Sturm: Trump, Sanders and our Rorschach elections
January 30, 2016
"All the great inspiring leaders and organizations … think, act and communicate the exact same way … opposite to everyone else," Simon Sinek revealed in his famous TED talk. They "start with why they do what they do."
Consider how these transformational whys moved masses to Think Again: "All men are created equal," declared America's founders; "I have a dream" — not a five-point plan — proclaimed Martin Luther King Jr.; "Think different" urged Apple and "Just do it" encouraged Nike en route to brand domination.
In 2008, Barack Obama's "Hope and Change" mantra quenched a thirst to challenge the status quo, helping him become the political equivalent of an iPad whose novelty rendered Hillary Clinton a vintage desktop.
As Obama predicted in his autobiography "Audacity of Hope," he became a human Rorschach test, serving "as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views."
Chanting "yes we can" while staring at Obama's inkblot, supporters believed his nomination was "the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless … when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal… when we ended a war, secured our nation and restored our image."
Obama's inkblot sent a "thrill up my leg" for MSNBC's Chris Matthews and convinced conservative David Brooks he'd be "a great president." Newsweek compared the new president to Abraham Lincoln and 65 percent of voters believed they'd be better off in four years.
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Reflecting on the media's role in creating the Obama phenomenon, CBS's Bob Schieffer recently acknowledged, "Maybe we were not skeptical enough." The same is true of the soaring candidacies of anti-Washington insurgents Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. In their inkblots, supporters see trustworthy leaders whose whys resonate.
To voters hurt by our cronyist political system and revolted by self-dealing politicians and their special interests, Trump's "Make America Great Again" and Sanders' "A Political Revolution is Coming" are the "Hope and Change" of 2016.
Hard-working Americans play by the rules and resent politicians who don't. They've watched Wall Street and Washington boom while enduring stagnant wages, job insecurity, rising health care costs and reduced living standards.
Now, with the economy growing at half its 100-year historic average, small businesses failures exceeding starts, national debt approaching Greek proportions and national security threats looming, many fear we're bequeathing our children a less secure and prosperous America.
But on what rational basis do Trump and Sanders merit such unbridled loyalty? Even Trump is amazed, joking recently, "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn't lose any voters."
History shows that when politicians are elevated before winning in the marketplace of ideas, they stop answering questions and being held accountable and then everybody gets trumped.
Case in point: Trump. The reality-TV star now refuses to appear at the last pre-primary debate, drawing plaudits from minions who celebrate his bullying and bombast. Meanwhile, inquiring minds want him to persuade his way to victory.
How would the self-described insider-dealer dismantle the cronyist system that rewards political connections over competitive excellence? If he's free of special interests, why not end corporate welfare, like ethanol subsidies?
How does Trump reconcile his penchant for unilateral action with the constitution's separation of powers, never mind America's founding purpose — democratic self-governance of a free people?
How can Trump defend religious liberty while proposing a blanket ban on Muslims entering the U.S.? How does he justify "eminent domain" whereby government can seize an individual's property, even for private use?
Sanders is similarly vague. At CNN's town hall, he described democratic socialism as "an economy that works for all," a benign vision considering its devastating track record. Socialism is a discredited idea because, Time's Joe Klein wrote, "it dampens incentives, which dampens creativity, which leads to poverty."
That's why the Scandinavian social-democracies Sanders touts reformed their economies, reducing taxes and regulations. Doesn't Sanders worry that his ideas will disincentive the very entrepreneurialism that transformed America from an agrarian backwater into history's greatest economic wonder?
Sanders argues "the 1 percent" will pay for trillions in new government spending, though they rarely do. Instead, they pay lobbyists and lawyers to avoid taxes and often stop working or move overseas. These are luxuries unavailable to the middle class and debt-saddled future generations who invariably pay when government grows.
America's founders understood what Sanders doesn't. Poverty is humanity's natural state and free enterprise is the best system for moving people toward productive and prosperous lives. What government-planner can design "an economy that works for all" better than the free market, where endless autonomous decisions are made efficiently, creatively and cooperatively?
Think Again — Sanders is right. A few rich people shouldn't run America. Hopefully, voters willing to look beyond 2016's inkblots will insist that a handful of politicians shouldn't run the country either.
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