A reality television superstar stands alongside a self-proclaimed socialist as two of the superstars in this year's American presidential election cycle. Who could have suspected that either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders could win the title of the next President of the United States even a short six months ago? The country has never before witnessed such an overwhelmingly receptive response to anti-establishment sentiment, and the popularity of these two towering figures points to a profound metamorphosis within the mainstream of the population. An insightful two-part expose titled What's Happening to American Democracy?, produced by Al Jazeera, investigates the root causes behind these shifting perceptions.
As illustrated in the film, both Trump and Sanders are speaking to the country in a manner that evokes the need for meaningful change, but their approaches rest at opposite ends of the spectrum.
While it is usually customary for politicians to sell their ideas in a key of hope and positivity, Trump's rhetoric has only inflamed the financial and security anxieties of the populous. With unpredictable and highly volatile swagger, Trump has emerged as a political phenomenon, and one who has even the most seasoned pundits scratching their heads. The political insiders who are featured in the film cannot deny that Trump is connecting with the feelings of discontent within large segments of the country. But in the absence of clear-cut policies or political savvy, is he only appealing to their most barbaric reactionary instincts?
Both candidates publicly proclaim themselves as fiercely anti-establishment, and share frustrations over a political system that seems to be rigged against the existence of a true democracy. Their message has sparked a national outcry for political revolution, but the tenor created by both campaigns is a study in sharp contrasts. Whichever side of the fence the voters fall on - fearful anger or hope - their newfound activism indicates a rapidly evolving awareness within the country. What's Happening to American Democracy? does an admirable job of defining the cultural dynamic which allows candidates like Trump and Sanders to thrive. It's an environment where the middle class is feeling the squeeze, minority populations are growing in numbers and influence, and the true enemies of democracy are the large corporate interests who line the pockets of the political establishment.