What US elections should look like in a real democracy

Real change can only ever come from popular mass movements.

A US Senate primary will determine who represents the Democrats this fall in the race to unseat Sen. Pat Toomey [AP]
The person we need in high office is not a saviour hero, writes Abulhawa [AP]

The United States presidential primaries are unfolding an impossibly grim choice for citizens voting in the November general elections. On one hand is Donald Trump, an egomaniac racist with an insatiable appetite for power, a fifth-grade vocabulary, and little or no experience in political or intellectual life.

On the other hand is Hillary Clinton, arguably a war criminal, destroyer of nations, from Honduras to Iraq to Libya, champion of environmental devastation, and holder of the title “America’s most corrupt politician in 2015“.

New York: Primaries, politics and the press – The Listening Post

Having an understanding of Clinton, I find myself feeling that as a Palestinian American Muslim woman, I’d rather find myself in a Donald Trump internment camp rather than live in a world led by Clinton’s chauvinistic, neoliberal, faux-feminist warmongering.  

A viable third option

Bernie Sanders has already made it clear that he would not run as an Independent because, he said: “I do not want to be responsible for electing some right-wing Republican to be president of the United States.”

This not only seems like an ego-driven betrayal to the millions of his supporters, but it is based on an inconclusive prediction. It is entirely conceivable that Sanders, with the right strategy, could also split Trump’s supporter base and walk away with the presidency as a third party candidate.

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Although Trump and Bernie hold opposing social, philosophical, economic and political views, their appeal to voters is based on the same principle.

It is entirely conceivable that Sanders ... could also split Trump's supporter base and walk away with the presidency as a third party candidate.


Both candidates are viewed as political mavericks willing to challenge the status quo. Their support base is predominantly people who feel disenfranchised from a dual-party system. 

Contrary to popular perceptions, Trump’s supporters are not particularly ideological.

Although his base spans to the right in the political landscape, at least 20 percent of his supporters describe themselves as “liberal” or “moderate”, with 65 percent ticking “conservative” and only 13 percent “very conservative”.

Lives of greater promise

Approximately half of his supporters are 45-65 years in age, 34 percent are over 65 years, and slightly more than half are women. The majority have a high school education or less, with only 19 percent earning a college post-graduate degree. Over a third earn less than $50,000 a year. 

In other words, Trump’s support comes from under-educated, economically disadvantaged, middle-aged to older Americans ostensibly seeking lives of greater promise and opportunity.

Ironically, this is precisely the demographic that would be most favourably served by Bernie Sanders’ proposed economic and social policies.

US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders [Reuters]
US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders [Reuters]

Trump’s only articulated plans include schemes to rid the nation of brown people, which will ultimately offer his supports nothing in the way of better lives. It is entirely reasonable to believe that making this truth apparent to voters could turn Trump fans into Bernie voters.

Such a scenario may be an uphill and risky battle, but real leaders should not shirk from a challenge when the public welfare is at stake.

Further to this point, it seems that Dr Jill Stein has reached out to Sanders to join forces, possibly offering the support Green Party voters. 

Inching closer to truer democracy

It is no secret that Republican party leaders are desperate to derail Donald Trump’s nomination and there have been suggestions to contest his nomination at in July at the Republican National Convention.

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Although doing so could potentially weaken the Republican party, it remains a possibility that party leaders might take that risk rather than put Trump forth as their candidate.


Unlike Sanders, Trump did not rule out an independent run if he does not secure the nomination. If that happens, a new reality would be created that could assuage Bernie’s reticence to also run independently, thus creating a four-way presidential race, moving the US closer to what elections in a real democracy are supposed to look like.

It should be clear by now that Americans are acutely aware that our collective fate is being steered by a ruling elite whose principle pursuit is one of self-interest and consolidation of power as they simultaneously pay lip service to the very real human struggles in this country.

As the populace inches closer to the condition of irredeemable discontent – whether it is with rigged elections, sustained economic hardship or unrelenting social and environmental injustice – it would behove the political establishment to comprehend that the status quo is untenable. 

Lastly, and this is the most important point I can make: Real change can only ever come from popular mass movements. The leaders we have allowed in office in my lifetime have largely acted to curtail, discredit, and/or disband popular opposition, from the Black Panthers to the Occupy Wall Street movements.

The person we need in high office is not a saviour hero.

We merely need a leader who will not actively block our efforts to organise as we work to expand labour unions, empower students, protect consumers, create activists, educate our young so that we might produce critical thinking, compassionate, and imaginative generations to steer us away from the current individualistic, rapacious capitalism setting our planet aflame.

Susan Abulhawa is an international bestselling novelist, poet, and essayist. Her latest novel, The Blue Between Sky and Water (2015), is translated into 26 languages.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.