When he entered this year’s presidential race, nobody took him seriously. Most people laughed at the idea of him competing against the big-name frontrunner. Everyone assumed his views were too polarizing even for his own party, let alone for mainstream America. The whole campaign was suppose to be a publicity stunt.
But then he started catching on. People loved his special brand of no-nonsense opinions. Suddenly he was leading in early state primary polls. His views were apparently not as extreme as people expected. He was beginning to be seen as a legitimate threat to the established Washington power structure. His own party was getting nervous.
Who are you imagining right now?
You might be thinking of Donald Trump, and you would be right. You might also be thinking of Bernie Sanders, and you would be right, too.
These men are not the same, obviously. You couldn’t find two politicians who are further apart in many respects. The two politicians do, however, mean the same thing to America right now. Their success so far means that the way we do politics could be changing forever.
It was only a few months ago that most experts were predicting coronations for Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton as the new leaders of their respective parties. The families they belong to are the closest thing to American royalty that we have, and it seemed like such a natural fit to see these legacies continue. This was the safe path. This was supposed to happen.
But America is nothing if not rebellious.
The narrative being presented to voters on both sides caused frustration and hopelessness. Never had it been more obvious to voters that our political system is run by a small group of the elite who pass power back and forth between them like a hot potato.
America wanted something different. America wanted to shake things up.
Trump and Sanders are both men who say exactly what they feel with dogged persistence. They confront subjects directly instead of politely dancing around them to avoid alienating certain groups. They admit to things that other politicians would be terrified to fess up to.
Trump has bragged about donating to others in the past in return for favors, while Sanders openly considers himself a socialist. This level of candor has made them more appealing to their respective sides because it is something those sides have rarely seen from Bush or Clinton.
Is this a sign of a new strategy emerging in American politics? Are voters finally so fed up with lies and fence-riding opinions that anyone who is willing to be a straight-shooter will have at an advantage, even when their views are considered extreme?
The truth may be simpler than that. Now, we may just live in a world where the general views of the people have shifted, and thus, the same thing is finally starting to happen with the views of the politicians who wish to represent us.
These candidates are no longer considered extreme because their sides no longer consider their particular views extreme.
No matter what the reason though, a change is most certainly happening in American politics. As scary as it may seem to some, this could also be a strange glimmer of hope for us all. A liberal may stare aghast at Trump, and a conservative may be dumbfounded by Sanders, but is it not better to stand for and against people whose character and intentions we can clearly see?
The gloves have long since come off for American politicians, and after the success of Trump and Sanders, perhaps we can take comfort in the idea that some of the masks might be coming off, too.