The tensions from the right and from the left continue to rise, political rallies are turning violent and constituents are becoming more polarized as the presidential primary elections unfold. This is no longer the status quo politics of the last thirty years, it does not even compare to the tensions and splits of the anti-war movement of the 1960s and 1970s and it is not even close to the labor and capitalist clashes of the Progressive Era (1890s-1920s). This is a new era of political, social and economic tensions that emerged in response to globalization, a social movement that from the right and from the left rejects the impacts of neoliberalism on local communities.
Throughout the Progressive era workers rejected Social Darwinist ideas and labor exploitation, and during the Vietnam War young Americans rejected the anti-Communism that shaped U.S. foreign policy throughout the Cold War. Today we are living through historical change, even though many of us may not realize it because we are preoccupied securing our job in a fragile job market, so that we can pay our way out of debt, as we strive to reach an “American Dream” that slowly vanishes on front of our eyes. It is difficult to pause from the present “rat race” and observe how a growing constituent body finds comfort in the prognostications of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
As many in mass media have already indicated, Sanders and Trump speak of similar solutions for similar problems. Both candidates blame Free Trade for the decadent economic, social and political realities of our nation, and therefore oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. Both back the idea of strengthening Social Security benefits, they share the idea of increasing taxes on the rich, they share the belief that Super PACs and their influence on politics should be ended, and they both see illegal immigration as a threat to the working class. Moreover, both identify that the nation has diverted from the path toward the “American Dream” blaming the policies of the establishment for the current outcomes, and both argue for a return to the past when the U.S. was a vibrant nation thanks to its strong middle class.
We are far away from the time when the nation state and the executive/legislative powers were at the center of economic, political and social decision making. We are distant from the time of pluralist democratic decision-making dynamics where the constituent played a significant role.
The systemic implementation of neoliberal policies since the 1980s, the dismantlement of the social welfare system, the breakup of unions, and the privatization of government institutions and programs laid the foundation for the expansion of capitalism under the design of the global economic system. Even the open doors for illegal migration were set in motion by the neoliberal establishment, as they deregulated labor in the United States under the pretext of globalization, legitimizing it under NAFTA.
Establishment Democrats and Republicans have shared the same rhetoric for the past thirty-two years, justifying the benefits of Free Trade policies over the loss of jobs and the system dismantlement of what was known as the “American Dream.” The initiative that was set in motion by the Clinton administration, incrementally escalated by Republicans, and now accelerated by the Obama administration under the TPP proposal, came back to haunt them.
The hemorrhaging of U.S. jobs overseas whose impact can be seen in our depressed local communities, the decreasing purchasing power of the average middle class as it moves from blue-collar jobs to service sector jobs, the decadent condition of our local and national infrastructure, the globalization of our national economy, the emergence of a lost generation driven by debt, and a stagnant wage system that is setting the future of the nation for a race to the bottom, served as the catalysts for the surfacing of Sanders and Trump.
The masses, the victims of neoliberalism and globalization, have found a voice in these two polarizing candidates. It is therefore no surprise that they are challenging the status quo. The U.S. middle class has reached a tipping point, just like the working class did in the Progressive Era and the anti-war movement did during the Vietnam War. Clear sign of this is the bubbling violence that is looming across the country. What we are seeing is a replication of what has been the response of other nations to the pressures of neoliberalism. The radicalization of the right in Europe, the strengthening of socialism in countries across Latin America, the consolidation of Putin in Russia, the strengthening of the police state in China, the spread of the Arab Spring and the conflict in Syria, the instability across the African continent, and the aggressive and sometimes violent response of the local establishment and status quo-backing elites across the world are proof that what is happening in the United States is just another response to neoliberalism and the global market system.
The fact that Sanders and Trump are playing a determinant role in the primary elections shows that the idea of American exceptionalism has been sacrificed for the sake of the global market system. The polarization of American politics serves as a warning sign for the traditional political establishment. If they do manage to preserve power only policies of the caliber of the New Deal may once again win the hearts and minds of the polarized constituents. But if they lose control over political power then the emergence of a third or fourth political party will be inevitable. If that is the case then it will be accurate to say that the neoliberal policies that led us into the global market system will have changed the nature of American politics.
 See for example Molly Ball’s “What Trump and Sanders Have in Common,” The Atlantic, January 6, 2016. Accessed March 16, 2016. http://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2016/01/what-bernie-sanders-and-donald-trump-have-in-common/422907/