Donald Trump and his rapid rise have driven the conversation in this presidential election season. That's unfair to Bernie Sanders, whose ascent is arguably even more important - and a ray of hope.
Trump's stunning takeover of the Republican presidential race has dominated the media coverage and public debate of the US election since it all began last summer. And the way in which a foulmouthed businessman has bullied his way to the top of the Republican presidential field by launching a campaign built on fearmongering and xenophobia is certainly relevant.
But Trump's rise has overshadowed a phenomenon that is arguably not only more stunning, but may prove to have longer-term consequences - the success of Bernie Sanders.
Compare: Trump, a real-estate billionaire and famous television personality, has outmaneuvered a large but weak field of Republican candidates. He clawed his way to the top by insulting his rivals and by highlighting the fact that he is a political outsider who has not much of a clue about, and even less interest in, politics. Trump is able to run his largely self-financed campaign simply because of his deep financial coffers.
Hit with young voters
Meanwhile Sanders, a previously largely unknown septuagenarian and self-described democratic socialist from the tiny state of Vermont, who funds his campaign via individual donations, has given the presumptive Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton a run for her money. Sanders has not only won more than a dozen primary contests so far, but has done so in an issue-focused campaign. His election events have drawn large crowds across the country, most of them young people. What's more, polls have shown consistently that millennials, particularly younger women, prefer Sanders over Clinton.
Most intriguing, however, is the way in which Sanders has been able to achieve this success. Without the backing of an official super PAC, Sanders' campaign really has not only been a grass-roots effort, but a competitive one. In March, Sanders raised more money than Clinton for the third month straight, mostly in the form of small donations. The average contribution to the Sanders' campaign is $27 and is almost exclusively made online.
Model to be emulated
All of this is important beyond the current Democratic race, which Sanders, despite his performance, has little chance of winning. For Sanders' success shows that even in the age of Citizens United and billionaire bundlers, it is still possible to run a competitive and issue-focused campaign fueled not by personal wealth or super PACs, but by small donations. Few would have predicted it. For the future of democracy it is a ray of hope that should not be overlooked.
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