Across today's wealthy countries, evidence strongly suggests that folks are mad as hell and they won't take it anymore! The sour mood has produced Brexit, nourishes extreme right-wing political parties in Europe, and most frighteningly of all, threatens to make Donald Trump the most powerful man in the most powerful country in the history of humanity. Trump is a man of many talents, but the thought of someone with his autocratic demeanor, thin skin, and impulsiveness holding such power is terrifying. At the extreme, an impulse-driven mistake could push the buttons that end the human story in a fireball.
Behind the anger and disgruntlement in the U.S. is the fact that exploding inequality over the past four decades has led to severe economic, social, and political dysfunction. The overwhelming majority of Americans have suffered from stagnant incomes, exploding health costs, decreased educational opportunity, increased stress, and a sense that the country has been hijacked by a rich elite.
Although the unhappy mood stems from the rich grabbing disproportionate shares of income, wealth, and privilege, not surprisingly, the right-wing that has historically represented the interests of the elite, has managed to refocus much of the anger away from inequality and onto such issues as immigrants, gay marriage, abortion rights, and liberal culture generally.
But whatever the specific current focus of their rage, it's greatest fury is directed at a political establishment that has sold them out. They get that right. The political arena is composed of politicians, both Republicans and Democrats, who are bought and paid for by the rich and the corporations they own. The evidence is striking. In the 2014 elections, for example, about 32,000 individuals -- 0.01 percent of the population --accounted for 30 percent of all political contributions. With few exceptions, contributions from individual firms are given equally to Republicans and Democrats. The rich hedge their bets, investing in politicians of all stripes to ensure that, no matter who is elected, they will have access. Politicians almost always respond to the will of their contributors, not constituents, while campaigns have become little more than showy circuses, drawing attention from the purchasing of political power.
The consequence is that the bought politicians rewrote the rules of the game (deregulation, tax cuts for the rich, a frayed safety net, decayed public infrastructure and services) to increase income, wealth, and privilege for the rich. Since Richard Nixon, the relative standing of the bottom 60 percent of households has declined, regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans controlled the White House or Congress. The magnitude of this shift is striking: Since 1980, net worth for the bottom 60 percent of households has fallen by nearly $10 trillion, while the richest 10 percent have seen their wealth increase by almost $30 trillion.
The extent to which Americans are fed up with a political system run for the rich, is what makes this presidential election cycle so interesting. A huge portion of the electorate was drawn to Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders precisely because they have been viewed as outsiders, not beholden to the wealthy elite.
And now, outsider Trump has been anointed presidential candidate of the Republican Party. But the outsider Democratic Sanders was finally pushed aside in the primaries by Hillary Clinton. However, Clinton, now the presumptive Democratic candidate, like the Republican candidates who were so trounced by Trump, represents the establishment political elite that takes money from and is thus beholden to Wall Street. And he's likely to shove her aside with equal ease.
The fact is, that because the central issue driving this election is Americans' deep disgruntlement with the sold-out political establishment, it seems highly unlikely that Clinton can make it to the White House. She is an insider, a solid member of the discredited political establishment. She is especially viewed as taking her orders from Wall Street, just like all the other politicians whose rule over the past 40 years has so greatly enriched the already rich. In striking contrast to Clinton, Trump stands out as a brash free spirit willing to take on the plutocracy, or anybody for that matter.
But there's more in Trump's favor. Clinton is widely disliked, even loathed. She is believed to be dishonest, unprincipled, secretive, and in the pocket of Wall Street. Her email shenanigans suggest to many that she's not competent to make the sorts of judgments necessary for the country's security. The fact that she reversed her stance on critical issues such as TPP and the minimum wage to please Sander's supporters proves to many that her stances are purely Machiavellian: Do whatever it takes to win. Clinton can't leave all this weighty baggage behind; Trump and his partisans will see to that. She cannot be cleaned up and made politically handsome. Too many voters, in the privacy of the voting booth, faced with holding their noses and voting Clinton or taking the wild chance for change with Trump, are likely to pull the latter's lever. They are, after all, fed up. And then, a recent poll indicates that only 55 percent of Sanders' supporters plan to vote for Clinton. On top of all this, Wikileaks has just revealed emails that indicate the Democratic primary was rigged against Sanders.
Can Trump be stopped? Probably not, unless -- and this is a huge unless -- the Democratic superdelegates muster the wisdom and courage to stop him by throwing their weight to Sanders. Sanders is also viewed as an outsider, neither bought nor unprincipled. Quite the opposite, and this is why he inspires American youth. Most importantly, he understands that the root problem facing America is extreme inequality, and he advocates programs to restore greater equality, opportunity, security, and dignity to all Americans. He may not only represent the last chance to stop Trump, but also to save America from a descent into an irreversible plutocracy.
Will the superdelegates rise to the occasion? Surely not. And we will all live with the terrifying consequences.