This election season, it seems impossible to escape certain terms. Words like “globalist,” “alt-right” and, unfortunately, “cuck” keep popping up in our political commentary.
Another one we hear repeatedly is “rigged.”
Donald Trump was the first 2016 candidate to start tossing that word around, bolstering his political outsider status by claiming Republican power brokers had “rigged” the primary system against him. And it worked.
At a time when the popularity of the party establishment was bottoming out, it proved extremely effective for Trump to harness the momentum fueling that discontent. His post-Colorado GOP caucus meltdown was a perfect example of this. Instead of mobilizing an effort to flip pro-Cruz delegates and actually win the contest, he opted instead to complain that the rules governing the state convention were drawn to marginalize his supporters and skew the race toward Cruz.
Though he lost in Colorado, Trump’s whining incited his voters elsewhere to fight even harder against a system perceived to be lopsided. It wasn’t long before he became the presumptive nominee. So, naturally, Trump now claims the general election has been rigged to disadvantage him.
Bernie Sanders’ supporters are no strangers to the “rigged” accusation either.
Throughout the Democratic primary, many voters who were “feeling the Bern” couldn’t escape the sense that their candidate of choice was being suppressed by party elites. Side glances galore were thrown at former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz as Sanders’ gains were blunted by Clinton-favoring super-delegates.
Of course, these suspicions were confirmed—to an extent—on the the eve of the Democratic National Convention when leaked emails revealed party operatives, including Wasserman Schultz, actively unleveled the playing field to help Hillary Clinton grab their party’s presidential nomination.
Last Friday, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, whose name will be on presidential ballots in all 50 states, became the latest 2016 hopeful to play the “rigged” card.
After the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD)—an organization patronized by the Republican and Democratic parties—announced that the Libertarian Party’s candidate wouldn’t be allowed to participate in this month’s first presidential debate, Johnson complained, “It’s a rigged game, man. Democrats and Republicans make up the presidential debate commission,” and they’re “not wanting a Ross Perot on the stage again.”
From this vantage point, it does appear that Johnson’s qualms have credit. After all, the CPD is a joint venture birthed by both major American political parties. Together they created it, and together, it seems, they’ll use it to convince voters that they have only two legitimate choices for president.
Interestingly, the CPD’s website boasts that their goal is to “provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners.” But with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump scoring unfavorable ratings of 55 and 57 percent respectively—clear evidence that the majority of Americans don’t like them—it’s mind-boggling that these two are treated by the CPD as the only viable options for the presidency.
It’s one thing for political parties to have confounding rules that make it challenging for candidates to win a nomination. It’s quite another for a clearly biased organization, which holds a monopoly on national debates, to be the gatekeepers for what are arguably the most important events leading up to presidential elections.
A chief symptom of our national political sickness is that Americans believe our major party duopoly is somehow sacrosanct. We’ve trapped ourselves within a false paradigm framed by a zero-sum, “pick between the two” mindset.
The CPD and their defective debates fuel these ills.
In the short-term, they’re ensuring a large chunk of the electorate stays at home on Election Day. Worse, they’re demonstrating that our political landscape is an exclusive terrain, open only to those willing to put an “R” or “D” next to their names. This yields long-term consequences by further perpetuating that faulty zero-sum political mythology, which, as we’ve seen, has inspired millions of Americans to turn away from the political process.
“Rigged.” If it can be argued that the primaries were “rigged” against particular candidates, a case can certainly be made that the general election is “rigged” against actual voters.
Which is worse?