Where the Donkey and Elephant Don’t Venture

During the election season, candidates make for amusing stories to tell people about. People laugh at the ridiculousness of Vermin Supreme and his “free pony” mandate. They tell each other that’d it be a waste of a vote to support any third parties. We always expect the big-name candidates to win. If you stray from the mainstream, you become a fringe candidate, a candidate with little to no chance of winning.

It seems though that Donald Trump never received that memo. With a year in office under his belt, the man who came seemingly out of nowhere and stole the presidency right from under Hillary Clinton’s nose, was considered by many to be a fringe candidate. Many news outlets compared his campaign to 1964 Republican nominee Barry Goldwater’s, including the Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and CNN.

So what is it that caused Trump to win despite being labelled a fringe candidate? Should we start expecting more and more of these dark horse candidates to start creeping into the public eye?

It’s important to note that Trump wasn’t the only previously unknown who got farther than anyone predicted. On the Democrat’s side, Bernie Sanders was a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist. The thought of a socialist, even a Democratic one, winning the presidency, is outright offensive to many Americans. Yet, in the first 24 hours of his campaign, Sanders raised a million-and-a-half dollars, more than his rival, Hillary Clinton.

Professor George Keteku, the curriculum chair of the Liberal Arts/Social Science department, said that what allowed them to get as far as they did, involves many variables.

Despite coming from polar opposite ends of the spectrum, both relied on popular support, the average working class American. This support stems from “populist sentiments that swept through Western democracies starting with the British voters’ decision to leave the European Union.” Trump especially rode that wave well, focusing his campaign on ending threats from “‘outsiders’ or ‘new comers.’”

Keteku points to two factors that allow for waves like that to begin. He says “crises like war [or] economic devastation” and “anger directed at the government in power” often causes voters to turn to less conventional candidates to help solve their problems. He said people “just want change.”

According to Keteku, he “will be surprised if this is the beginning of a new trend,” and “the populism that swept through Europe is fading.” He said that due to previous failures from similar candidates, makes him believe that it’s unlikely Trump is the dawn of a new era in America.

He acknowledges, however, that “it’s too early to tell” whether 2016 is an outlier or the new norm. A poll from the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan American think tank shows that only 18 percent of Americans trust the government, as of Dec. 4, 2017.

Here at WCC, that distrust and anger is clearly evident, as a survey shows. Out of the 113 students questioned, only 24 considered themselves politically active, with many who said no naming disgust at current affairs as the reason for their apathy. The wave of populism that shook the world in 2016 may be fading, but the resentment over the state of the world is still very much alive, and it’s difficult to say whether that anger will translate to further extremism on either side.

If it does, who knows. Maybe we can expect a Vermin Supreme Presidency in 2020.

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