The Rise of Populism, and the Death of America’s Two-Party Political System

Clockwise from top left: Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D), Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), businessman Donald Trump (R)

The duopoly of the United States’ two-party system is in jeopardy of exploding into alternative fragments—and we can thank Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders for lighting the fuses.

The average American may not yet fully comprehend the impact that the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders has already played on our political system.

Rest assured that the effect is substantial.

Substantial enough that the National Review, a highly influential conservative magazine, rolled out a special issue titled “Against Trump” in January, in a desperate attempt to destroy the campaign of the Republican front-runner. The issue featured editorials from more than 20 leading conservatives who oppose Trump’s candidacy.

Trump said last December that he was “totally committed” to running as a Republican, with the sole stipulation being that the Republican leadership treat him fairly in the process. This veiled threat of running as a third-party candidate is clearly one of the few remaining safeguards preventing conservative media pundits and Republican leaders from launching an all-out war against Trump.

But in recent days Trump has raised concern that he may reconsider running as an Independent candidate, which essentially is the same as running third party. Now Trump contends that the Republican National Committee (RNC) is not treating him “fairly,” and that this may cause him to break his pledge of allegiance to the Republican party. 

In all fairness, history shows that third-party candidates have not exactly been successful at the ballot box on election day in our country. Nevertheless, a Gallup poll conducted in September 2015 shows that there continues to be a strong call for a third political party in our country.

This raises the question: why does our nation continue to revolve around the same two political machines, when it is so abundantly clear that the majority of Americans are disenchanted with them?

A lot has to do with voters fearing another instance of the Nader effect and of throwing an election, which often happens when a third-party candidate attracts a large following.

Most of us can ascribe to at least one or two of the many stances that the two major parties stand behind. Yet, we are often left with a dissatisfying aftertaste when we vote for one of the two parties, because more often than not we simply don’t agree with one party’s entire platform. It’s a hard pill to swallow.

But what if there was another way? Enter Trump and Sanders. 

I wholeheartedly believe that the rise of both candidates can be traced back to the American people’s vexation at the lack of compromise in Washington. 

According to a recent poll by the Public Polling Policy, 82 percent of Americans disapprove of Congress—the majority of which are Republicans. The same poll also found that 51 percent of Americans disapprove of the job President Obama, a Democrat, is doing.

Americans are tired of being boxed in between two radically differing philosophies of how our country should be governed. They are ready for another option—one that doesn’t end with “R” or “D” at the end of their name.

There’s no easy way to argue against the fact that Trump’s brand of Populism is simply appealing to a lot of Americans right now. Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers, was probably right in her analysis that Trump followers likely “just want to blow up the Republican party.” Their desire for something different stems from their anger at the GOP’s ostensible disinterest in conservative principles.

While intertwined, Sanders’ followers feed off a strangely different emotion: bitterness.

Sanders is the poster child for a revolution that started decades ago. In reality, it began centuries ago, but has only gained a foothold in the United States over the past few decades. It’s a revolution of the working class who believe our country is controlled by elitists and aristocrats who care nothing for the rest of society.

In simple terms, Sanders is promoting Marxism.

Additionally, this sense of bitterness that Sanders’ followers feel is fueled by his claim that today “over 99 percent of all new income generated in the economy has gone to the top 1 percent.” Politico ruled Sanders’ claim as Mostly True, but with the caveat that it needs “additional notes of context.”

Sanders is running on a platform of equality for all Americans—along with promoting other issues that are important to liberals, such as climate control, racial justice and free college tuition.

So are these the only reasons that Americans are rising up against the political class? Trump supporters decry the Republicans’ inability to get things accomplished, and Sanders supporters revile the apparent restrictions that capitalism imposes? Are we actually in the middle of two separate revolutions that are rooted in two wholly separate origins?

The answer is a resounding “yes” to all of the above.

But what does this mean for our nation’s current two-party system?

The Republican and Democratic parties have both most certainly seen their fair share of opposition during the course of their hegemony over the American political process. The Libertarian and Green Parties both have respectable followings, however, neither party has yet been able to surmount a legitimate opposition to the two main parties.

But hypothetically, what if Sanders and Trump both opted to run as third-party candidates, likely splitting the popular vote four ways? Yes—the electoral college would undoubtedly remain an obstacle for Trump and Sanders. Unable to gain the majority of electoral votes, Trump and Sanders would likely fade into oblivion, paving the way for another four-year cycle of either a Republican or Democrat president.

Good thing their legacies were never dependent upon winning the presidency. It was about so much more than that, America.

It was about loosening the stranglehold that our archaic two-party system has used for more than one hundred and fifty years to choke our ability to choose something different. It was about giving every American more options and the ability to vote for the candidate that most closely aligns with their beliefs. It was about making the Republican and Democratic Parties sweat.

And that is how America’s two-party system will die.


1 Comment

  1. Sanders isn’t running on Marxism. Period. Not even socialism, nor “equality for all”. Yes, he’s tapping into working class frustrations, but they aren’t strict ideological platforms that Americans are jumping up and down for. I don’t even know why I’m wasting my time commenting, but your Marxism comment just misses the entire origin of the Bernie Sanders “Social Revolution”. Not worth debating. Just frustrating to read.



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