When we give credence to Republicans who blame Democrats and Democrats who blame Republicans for our nation’s ills, we’re missing the point.
Republicans and Democrats both feel like “strangers in their own country,” according to a New York Times report. Is it no coincidence that feelings of alienation exist amid the most partisan, tribal politics we’ve seen in a lifetime. To understand why we feel estranged from our own government, we must move beyond the outdated view of a right-cleft political spectrum and look at the real chasm. Power, more than partisanship, is what is truly dividing this country.
When we give credence to Republicans who blame Democrats and Democrats who blame Republicans for our nation’s ills, we’re missing the point. Regardless of which party holds political power, the opinions of average Americans have essentially no impact on public policy. In fact, according to a remarkable Princeton University/Northeastern study, “The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact on public policy.”
The voting public is becoming increasingly more frustrated because they no longer have the political capital to influence government action. That is why anti-establishment progressive and conservative candidates are winning upset elections. While media narratives often focus on how these candidates are pulling their parties away from the center and making Democrats and Republicans more different, the reality is that several popular candidates with wildly different political views had similar paths to success.
In 2016, Sen. Bernie Sanders called out political corruption and then-candidate Donald Trump rallied voters to “drain the swamp.” In 2018, winning candidates from both sides of the aisle have furthered the trend. Rep. Mike Braun, an anti-establishment conservative running in Indiana, says he will “break the stranglehold career politicians have on the federal government.” On the left, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shocked the political establishment when she ousted a 20-year incumbent in her Democratic primary, running, in her own words “To create an America that works for all of us, not just a wealthy few.“
In each of these campaigns, the anti-establishment candidates became the vehicle for wrestling power away from elites and party bosses and transferring it to the people. These candidates also called out the corruption of the system itself. Fixing our corrupt political system was a winning focus for these candidates. It just might be the one issue that could repair our country’s deep political wounds.
It’s challenging for media and voters alike to see unity in this trend because our narrative and mindset are built on America’s binary, right-left rubric. The reality is that voters at all places on the political spectrum correctly believe the system is rigged to protect the status quo and the privileged few it serves. A recent Kaiser Health poll reinforces that Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike rate “fixing corruption” as the top political priority for 2018. They increasingly understand that it is the most determinant cause of polarization, corruption and tribalism -- and that unrigging politics is the greatest hope for restoring sanity and civility to America’s great experiment in self-governance.
Some have called for a return to “centrism” to bridge the partisan divide. But most voters are still sore from four decades of corporatist centrism that bailed out big banks while millions lost their homes and life-savings, and held no major banking executives to account.
Today, big banks are still filling campaign coffers of both Republicans and Democrats in a bid to return to those pre-2008, establishment-centrist days. Across industries, the top-spending corporate PACs, including those affiliated with well-known giants like AT&T, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and New York Life Insurance, contribute to Republican and Democrat candidates alike. They care less about who wins, and more about securing access to a winner beholden to them.
So, let’s stop plotting candidates on a right versus left axis. Instead, let’s focus on which candidates are with the people, and which are against us. Not in their rhetoric, but in their actions. On one side of the new axis are candidates who prioritize an anti-corruption agenda aimed at creating a system that increases the power of the American people. They fight for new voting and election systems that foster civility, break the two-party duopoly, and ensure integrity. On the other are candidates who stand for the status quo and the handful of billionaires and special interests who profit off of it. In this context, right versus. left may still matter to many voters, but for the millions who are ready to prioritize fixing the system, this new spectrum is the one that matters most.
This November there will be more than two dozen political reform measures on ballots in cities and states around the country. That’s more than any other time in American history. There is anti-corruption momentum building in D.C. on both sides of the aisle. This is the moment to take back the narrative, stop dividing the country by partisan ideology, and start putting the American people first. This is the moment to rebuild democracy and save our Republic.
About Josh Graham Lynn, Managing Director and Co-Founder of RepresentUs:
Josh Graham Lynn is a seasoned marketer and communications specialist. As a creative director, his work was honored by the Rebrand 100 Awards, the Webby Awards, the American Package Design Awards, and the ADDYs. Josh has launched and managed numerous international brands and has developed membership and consumer outreach campaigns for organizations ranging from credit unions to progressive communities.