Submitted for your consideration:
Grassroots activists in both parties are determined to nominate a candidate who will roll back fifty years of American history and do it all differently.
Polls show that the race for the Republican nomination is a two-man contest between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, with any remotely credible leadership figure trailing hopelessly behind. Meanwhile Democrats, displaying their gift for converting opportunity into disaster, seem to be turning toward Bernie Sanders who has risen to a solid lead in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Nothing in the agendas being offered by Trump or Sanders would have been unfamiliar to voters in western democracies in the 1930’s. Their speeches have that warm sound you get from a five-foot tall, lacquered-wood AM radio.
Want to know how we should respond to an interconnected world, driven by lightning-fast innovation, generating wealth on a scale never before seen? Want to know how we can adapt creaking, archaic institutions to the demands of a knowledge economy? No, of course not.
We want to know how professional political entertainers are going to soothe our fears and insulate us from change. We want to know how to make America American again and keep the rest of the world at bay.
Both candidates are promising to stop American jobs from going to China, without recognizing that those jobs are disappearing from China just as quickly. Both candidates want to shut down the growing global trade that has enriched this country in order to “protect” jobs that do not exist and will never exist again. Neither party’s base candidate has a word to say about making the new economy work for everyone. Instead, they are proposing to saddle it with obstacles that it will simply outmaneuver, leaving the rest of the country behind.
Bernie Sanders is actually promising to replicate in America the worst health care system in Western Europe – single payer. Trump has supported exactly the same plan. Sanders’ “progressive” jobs program is exactly the same as Roosevelt’s. Both parties are embracing candidates who want to wall off America. Trump and Cruz get a lot of attention for promises to build a physical barrier on the border, but Sanders’ legal walls against trade will do far more to impoverish ordinary Americans than any fence.
Look past the difference in rhetoric and you’ll discover that both campaigns are promising to stem immigration. Both campaigns are promising a country more isolated from the rest of the world; a country that prioritizes fearful protection over innovation. The central appeal of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders is a return to a defensive America, determined in their own way to implement your grandfather’s policy template to fight the future. They are the same product with different commercials.
Will our political dysfunction dismantle this new economy? No, it absolutely won’t. What we’ve learned from the rise of Uber, as just one example, is that the institutions best able to adapt will survive and grow more powerful while slower, dumber institutions will shrivel up and fade. Neither Trump, Cruz nor Sanders will not stop the emergence of this new, faster, smarter, wealthier economic order. The failure of our political institutions to adapt to these new demands only means we’ll lose our best opportunity to make this new economy work to the widest benefit.
Failing to adapt means that the knowledge economy will continue to pull away from the rest of America and the world. Those fortunate enough to earn a place there will live in a dynamic, diverse, ridiculously lucrative economy while the rest of the country falls farther behind. Try to stop this progress with unions or trade restrictions or border walls, and the architects of the knowledge economy will just drive around these anachronistic obstacles.
It would be nice if we could have a less feckless version of Marco Rubio, someone capable of recognizing what we’re living through, courageous enough to talk about it, and smart enough to propose policies that would harness rather than fight this new economy. We don’t, mostly because that kind of approach would probably have to come from the Republican Party, which is a frighteningly dysfunctional mess. Maybe we can get something like that in 2020 or 2024.
In the meantime, the base of both parties is proposing to rerun an election from the 1930’s. It’s a great year for history buffs, but a tough time for people who want their government to embrace the future.