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US election: The year of the angry voter

Out of The Ashes - Wednesday, April 27, 2016

It's Tuesday, and I find myself once again covering the race for the United States presidency. I have lost count but I think this is the fourth of fifth Tuesday of election coverage. This isn't normal. Usually the fight for the nomination is wrapped up by now. If there is one thing you can say about 2016 this is by no means a typical year.

                                                 Changing the system

The people in those communities definitely don’t agree. I went for a tour of one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods with two men who grew up there. They explained the issues facing their community better than anyone else could do. Coley Harris and Dubard Mcgriff told me that when the crack epidemic swept through the city and the war on drugs was launched, the vast majority of the men in the community were sent to prison. 

Mcgriff didn't have a male role model at home, so he says he looked up to the drug dealers. They didn't struggle to eat, they had money, nice clothes and nice cars. He followed their lead and at 16 was sentenced to five years in prison for robbery. He was sent to an adult prison. Statistically both he and Harris, who spent 14 years behind bars for second degree murder, should have been sent back to prison soon after getting out. 

The recidivism rate for former prison inmates is incredibly high. They admit they were on that path, but then they met Charles Madden. He runs a charity called the HOPE Commission. They work with men getting out of prison. They develop a plan to help these ex-convicts. They determine what they need to live outside prison, jobs, a place to live or treatment for addiction. 

They haven’t been around for very long, but in just over a year he says that only 6 percent of the men they’ve worked with have been sent back to prison for committing another crime. I asked him what was the secret? He said it wasn’t magic, it is leadership and actually caring about the men they are helping.

He believes that until men are brought back into the community, the cycle of violence and poverty will only continue.

In his view, the government has set up a system that will insure it continues.

He said: "The social structures that are designed to help people are failing them and we know they are failing them. Anytime you have neighborhoods where 75 percent of the people drop out of high school or school, that system is failing the people. Any time you have correction institutions that were designed to rehabilitate people where 75 percent of people coming back to those institutions those institutions are failing and our leadership stands by and allows that to happen."           

Despite living among buildings that are falling down and rampant crime, my tour guides explained to me that this is a community that is resilient. They pointed out a man who was mowing the grass in a public square. It wasn’t his responsibility but he wanted his community to look nice. Mcgriff explained that the people who were driving the crime would rather not be, saying: "Even a lot of time they do horrible stuff they still want their children to have opportunities for the most part. They don’t want to do the things they are doing – they are disenfranchised."

The men I spoke with don’t think the politicians are actually interested in helping them, so they are working to help themselves and their community. Still, they know only the politicians can actually change the system. That might explain why so many are looking for something new, something different and someone from the outside. They think the system as it stands is the reason they see so much suffering.

So here I am with my team in Wilmington, Delaware. I spoke to a Trump voter as he was leaving after casting his ballot. He said he was enthusiastic about Trump because he’s a businessman and he can fix Washington. 

Bernie Sanders supporters will tell you basically the same thing with as much enthusiasm, Sanders can fix Washington because he is an outsider. The best way to describe this election cycle is as the year of the angry voter. It’s here that I saw exactly why so many are so angry.

This city is literally the poster child for income inequality in the US. Delaware is known for its friendly environment for corporations. There are in fact more corporations registered here than actual
people. The reason, they can register pretty much anonymously and they pay very low corporate taxes. These companies don’t actually have to physically locate here. There are plenty of corporations that have. There are some very expensive neighborhoods around here, a sign that corporate America is doing pretty well.

You can find the exact opposite just blocks away from these stately homes. Wilmington has an exceptionally high crime and poverty rate in certain areas. I asked a city council member if he thought they should raise the corporate tax rate even a little bit – a tenth of one percent – in order to pay for programmes to try and help the people who live in such desperate circumstances. He didn’t think they needed to do that. He pointed out that many of the corporations give to charities in the area.

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