There’s no other way to say it: Americans are dissatisfied.
They’re dissatisfied with their own status, the status of the country, the economy and, especially, the government.
This isn’t an entirely new story. Storm clouds have been brewing for decades and the financial crisis in 2008 as well as two long wars brought this reality into stark focus.
And while we see poll after poll that shows Congressional approval low at 10 percent and findings that suggest Americans believe politicians represent their own interests at the expense of voters, this doesn’t even begin to get at the depth of anger Americans feel.
Consider the most recent American’s Values Survey. The overall mood of the country is “anxiety, nostalgia and mistrust.” Majorities believe the country is in decline. Fifty-three percent say the nation’s culture and way of life has changed for the worse since the 1950s. Forty-nine percent say American’s best days are behind it, up from 38 percent in 2012. Seventy-five percent believe the country is still in recession and 80 percent say the economic system favors the wealthy.
It’s now widely accepted that Americans believe the American Dream is out of reach for them and, critically, their children.
Gallup data shows that in 1983 fifty-four percent thought it was very likely or somewhat likely that kids would have a better life than their parents, which went up to 71 percent in 2001, down to 62 percent in 2010 and then to 44 percent in 2011. In more recent surveys show that 76 percent say life won’t be better for the next generation.
Against this backdrop, many politicians – on both sides of the aisle – have said they understand how dire the situation is and that they can fix it. But only one has really made voters believe it: Donald Trump
His campaign is built on probably the most resonant campaign slogan in recent history, “Make American Great Again”, and Trump has, like no other candidate, made his supporters believe that there’s finally a candidate out there who has Americans’ best interests at heart.
This faith in his intention to keep us safe from terrorists, create jobs, jumpstart the economy and put Americans first over illegal immigrants has overridden concerns for the practicality of his policies or, to be frank, the lack of specificity of his policies.
Trump’s palpable belief in the greatness of America has galvanized voters to levels we haven’t seen since 1980. Turnout has been huge, to borrow one of Trump’s favorite words. And although he looks to have hit a roadblock in his path to the nomination, there’s no doubt that he will continue to dominate this election and that his mark on American politics will live on long past 2016.
Indeed, I believe that establishment politicians will face strong challenges from outsiders in races at every level from here on out. Trump has shown that Americans are yearning for straight talking leaders. They want to hear that it’s okay for them to be scared, for them to think things that may not be considered PC, but that they think nonetheless.
Our politicians can’t represent our interests if we’re not allowed to voice them. And more so than any other candidate, Trump has given voters a voice. In the process, we’ve learned a lot about voter attitudes that we didn’t know before and that there’s an appetite for a truly disrupting force in American politics.
In future elections, we may not have someone as outlandish as Trump. But his legacy will surely have paved the way for leaders who may not know anything about governing, but know a lot about how people are feeling.