When did we become a country that always insists on “facing reality” rather than challenging the odds? It’s probably a mark of our detachment from the processes of true democracy that the concept of persuasion rather than conquest has become so unknown to us — the majoritarianism of the Reagan era put an end to discussion, and Bush the First’s militarism put an end to diplomacy, and subsequent Democratic presidents left those gaps in place, since it makes their own base and hopefully the broad electorate easier to manage.
The media, fixated not so much on the status quo as on predictable outcomes, since they too have been influenced by this national allegiance to the undemanding, is already fitting the Sanders campaign into a pre-set narrative of his inability to “win.” When Sanders says the race is not about electing a candidate but spurring a revolution, it is editorialized that he’s softening the blow of defeat for his supporters; when he vows to keep campaigning after losing more Super Tuesday states than he won, he’s described as “defiant.”
The first assumption makes no room for the idea that campaigns can be for principles rather than personalities; the premise of the second is that hierarchy supersedes all legitimate issues that might be raised, and the “frontrunner” must be deferred to. In a nation of followers, demoralization sets in when the single individual that citizens have focused their hopes on is defeated or departs from his or her principles; Sanders’ emphasis on a movement rather than one man is disruptive to the permanent bureaucracy’s status quo and to the media’s predictable narrative.
A dynamic electorate necessitates an alert leadership and media; that alertness requires adaptability and dialogue. The presumptively foregone nature of Hillary Clinton’s nomination is the only criterion by which Sanders or any other challenger could be considered “defiant” (and I suspect that the stability of Clinton’s dynastic ascent is a comforting concept to a media that refused to see the viability of Trump).
Inexorable succession of established interests and familiar political brands has set in as a generational commonplace — for the first 25 years of my life, only one president (Reagan) ever completed two terms (LBJ got in because someone was shot, then only ran again once; Nixon left less than halfway through his second term to avoid imprisonment; Ford served out Nixon’s time and was never elected at all; and Carter was cashiered after four years), so political ferment felt natural. In the subsequent 25, excepting Bush Sr.’s single term, *every* president got reelected and stayed in, be it Bill Clinton (originally sent to Washington with less than a majority in a three-way race, and later surviving an impeachment), Bush 2 (originally installed by a court order), or Obama (elected handily each time yet opposed by at least half the country, and not just the yahoos but his disillusioned base too). America can scarcely remember a time when elected office was not a prize of the dominant rather than a dispensation of the masses.
Ironically, as the Contract With America/Tea Party/Trump revolution the post-Reagan GOP stoked now spins completely out of the old-guard’s control and the post-Clinton New Democrat takeover has long since supplanted that party’s traditionally liberal rank-and-file, we’ve seen the DNC do everything it can to cement a one-candidate primary season (not yet successfully) while Republican figureheads like Romney are calling their voters to ensure a contested convention (in the likely case that truly nothing Trump does can cause a self-destruct) — on the surface a strange switch of the parties’ historically-assigned egalitarian and top-down roles, but with each endeavor in fact designed to keep the lid on the independence of each party’s own voters.
In representative politics anywhere else in the world, and in our own country before 1984, a crowded field and a contest of ideas was a given. That kind of debate emulates an involved discussion among the populace, while current American leadership merely models submission to authority. But in 2016, the feeling of either “side” having an heir-apparent and of business-as-inevitable is lower than it’s been in 30 years, and voters’ sense of investment in and influence over the outcome (both Democrats and Republicans) is higher than at any point in that time. The real reason that political and media establishments alike fear Trump and Sanders is that they represent popular choice. Trump is additionally feared, of course, because he’s asking people to “choose” a dictator; in the oligarchy that America has become, Sanders is even scarier to entrenched interests, because he’s asking people to shoulder their own, participatory leadership.
That’s why both candidates should keep pushing their causes, to the conventions or even into independent runs. But what is of most importance is that, on November 9th and well beyond, the 320 million who aren’t running stay in the fight.