One of the defining features of the 2016 election has been the rise of outsiders on the left and right who have promised not to work within the system, but to blow it up and start over.
Among Democrats, that anti-establishment furor has empowered Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Among Republicans, it's allowed Donald Trump to become the presumptive GOP nominee.
How can we explain the profound sense of disappointment, even rage, with the political establishment that has gripped this year's primaries? "Face the Nation" moderator John Dickerson and "Late Show" host Stephen Colbert took a stab at answering that question, among others, during a wide-ranging discussion this week at the 92nd St. Y in New York City. You can view the full conversation here. Below is an excerpt.
Stephen Colbert: When we spoke last, in December...you were looking for a theory of this election. Have you found one yet.? And why do you need one?
John Dickerson: No, I haven't found it yet. The reason I need one is the first campaign I ever covered, when I was at TIME, one of the bureau chiefs said, you always have to be looking for what is the question of this election - what are we trying to figure out, what are we trying to answer, what are the candidates trying to answer, what is the public trying to answer?
Because campaigns used to be, and one of the challenges with this one is whether this is still the case, it's a national conversation. It's when we take control of our country every four years, we adjudicate all these discussions, and then, presumably, and this is a big challenge now in this current election, presumably after that conversation has taken place, we have a sense of a result has taken place.
SC: But first you have to have what that question is?
JD: You have to know what question you're asking to see what you're trying to solve.
SC: Can I suggest a question for this election?
SC: What the hell is going on? And I only mean that - I'm kind of kidding on the square, because that seems to be, both on the Trump side and the Bernie Side, what is appealing to the audience.
JD: Well we know partially what's going on, which is that people on both sides, on the left and the right, feel like the elites - the people they've given power to - have not been listening to them. And we've seen this before - we've seen this sense of disappointment, this sense of rage.
Here's what it feels like to me. Ok, so I was at a McDonald's recently, on the road. I stop, I'm in the men's room, and I'm standing there next to a guy, and we're both trying to use the faucet. It's one of those hand activated faucets, but it doesn't get activated, right? So we're both standing there, trying to get it to activate. And we look like we're doing 12-inch scratching, because we're doing this, you know, to get it to move, and it won't go, and the guy is getting really frustrated. And he says, who do I see about this? That's what the voters feel like. They feel like...
I almost lost you there, didn't I?
SC: No, not at all...you had me the entire time.
JD: You thought chicken nuggets were coming in. So, a thing gets imposed on their lives. They liked the old faucets. They like to turn a thing and have water come out...somebody imposed something on their life, and the thing that they've imposed doesn't work, and it doesn't work, and there's nobody they can go see to get it fixed or make it better.
SC: What if the other person in the bathroom with you at that moment identifies as a different gender at that moment? Does that make it better or worse, in that moment? Because that's part of the thing...there are cultural norms that people see shifting, and that feels like an imposition as well.
JD: Right, I mean, well...there are two things. People who feel like their rights are being trampled on by this new arrangement that's being forced on them. They feel like, as you say, they're frustrated - someone in Washington is telling me what to do in North Carolina?
But then there are the people who identify a certain way and want to live their life like everybody else, and they feel like they should have those rights and not have those rights trampled on by other people. And so that clash normally gets adjudicated in campaigns. But what if the structure of campaigns makes it impossible to adjudicate those clashes? What if the way we talk to each other makes it impossible to adjudicate those clashes? Because everybody goes immediately to their corners, the way we talk on social media removes all restraint. So our conversation and talk is as hot as possible and anybody who doesn't like the hottest talk on both left and right basically opts out and says this is all noise and shouting and I'm just not going to participate.