‘Why,” a reader recent asked after president-elect Donald Trump’s stunning upset victory, “don’t you liberal mainstream media columnists get over it and write something positive to unify the country?”
Why, I wondered, must it be left up to liberals to repair the divisions ripped open by conservatives like Trump?
Maybe Trump supporters have a right to gloat after putting their guy over the top after almost every major poll indicated that he probably was going to lose.
But two questions still keep tongues wagging: Why are they so angry, and what can be done about it?
A newly released study of 2,411 voters by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation, confirms one thing that others have found: Trump benefited heavily from a widespread belief that the federal government ignores ordinary people.
Although this perception crosses party lines, pollsters heard it from Republicans more than Democrats — and from Trump’s voters most of all.
Democrats who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders’ insurgent campaign expressed more anger than early supporters of Hillary Clinton did, but both groups were outdone in anger by the Grand Old Party’s voters.
For example, nine out of 10 voters overall in the survey agreed that “elected officials think more about the interests of their campaign donors than the common good of the people.” Among those who agreed “strongly” were 63 percent of all voters and 72 percent of Trump voters.
And who can blame them? The hotbeds of Trump and Sanders support have been mostly small town and rural communities that feel economically depleted and woefully untouched by anything out of Washington except empty promises.
It’s not policy or ideology that drives the voter discontent, they survey found. It was the sense that they are being ignored, shoved aside by politicians who are eager to focus on campaign donors, party organizations and shadowy “special interests.”
By the way, since all interests are “special” to somebody, I translate “special interests” to mean “interests other than my interests.” The term is far from new. William Safire’s “Political Dictionary” traces “special interests” and its sister “narrow interests” back to President Theodore Roosevelt.
Yet dissatisfaction with government has reached new heights, according to PPC director Steven Kull in a news release. In the 1960s, fewer than half of voters complained that government was run by “big interests,” according to Kull’s office. In recent years this number has risen to 92 percent.
Which leads to the always-important question of what can be done about this discontent? One answer comes from Voice of the People, a nonpartisan nonprofit founded by Kull that released the survey.
VOP aims is to bridge the gap between politicians and the people they are supposed to serve by forming a “scientifically selected, representative sample” of constituents in each congressional district. These “Citizen Cabinets” would be consulted on current issues and provide a voice that reflects the values and priorities of their district or state.
My initial reaction: Don’t we elect congressmen and senators to do that?
After all, it is in the interest of politicians to serve their constituents and stay in touch if they want to keep their jobs. Layering in another group of community spokespeople sounds like a classic Washington prescription for every crisis: form a committee.
Sometimes such committees solve problems. But usually they simply meet until the problem goes away or everybody stops talking about it.
Yet the Citizen Cabinet idea tested well in polls. So did reducing the amount of money flowing into politics. Yet Barack Obama, no less, showed how record amounts can be raised through Internet appeals, and Donald Trump has shown how a shameless publicity hound can generate more free publicity than most candidates ever could afford to buy.
I prefer another idea favored by PPC: Abolish political gerrymandering. Let a panel of citizens or judges instead of state legislators draw congressional maps. A few states have done it in recent years, but it’s catching on elsewhere about as slowly as any other idea that asks the powerful to give up power.
Almost any idea that makes sitting politicians feel less comfortable about their political futures is OK with me. The less secure they feel, the more quickly they respond to angry voters.
Clarence Page is a nationally syndicated columnist.