Warning: this piece is about the Presidential race and only tangentially about education. You've been warned. Also, I use a rude word repeatedly, and while many of you won't mind, my mom often reads here, and she doesn't like it when I use bad language.
There has been a tendency, both in the media and in casual conversation, for people to see a parallel or even equivalency between the runs of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. This is a mistake. The two candidates have one shared feature-- they are both benefiting from near-universal disgust with politics as usual in the US. Past that, Sanders and Trump are exact opposites.
American politics run on bullshit. Loads and loads and loads of bullshit. The Sanders candidacy is what a Presidential run would look like stripped of bullshit, without the slick, pretty candidate and the focus-group-crafted messages. The Trump campaign is what a Presidential run would look like if you cranked the bullshit up to twelve.
Regular politics are that one kid in your class-- the one who punches the kid in the next seat or throws paper wads across the room or passes abusive notes, and does it all when your back is half-turned, and then when you call him on it, shrugs and says, "What? I didn't do anything. That kid just yelped all of a sudden. I don't know why. "
Teachers are annoyed by that kid for two reasons-- one is that he's mean and disruptive and rotten to the other students, and the other is that the subtext for his denials is some version of, "I'm pretty sure you're a frickin' idiot, and you're way too stupid to know what I'm doing."
But Trump. Trump just turns around, punches the kid in the next desk right in the face, turns to you, the teacher, and just shrugs and smiles, like "What are you gonna do, you know?" And then he says, "What? I didn't do anything? I think maybe he ran into my fist." Still smiling, like this is all kind of fun. And you can't help it-- he's such a transparent asshole that you're charmed.
When someone else is the class tries the sneaky punch routine, Trump gladly narcs on him-- "Hey, teacher!! Jebby just punched Floyd in the arm!" Catch someone in a lie? Trump's glad to tattle because when Trump wants to lie, it's a big, fat, indefensible lie, so baldfaced that it invites applause for its audacity.
Conventional politicians play a game in which they lie, pretend, ignore their own history, attack various groups of Americans, and lie some more, but they do it all in a gutless over-thought manner, with the ultimately goal of doing all those things without looking like they're doing all those things. But Trump lies, pretends, ignores his own history, attacks various groups of Americans, and lies some more-- and never pretends to be doing anything else. That's why the other kids on the GOP playground can't call him out-- because he's not doing anything that they don't do. He's just doing it in plain sight, without artifice. Conventional politicians try to convince the public that their bullshit is caviar and goose pate; Trump just backs the truck up and makes Bullshit Mountain with the confidence of a man who knows that this is what the game is really about.
When Trump criticizes other politicians because they "can't get anything done," he's criticizing their lack of guts, their lack of understanding about how a real salesman plays the baldfaced bullshit game. They want to play at playing the game while looking like they're not playing the game. Trump is playing the game, full on.
That's the difference from Bernie Sanders, who is not playing a game at all, but is simply trying to communicate a message. Trump, who is playing a game, has no message to communicate. Sanders is revealing the hollowness of the Presidential race by showing what substance looks like. Trump is revealing the hollowness by turning it into performance art, an exaggerated cartoon candidacy, a show that turns to the other candidates and says, "Look, if you really want to play this bullshit game, let's really do it, and not just half-ass it like you bums are used to doing. If you want to be a bullshit slinging, woman-bashing, minority-abusing, ethically rudderless asshat, let me show you how it's really done."
How far Trump's show can go is a mystery. The most entertaining alternative would be that he actually breaks the GOP, and we see the emergence of a real third party founded on reclaiming the values that the GOP once stood for. That's probably as unlikely as Sanders reclaiming the Democratic party from the corporate overlords who have commandeered it, but this feels like a year in which surprising things could happen.