The year of the angry voter

As citizens in Iowa prepare to render the first formal judgment on the 2016 presidential candidates, anger seems as powerful a motivation as hope.

Both the braggadocious Donald Trump and the softer-spoken Bernie Sanders are tapping into widespread indignation about perceived American decline — though they identify different culprits. For Trump, it's Mexican immigrants, political correctness and U.S. negotiators who (perhaps because they haven't read “The Art of the Deal”) have been suckered by wily Chinese and Iranians. For Sanders it's the parasitic “billionaire class” that has profited at the expense of ordinary Americans.

Meanwhile, Sen. Ted Cruz tells voters outraged by the inability of the Obama administration to quickly neutralize Islamic State that he would carpet bomb the group. Sen. Marco Rubio reiterated in Thursday's debate that he would cancel the Iran nuclear agreement on his first day in office.

Anger is no stranger to American politics. And anger may be an appropriate response to injustice and incompetent government.

The problem is that many of today's candidates are trying to appease voters by making extravagant promises that they will find it impossible to keep. Once in office, a president will find that it isn't easy to tear up an international agreement, jail unscrupulous bankers, give “free” health insurance to all Americans, build a wall to stop illegal immigration or eliminate terrorism. Nor can a president undo social and economic changes that have been decades in the making.

It's early in the campaign, so perhaps candidates will realize that over-promising, far from assuaging the anger of the voters, only inflames it.

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A version of this article appeared in print on January 31, 2016, in the Opinion section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "The year of the angry voter" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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