Donald Trump’s “The system is rigged” resonates because it reflects what ordinary people think. According to Gallup, only three institutions — the military, small business, and the police — are trusted by more than half. Gallup shows that Americans are as likely to trust Internet news (which the media scorns as “unfiltered”), as T.V. news and newspapers.
Trust in Congress, meanwhile, has collapsed from one in three to one in 10 since 2000.
These figures foretell the emergence of anti-status-quo presidential candidates, who promise to restore confidence in our institutions. Any status-quo candidate should be defeated unless the conversation is shifted to peripheral issues, such as character and personality. Indeed, “Restore America’s Greatness” Donald Trump and “A Political Revolution is Coming” Bernie Sanders reflect the burgeoning anti-establishment fervor of main street America.
Congress has approval ratings approaching zero. Common explanations are that Congress is too partisan, divided, dysfunctional, and lazy. The presidential primaries suggest a more important reason: The bases of both parties reject status-quo candidates as not working for their interests and being in the pocket of special interests. The appeal of both Trump and Sanders is that they do not appear beholden to the fat-cat corporations and the mega wealthy. Trump gained the nomination with this message; Sanders came close to spoiling the coronation of Hillary Clinton with a similar one. And the Tea Party movement, maligned rather than embraced by the Republican establishment, has used similar rhetoric in its successful primary challenges against establishment candidates since its founding in 2009. It will continue to do so.
Main Street America sees the FBI, after its charade investigation of the Clinton email scandal, as simply doing the administration’s dirty work. The “chance” tarmac meeting of Bill Clinton and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, described even by The Washington Post as “making everyone look bad,” was the final straw. As we learn more (largely from the Internet) about questionable immunity deals, smashed blackberries, and chemically wiped messages under subpoena, Americans see that the FBI is not the blindfolded lady of justice they once thought but just another appendage of the political establishment. As the FBI head James Comey has squandered his reputation, a reform-minded president should replace him with a fiercely independent director who puts the FBI’s reputation above politics.
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