Anger and frustration over a much heralded economic recovery that has left out main street is feeding the protests from two opposing ideological camps, that of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. There are huge differences between the political discourse of the two, but the idea that the establishment doesn’t care about them is shared by followers of both.
Trump tells his mostly white supporters that immigrants and bad trade deals are to blame for low wages and unemployment. This narrative leads to an extreme nationalism in which the enemies responsible for this country’s decline are foreigners. This further stokes the fears and insecurities stemming from a sense of displacement in an increasingly diverse society.
The rhetoric of scapegoating leads some Trump supporters to turn to violence and the reaction of protestors who, with justification, rightly refuse to be so labeled.
Sanders’ supporters, on the other hand, refuse to stay silent and accept this country’s huge wealth gap and income inequality. Young adults see their prospects for work becoming increasingly more difficult. The once-accepted notion that completing college was the beginning of a career and financial independence no longer holds true for many. Sanders blames Wall Street and corporate greed that prioritize profits at the expense of the American people.
The fact is that globalization and free trade agreements promoted by the corporate sector have indeed hurt jobs at home. Tax policies and financial laws passed by both Republicans and Democrats have contributed to a transfer of wealth with wage-earners losing their consumer power while senior executives earn multimillion dollar compensation packages. Businesses that cut their workforce during the Great Recession have readjusted to the new labor market leaving many workers worse off than before.
Supporters of both Sanders and Trump have lost faith in the Republican and Democratic establishment in Washington. They correctly blame political leaders for an economy that has left them on the sidelines. Backers of the insurgent candidates represent the voice of those left behind.