into actions.
DPU’s Burke & Paine is a biweekly column that runs on alternate Wednesdays. Each column will feature a different writer and will cover a different topic related to political engagement. Trinity freshman Qiang Zhang wrote this week’s column.
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