DES MOINES, Iowa -- The most unique thing about the 2016 U.S. presidential election perhaps may be that the two candidates who are taking the country by storm are both considered as outsiders in mainstream politics. The surge of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate, and Republican candidate and real estate mogul Donald Trump highlight the American public's strong dissatisfaction with the status quo and their strong wish not to leave the rebuilding work of the weakening United States to old-fashioned politics. However, the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses dealt a bitter blow to the Republican front runner.
A campaign ad titled "America" broadcast on TV went viral recently. It features the everyday scenery of American towns, ordinary workers and young people with a hit song by the 1960s folk duo Simon & Garfunkel playing in the background. The ad was produced by the Sanders camp.
The song ends with lyrics that say, "They've all come to look for America," and it depicts hopes and struggles in the U.S. It was a spot-on ad, which nailed the current atmosphere surrounding the U.S. -- similar to what was seen half a century ago when the country was rocked by the anti-Vietnam War protests and civil-rights movement. The Hill, a Washington D.C.-based political newspaper, praised the Sanders ad as "the most brilliant and appropriate campaign ad of the year so far."
In the winter of 2008, I personally witnessed then Illinois Sen. Barack Obama create a furor in the Democratic primary right here in Des Moines. He beat then New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, who was considered as a sure bet for the Democratic presidential nominee, and went on to defeat the Republican nominee in the general election.
Eight years have since passed, and while President Obama has accomplished some policies he had promised including the health care reform dubbed "ObamaCare" and the Iran nuclear deal, his administration has failed to bring War on Terror to an end or make progress in the promotion of what he called a "world without nuclear weapons."
What fills America right now is anger and fear, triggered by issues such as the Islamic State militant group that continues to kill Americans, 11 million-plus illegal immigrants in the country, a widening gap between the rich and the working class, and youths struggling to pay off student loans. The presence of the U.S. as the world leader has been fading and the middle class that has supported American prosperity is shrinking. The country faces political dysfunction and cannot execute fundamental measures to solve these issues.
Trump and Sanders won the hearts and minds of Americans by sensing such a current mood in the country.
The emergence of Trump, a business mogul who calls for a ban on any Muslims coming to U.S. soil and the removal of illegal immigrants, refueled the GOP's long-awaited calls for a radical conservative candidate. On the other hand, liberal Democrats lauded Sanders' welfare state policies, including a government-funded health care system and tuition-free public universities.
It is unusual to see policies conflicting with traditional "American values" winning large support. Witnessing unexpected development, an expert said it is like watching a virtual reality game.
Despite the rise of unlikely candidates, the U.S. is neither a self-righteous empire nor socialist country without competition.
If Trump's policies were enforced, immigrants would become stranded -- though they have been the driving force of America's prosperity -- and the U.S. would find its unifying force on the wane. At the same time, Sanders' plans are called "unrealistic" by some as one estimate has shown that it would cost at least 2,000 trillion yen over a decade to actually carry out his policies. The question at stake is which candidate can offer realistic plans to fix America.
Trump's tactics of fueling anger appeared to have failed to gain momentum in Iowa, and the result of the latest caucuses showed the limitations of his strategies. The battle to find realistic solutions to the questions of how to hold down extreme arguments and to overcome anger and fear has just begun. (By Masaya Oikawa, North America General Bureau)