Surprisingly, the most shocking aspect of my first four days in Iowa wasn't the 2 degree weather. It wasn't reading that in Iowa, hogs outnumber people. It wasn't learning that, according to a state statute, the farmer on the state flag has a plow in his rear.
The most shocking discovery of my first six days in Des Moines was that Bernie Sanders, a Democrat, and Donald Trump, who is seeking the GOP nod, are the strongest Presidential candidates heading into the 2016 Iowa caucuses.
For a country frustrated with our polarization, it shocks me that we are trying to fix our polarization by becoming more polarized.
To be fair, Sanders is correct in that most of his political ideas are indeed employed in nearly every other industrialized country. From healthcare to parental leave to improved education standards, the US is undeniably lacking when compared to other first-world countries. But for the general political mindset of the United States, Sanders' ideas appear radical. And as conservatives in the House and Senate would likely block any Sanders legislation, his chances of achieving much while in office are slim.
And Donald Trump... "I could shoot somebody, and wouldn't lose any voters."
To be fair to Trump, he knows what he's doing. Although he is running as a Republican, Trump isn't concerning himself with actual politics. Instead, he's running his campaign like a reality TV show. He insults people and makes offensive statements without shame, and a shocking portion of America loves it. Americans are giving him viewership, attention and support. Though it's clear Trump does not understand politics, he does understand what Americans want to watch. And his abrasive, reality-TV personality has gained him a strong lead in the Republican polls.
But despite their seeming radicalism on opposite sides of the aisle, my interviews and interactions in Iowa have shown Sanders and Trump to be the most popular candidates.
I get it - the left and the right will never see eye to eye. But the rest of the world is judging us harshly. Instead of dividing ourselves more, we need to unite. Americans are frustrated that our government can't seem to get anything done, but it's our own fault, because we keep becoming more and more polarized, and we keep paying less and less attention to individual issues.
Would Sanders be able to achieve his goals, or is the U.S. not yet ready for policies like his? What would the consequences of a Trump regime actually be?
If I've learned anything from being here in Des Moines, it's that being in the eye of the storm is thrilling, but terrifying.
I'm scared. I'm scared Americans can't separate their love of reality TV from their understanding of reality. Sure, watching shows like Jersey Shore, or even The Apprentice, is entertaining. But is that what we want our entire country to turn in to? The rest of the world is watching us like we're the season-opener of American Idol. It's scary, it's disconcerting and it's embarrassing. We say we're better than this, we say we're the best nation in the world. So let's prove it. Let's repair ourselves rather than tear our nation apart.