Angry America and the 2016 version of 'Hope'

Disenchanted and isolated, some US voters turn to a candidate who says he can fix it all without giving any specifics.

    Donald Trump is hoping to win the Republican nomination for November's presidential election [Philip Sears/Reuters]
    Donald Trump is hoping to win the Republican nomination for November's presidential election [Philip Sears/Reuters]

    I was waiting in a checkout line the other day and I overheard a funny conversation. A newspaper had a big picture of a Republican presidential candidate on the front page. There was a little boy standing in front of me with his mother.

    He couldn't have been more than five or six years old. He said: "That's Donald Trump. He is going to shoot someone."

    His mum quickly tried to dispel that idea, but the moment has stuck with me. This child obviously overheard someone talking about Trump's comment that he could shoot someone and not lose any support.

    It's a crazy thought that is starting to actually seem possible. No matter what Trump says, or does, his poll numbers are not falling. At this point, shooting someone might be the only taboo thing left that could affect his support.

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    This is a man who twice called one of his opponents one of the most socially frowned-upon words in the language - from a podium - and it was a huge applause line.

    I think a lot of people here and abroad are trying to figure out what is going on. Why is Trump doing so well even though almost everything he's done is supposed to kill candidacies? The answer is pretty simple.

    Americans are angry.

    I'm sure many people on this globe might be asking themselves what Americans have to be angry about. It is, after all, one of the wealthiest nations in the world.

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    Almost all Americans have basic services such as running water, education and food subsidies.

    I'm not saying it's perfect. There are places like Flint, Michigan, where children were poisoned by the water. The education system falls behind many other countries and the quality of education is largely determined by how much money your parents have. There are still millions of children in the US who go to bed hungry.

    Still if you compare the average life comforts in the US to those for a large chunk of the global population, Americans are better off. 

    So why are they so angry about their lot in life? I believe part of the issue is that the vast majority have no idea how the rest of the world lives.

    International news very rarely makes it into the mainstream media. If they talk about overseas at all, it's brief and it's always focused on a crisis. There is no coverage of the everyday existence of people who don't live within the borders of the US - many Americans just don't know how lucky they are.

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    Still, in America we think about the next generation. The always and forever measure of success is if kids can do better than their parents.

    According to Pew Research Center, if you look at the purchasing power of the average wage, it has gone up just over a dollar since 1964. This is a country whose people feel stuck on one giant treadmill.

    They are also very angry about how the federal government works - or doesn't work. The partisan divide has paralysed the federal government and it's only getting worse.

    Think about how many times in recent history the federal government has shut down because the two parties couldn't agree on a budget; the times that they've actually been able to pass a budget, it is never balanced. The national debt is more than 19 trillion dollars.

    The country has officially recovered from the great recession, but for many it doesn't feel like it. Wages are barely increasing. The impact of the housing bubble meant thousands of Americans lost their homes.

    The people who caused the crisis didn't pay, not with their freedom or their money. The super-rich are getting richer and it seems like they are the only ones thriving in this economy. The wealthiest among us now have the ability to spend billions trying to influence the elections and the politicians who need their money.

    Americans feel shut out from the process. Remember Barack Obama was going to heal the divide, clean up Washington's dysfunction - in fact, the opposite has happened.

    In a recent poll 44 percent of those asked said they could best be described as angry because the political system works only for insiders. Another 28 percent said they were anxious about their economic future. They didn't know if they could pay their bills from week to week. Another 8 percent said they felt both angry and anxious. Do the maths and that is a full 80 percent of Americans who are disgruntled.

    US states participating in Super Tuesday [Al Jazeera]

    So now many are looking to Trump. He isn't a politician, so maybe he can fix it. He says he's not taking money from anyone. He is, but that is a different story.

    Even some politicians will tell you that there is too much money in politics. Think about this for a moment. By some estimates as much as five to 10 billion dollars will be spent just on the presidential campaign of 2016.

    If the donors didn't think that would buy influence, would they really spend those enormous sums?

    Because of a decision by the US Supreme Court the only way to get that kind of money out of politics is by passing a constitutional amendment. That would take an incredible amount of money and time, and you can imagine how much the connected would spend to kill any such movement.

    The other main reason why the politics have gotten so ugly is because of something called gerrymandering. Funny name, with not so funny consequences. Basically, state legislatures get to draw the Congressional boundaries. If Republicans are in power, they draw the funniest shapes to ensure that Republicans dominate that district.

    The Democrats do the same thing. That means politicians are safe, unless they get challenged by someone from their own party. That gives them very little incentive to compromise with the other side.

    This is a complex country with a very convoluted election process. There are ways to change the system. Steps that could be taken to make government work and become more accountable.

    But these are hard subjects to comprehend,  and even harder to change. It's easy to look at a candidate who says he can fix it without giving any specifics.

    It's the 2016 version of "Hope".

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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