Are Michigan voters mad enough to change anything?
When the current presidential campaign began, there were two things on which the expert talking heads agreed. Bernie Sanders was a far-out fringe candidate, and Donald Trump was a carnival sideshow who would be gone long before the snow melted.
Well, guess what?
Donald Trump is going to be the Republican presidential nominee, despite never having run for anything before, and despite having only officially been a Republican for about four years. Bernie Sanders, of course, is not technically a Democrat at all.
He is, as the world now knows, a proud Democratic socialist. Barring some kind of act of God, Sanders will not be the Democratic nominee – but he has won nineteen states, including Michigan, and is likely to win a few more.
Trump and Sanders are political polar opposites, but they have one big thing in common. They believe the system is no longer working, and they are appealing directly to those who are mad as hell and don’t want to take it anymore.
Many Americans – possibly most of us – feel that way. Hillary Clinton, for whom the system has worked just fine, doesn’t appear to have a clue.
Neither did the now half-forgotten Jeb Bush, who the experts predicted would be the Republican nominee. Clinton is on track to win the nomination, thanks mostly to overwhelming support from minority voters and party officials.
But she is losing eighty percent or more of young voters to Sanders, which should be enough to make her campaign deeply worried.
And if most people feel the nation is on the wrong track, it’s almost certain that even more think politics and government in Michigan are an utter mess.
There’s no question that term limits, gerrymandering, and ideological blindness have nearly destroyed the ability of government to respond effectively to the state’s needs.
The largest school district in Michigan is on the point of collapse, but the legislature, which is entirely controlled by Republicans, is still divided over whether to pass the Republican governor’s plan, something that would give Detroit’s schools a fighting chance.
Our roads and bridges are dangerously falling apart, but the legislature for years obstinately refused to do anything about it. Finally, last year, they did pass a bizarre bill that raises some taxes, doesn’t fully kick in for years, and will never provide an adequate level of funding.
What it does provide will be dependent on lawmakers slashing spending on things like education and health care by $600 million a year.
Meanwhile, State Representative Jim Stamas seemed to have little interest on conducting a real investigation into what happened in Flint. But he was very enthusiastic about passing a law preventing local communities from banning environmentally disastrous single-use plastic grocery bags.
My guess is that he made some lobbyist for a plastic bag manufacturer happy. What this state needs is a new political movement led by someone who is a combination of Trump and Sanders; someone who will lead a revolution of sorts, one in which politics and government are again based and focused on common sense.
That would take a lot of work and a lot of money. But given the condition of what used to be one of the best governed states in America, I can’t imagine a more important cause.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.