The Rise and Rise of Anti-Politics

By: Issy McConville, Student Voices writer


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If anything can be taken as certain at this stage of the US presidential race, it’s that the playing field has changed. Donald Trump, the billionaire political new-comer may at first have seemed an outsider candidate, but this week secured his third successive state in the bid for the Republican nomination. Trump’s ideological opposite, Bernie Sanders, has similarly made his mark on the Democratic race, disturbing the campaign of the seemingly inevitable nomination of Hillary Clinton. Trump and Sanders occupy opposing trenches, but their campaigns share a sentiment which has catapulted them to mega-stardom – anti-politics. 

Hatred of the political elite is a huge theme during every political campaign – any interview on any high street in Britain or America will produce the opinion that politicians are ’all the same’. This is the core of the appeal of Sanders and Trump – they offer something different, a rejection of the political machine, of Washington centralisation from which the people feel alienated and unrepresented. Frustrations are high with the deadlocked political system, in which both the GOP and the Democrats have failed to make progress – a criticism heaped on Obama, who was swept into the White House on a tide of hope in 2008 but was unable to produce tangible results for all his promises. 

Of course, every election cycle sees a critique of what has come before and the promise of change, but Trump and Sanders seem to represent a significant shift in the conduct of American politics. Trump refuses to shy away from taboos, even when mocking a disabled reporter, or condoning violence at his rallies (last week Trump said he would like to ‘punch in the face’ a protestor), his supporters continue to cheer. Trump is a bully, but he seems human. Honest and unscripted, he refuses to play along with convention, and so galvanises opposition to the political elite. Sanders, while less unpalatable, has the same appeal: his impassioned speeches seems off the cuff and genuine. Hillary Clinton, arguably the most qualified candidate, with vast political experience and years spent as the Secretary of State for the Obama administration, is refined to the extreme, and this polished quality may be more of a hindrance than an advantage. Every statement is perfectly on message, a regurgitation of rehearsed soundbites. As a Clinton, her entrenchment in the political elite is a source of virulent opposition. 

The strength of anti-politics is that it appeals to both the left and the right of the political spectrum – Sanders and Trump both appeal to those who feel left by the wayside, failed by plastic politicians and election cycles that evoke little change. Sanders appeals to the leftwing, mobilising young voters in swathes, his popularity is akin to that of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. Both veteran politicians, they have defined their political careers outside of the lines, with Sanders spending the last 25 years serving as an Independent in Congress. His entrance into the presidential race has pushed the conversation as far left as in this lifetime, promising increased benefits, free public colleges, and constantly speaking out against the interests of big money in political campaigns.

Trump supporters, on the other hand, tend to be the working class and the old. In an era of growing global tensions, like international terrorism, climate change, and constant economic turmoil, voters are grasping for something new. Trump, with his promises to ‘make America great again’, offers a brand of patriotic strength, promising to keep Guantanamo Bay open (‘we’re going to load it up with bad dudes’), to continue to support gun rights (‘We love the Second Amendment folks, nobody loves it more than us’), and to build a wall along the Mexican border.

Scarcely a day goes by without Trump making some controversial comment. To the outside observer, his rise seems baffling, but he has cleverly harnessed a sentiment that is genuine. Distrust of political elites is an undeniable force, and yet people remain engaged in politics. Single-issue concerns capture huge attention - in the UK, the Scottish Referendum of 2014 had a turnout of almost 85%, the highest figure since the introduction of universal suffrage almost 100 years ago. In America, protests are continually erupting on the streets. Most recently, tens of thousands of Asian Americans came out in support of the convicted NYC cop Peter Liang. Ultimately, Trump’s success, and that of Bernie Sanders, is rooted in a desire for change. More moderate candidates like Clinton have a difficult road ahead if they want to compete with this populist sentiment. 


Meet the author:


Issy McConville
Writer
21 year student currently living in Edinburgh. Staunch feminist and Labour Party member  
Twitter: @issyymcc

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