By Raphael Sassower
As Sadiq Khan has been elected the next Mayor of London, it makes sense to reconsider what's happening in the presidential elections in the United States. While Khan has been part of the Labour Party for decades, climbing to this position with the largest numerical support of anyone ever elected to this post, the United States sees an establishment figure, the presumptive nominee of the Democratic party, and a supposed outsider as the presumptive nominee of the Republican party.
While Khan has been lauded as the first Muslim to lead a major international city, the son of immigrants, what has not been emphasized is his socio-economic place in British society. Though a lawyer by profession and a politician by vocation, Khan isn't rich, especially when compared to the scion of a wealthy family, Zac Goldsmith, the Tory conservative candidate who outspent him and lost.
The contest in the United States isn't between a political insider, Hillary Clinton, and a political outsider, Donald Trump, but instead the contest between a millionaire and a billionaire.
The contest in the United States isn't between a political insider, Hillary Clinton, and a political outsider, Donald Trump, but instead the contest between a millionaire and a billionaire. The Clintons came out of office in relative poor financial state because of the cost of their lingering legal affairs. By now they have both become wealthy beyond their Arkansas dreams, charging premium rates for speeches. They travel on private planes.
Their Republican adversary also travels by private planes and helicopters, boasting publicly of his wealth and business acumen. His success is supposed to be the model of our potential success, a way to move up the socio-economic ladder to the pinnacle of the American dream of celebrity adulation. And the fact that his father gave him a meager $1 million loan to start his business is supposed to portray him as just another hard-working real-estate guy who made good in the vicious New York business environment.
The hubris of both Clinton and Trump in terms of their ability to relate to poor Americans would be laughable if it weren't a serious political matter. They can claim to be "job creators" just in terms of their personal staffs. Khan has the personal experience to connect with his constituents, a multi-cultural London that is integrated and diverse, that expects to treat respectfully men and women of all colors and countries of origin. Can Clinton and Trump say the same? Oh, Trump is married to an immigrant...
When you are accustomed to flying private, when you have minions of assistants that take care of your daily life's chores, when you haven't seen the inside of a grocery store or the wait at a gas station in decades, can you relate to the "common" American?
When you are accustomed to flying private, when you have minions of assistants that take care of your daily life's chores, when you haven't seen the inside of a grocery store or the wait at a gas station in decades, can you relate to the "common" American? When you haven't had to worry about being fired or balancing your checking account, what do you know of the psychological stress afflicting Americans during and after the Great Recession?
While millions of Americans lost their homes because of the explosion of the housing bubble, for the likes of Clinton and Trump it probably was a great opportunity to scoop great real-estate deals and buy pieces of property at basement-low prices. We all know that it does matter on which side of the fence you stand: what may be one's calamity is another's opportunity. And as members of the 1%, they look around and must find the view from the top to be fantastic.
Khan is proud of being part of the political system that eventually brought him to his position of the Mayor of London. Mired in policies from the start of his political career, he can be considered the ultimate insider in a system that runs well only when insiders know what they are doing and ensure that they keep on serving their constituents, in his case, all the residents of London.
Clinton isn't always sure what credentials to be proud of, especially when competing with Sanders. Instead of fully admitting that as a Democratic operative she's benefited from a well-oiled machine that raised millions for all her campaigns, she insists on being as different from the political standards as Sanders is (or is not). But, who ensured her victories if not the well-connected and wealthy donors who paid and paved her way to the top? She cannot pretend to be an outsider on any level, even when she pulls the so-called woman card and suggests, appropriately, that it's time a woman is elected president.
Bernie Sanders fares no better on his outsider credentials, as he has been a politician for longer than most of his supporters have been alive.
Incidentally, Bernie Sanders fares no better on his outsider credentials, as he has been a politician for longer than most of his supporters have been alive. At this stage, all we can hope is that he'll help shape some of the centrist policies of Clinton and push her leftward enough to be of consequence for working Americans, those demanding "living wages." Can any of the presidential candidates imagine themselves living on "living wages" of $15/hour?
As for Trump's claims to an outsider status, let's put the record straight. You may not need to be an elected politician to be on the "inside." Just look at any of the billionaires in the United States -- they can call any politician and will be answered; they can meet with anyone on Capitol Hill and suggest any policy they deem worthy of their companies, from Microsoft and Apple to Google and Amazon. They can buy newspapers and journalists, television stations and internet websites so as to command the attention of all Americans, regardless of their political affliction. Trump is no exception.
Wealth buys access and power in America, as book after book document in detail. Trump has enjoyed access and power for decades now, changing zoning requirements-- yes, it's legal -- to ensure the optimal success of his real-estate ventures. How can he claim an outsider status when his wealth put him smack in the middle of the financial cluster of the American economy? Just like Clinton, he's a distinguished member of the elite, though their respective distinctions might be different from each other.
Make no mistake, Clinton and Trump know how to play to their crowds, but they'll never be of them, never really care to be one of them.
The mantra of being an outsider plays well in the populist sentiment so prevalent among disaffected Americans. But except for the New Deal era, populism in American history has fared poorly. Politicians pacify the "base" and then, once elected, continue to ignore those who voted for them, lavishing attention instead on the wealthy elites, those in whose company they prefer to dine. Make no mistake, Clinton and Trump know how to play to their crowds, but they'll never be of them, never really care to be one of them.
Perhaps they are just too old. Trump will be 70 in June and Clinton is 68; Sanders is 74. Not only are they all white and old, not only are they wealthier than 99% of their supporters, it's only Sanders, the eldest of them, who connects with young Americans. Just like Obama in 2008, Sanders' message is about change and hope for the future, a "revolution" as he calls it. His revolution, to be sure, is more about a change in attitude than about taking to the streets and throwing out the political rascals. Without being an ageist, can't we find someone younger to lead us?
Raphael Sassower is philosophy chair at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. Prof. Sassower's latest books are Compromising the Ideals of Science (2015), The Price of Public Intellectuals (2014), and Sports and Religion in American Culture (2014, with Jeff Scholes). He grew up in Israel and moved to the United States as a young man after serving as an officer in the IDF.