COMMENTARY: Compromise from moderates is needed
Populists, politicians who attempt to appeal to the interests of average citizens, are dramatically weaker candidates for political office than they make themselves out to be. Without examining the nuances of contemporary issues, populists present themselves as "Washington Outsiders" who seek power in order to remedy the fears, desires and grievances of ordinary people. Unfortunately, the populist rhetoric by prominent members of the Democratic and Republican parties have permeated America’s national dialogue such that raw emotions alone dominate the open marketplace of ideas we all cherish.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a self-proclaimed Democratic socialist, has enjoyed outstanding support from young voters throughout the 2016 election cycle. Mr. Sanders’s populism is apparent in his economic policies, all of which are strongly liberal.
Supporters of Mr. Sanders argue that his taxation policies effect only “The Top 1 percent," which an incorrect assertion. His tax plan would slightly raise the income taxes, while levying significant additional payroll taxes on their employers, all contributions of which go to funding a single-payer healthcare system. Taxes employers pay for every dollar their employee makes would nearly be doubled, causing a wage of $10 to turn into nearly $11.50 as far as the employer is concerned. Add to this a $15 minimum wage and you have employers actually paying over $17 an hour for every employee, over 210 percent of the current federal minimum wage.
The increases in wages and taxes, compounded with the effects of mandatory paid vacation days, as Mr. Sanders admits, has repercussions. Doubling the cost of hiring minimum wage workers has consequences, including possible exportation of jobs coupled with increased unemployment. Wall Street can take some tax-punches from the government but thousands of small and mid-sized businesses across the country cannot. "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" was tried and failed in recent history. Socialism is a concept best left on paper.
The Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump, has gained a reputation as the least tactful and most straight-forward candidate to be considered for nomination in recent political history. His rhetoric, perceived by the Republican Establishment as being inconsistent with the party’s values, has gained the support of roughly half of Republican voters.
Mr. Trump’s brand of populism, and appeal, is founded in his direct and outspoken opposition to the ongoing socially liberal movements in the United States. To conservatives, these social movements are perceived as the degradation of America as they understand it to be. Coupled with a lack of trust in establishment politicians, Republican voters are drawn to Mr. Trump’s perceived strength as both a businessman and a speaker. What liberals see in Mr. Trump as fascism, his voters see as courage and honesty.
Unfortunately, the perception of Mr. Trump as the arbiter of truth and justice is founded on the belief that his strong statements function to "make America great again." When Mr. Trump referenced Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), stating “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured,” he showed that he was willing to say outrageous things. Although America could function okay by itself, our maintenance of healthy relationships with other countries is crucial to sustained growth within the United States. Mr. Trump has demonstrated he is willing to say just about anything to anybody, a trait not the least bit beneficial in building and maintaining foreign relationships.
When populists speak, they aim for your heart. When Mr. Sanders debated Mrs. Clinton, they were asked their positions on fracking. Mrs. Clinton stated that there were limited situations where she would be in support of fracking, while Mr. Sanders stated he was completely against it under all circumstances. This is similar to Mr. Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States as a response to the San Bernardino attacks, while his establishment counterparts argued for tighter immigration regulation. In this instance, Mr. Sanders appeased the fears of environmentalists and Mr. Trump quelled concerns of further terrorist attacks. Blanket statements like these lack the nuances necessary to solve problems. Both Mr. Sanders and Mr. Trump spoke purely out of political ideology in these circumstances, while their fellow party members argued for less extreme solutions.
There is no doubt that the Democrat and Republican primaries preceding the 2016 presidential election will be studied by historians as an anti-establishment time period. Populist politicians look appealing. However, without compromise from moderates, nothing in Washington will get done for the next four years. It is only when we elect candidates who are willing to cross the aisle do we see democracy function optimally.
Thomas J. Ruta is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in cell biology and neuroscience.
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