I don’t know if psychologists have written about this, but even in the days of 24-hour Cable News and the Internet, democracies “choose” their leaders in ways that are as bound up in weird Golden Bough depth psychology as they were in the days when kings went into battle themselves, swinging swords that a lesser man couldn’t lift off the ground.
I was thinking about this the other day, when Nate Cohn was explaining why the pollsters hadn’t read Michigan right. His explanations have been technical up to this point in the race (bad sample, late movers), but this time he threw up his hands (“no great explanation”). Mine is that this election is no longer about politics per se but archetypes–we really are a society/culture in crisis, and the way to understand us isn’t through polling but depth psychology. Both of the outlier candidates are offering Redemption and Restoration–Donald Trump as a king would, through his big penis and his puissance as a deal-maker. Follow me, he says, and some of my greatness will rub off on you. His mode, for lack of a better word, is the Shakespearean–his divine destiny is ours too.
If Trump is royalty, Bernie Sanders is a Prophet–the white-haired outsider who speaks truth to power, saying what everyone knows but no one dares to acknowledge: that our leaders have sold our birthrights and that our country has lost its way–and that the way back is not through him but through the foundational values that they betrayed. His mode is the Biblical.
The message that the pundits should be taking away? That we are in deep, deep trouble as a polity–and we know it. That’s what it means when there are such signs and wonders, and both of these men are wondrously semiotic.