Decision 2016. How Did We Get Here?
This Presidential campaign has to be the most despicable and disappointing referendum on American democracy ever conducted. Both major party candidates are cannon fodder for their critics, lacking in temperament, trustworthiness, appeal, or perhaps in all three. We hold true to the belief that the United States of America is the result of the greatest system of government the world has ever known, that we are a beacon of light and hope for the world's oppressed. Yet our election process has left us with two candidates that, together, give voters the least appealing choice in perhaps ever.
How did it come to this? Donald Trump's ascendance to the top of the ticket has been well chronicled, swept there by a populist fervor that perhaps caught even him by surprise. However, his candidacy has divided further a Republican party that already contains a yawning chasm between the party's conservative and more moderate constituents. The aftereffects of the Trump candidacy may be such that the Republican party will never recover. The GOP has always been a cobbled together constituency anyway, the catchall party for anyone who doesn't identify as a Democrat. This makes for some odd bedfellows and that awkwardness has never been more apparent than now.
And Hillary Clinton, what about her? Her open pursuit of the top job strikes many as unseemly. Sure, all Presidential candidates want the job, but perhaps she wants the job just...a...bit...too...much. The Presidency looks much better on those who appear to be heeding the call rather than perpetually campaigning for it. It is, after all, a service position. In the strange political climate we find ourselves in, Hillary's career as a lawyer, wife of a former President, former Senator and Secretary of State seem to be disqualifiers rather than qualifiers. We want our candidates to be experienced, just not this experienced. To those who oppose her, this experience is a taint not a bonus. It's bizarre.
And what of the process? Trump's candidacy may be doing more harm to the idea of democracy than it is to the Republican party (and the damage to the GOP appears substantial.) Facing a defeat of McGovernian proportions, Trump has resorted to claims that the process is rigged, that the media shills for the Democratic party. He hasn't backed his claims with any definitive proof, but Julian Assange and his Wikileaks project has come to the rescue, bringing to light several instances that appear to lend some credence to this claim. Bernie Sanders' supporters certainly got an unfortunate peek behind the curtain when it was revealed that that the supposedly-impartial Democratic National Committee favored Clinton over Sanders during the primary race.
Another Wikileaks email dump last week has revealed that Democratic National Committee chairperson and CNN contributor Donna Brazile provided Clinton with a question in advance of the second debate, hosted by, you guessed it, CNN. While each candidate engages in pre-debate preparation (or should), the debates are supposed to be a gauge of each candidate's ability to think quickly and articulate clearly. If Clinton did indeed know a question (or questions) in advance, she would have a huge advantage in a setting where appearances and comportment are almost as important as thoughtful answers. Looking, sounding, and acting Presidential are voter prerequisites. If you don't think so, just ask the many candidates spurned by voters because they didn't pass the eyeball test.
This election, more than any other, has peeled back whatever veneer of respectability politics had left and laid bare for us all to see the certainly imperfect, usually dirty, and sometimes illegal processes that previously went on out of our view. Not anymore. Trump's pronouncements are undoing whatever voter trust was left in the system. People who don't believe in governmental conspiracies are being forced to confront the possibility that conspiracies are real and that we are in the middle of one. We now routinely elect the candidate who best presents himself or herself as the least bad choice. Campaigning may have always have had a negative slant but Trump vs. Clinton is Presidential Fight Club. No rules. When the prize is this big, anything goes. Not that this should come as a revelation to anyone who is old enough to vote. "Politics is a dirty business" is the aphorism that young voters cut their teeth on.
The Tea Party movement may have been the first shot across America's bow from the populist movement but Donald Trump's candidacy is the bunker buster, the campaign that threatens to explode two centuries of political enlightenment. Democracy is the "grand experiment" that has worked here well enough for almost two hundred and fifty years but the rise of the special interests increasingly is pitting American against American. Trump picked up on the anger of–and became the voice of–middle-class conservative white America, a segment that those with political ambition previously wouldn't touch because disaffected white people offered little in the way of political capital. What Donald J. Trump discovered is that thanks to NAFTA, thanks to the fact that real wages haven't risen in this country in almost four decades, and thanks to the increasingly unintended consequences of the Affordable Care Act, there is a whole lot of jingoism in the United States these days.
This segment of America is being squeezed from all sides. They don't want to give more of their money to people who are less fortunate because they themselves are feeling pretty unfortunate right now. They want immigration barriers to protect what jobs they still have. They don't want to pay for someone else's health care insurance. They don't want make it easier for the wealthy to stockpile more wealth but they don't want bigger government or more regulation. All they hear is that Trump is going to make America great again and to them that means restoring upward mobility to the middle class. Never mind that Trump's plan lacks specifics or is full of harebrained ideas like building a wall along the Mexican border and making Mexico pay for it, they figure if they elect someone so far outside the political fraternity that he can't help but shake things up. The Republican party apparatus reluctantly fell into line when it became clear that he was going to be this year's candidate. Until recently, that is.
Two years ago: Trump? No way. He's a clown.
One year ago: Trump? Really?
Six months ago: Trump? I'll be damned.
Two weeks ago: Trump? He's a disgrace.
Now, however, the reality of Trump's probable failed insurgency is sinking in. Barring the most unexpected result since David KO'ed Goliath, Trump is going to lose and lose badly. He might lose so badly that the taint of his unpredictable behavior has down ballot consequences. Republicans may lose majorities in both the House and Senate. As the election result has become increasingly apparent, Republican candidates have sought to distance themselves from the party's appointed standard-bearer. This only serves to highlight for voters the dysfunction in the Grand Old Party and increase the likelihood of a Democratic vote.
The net effect of anointing someone who has behaved in an increasingly unelectable manner is that disenfranchised Republicans are going to get the opposite of what they want: they are going to get a Democratically-controlled and bigger government and a President who may be given the chance to shape the direction of the Supreme Court for the next thirty years. Not exactly the hoped-for result. It's important to remember that winning an election requires putting forth a candidate who can win. Donald Trump has shaken things up and perhaps forced Americans to confront some of the uncomfortable issues that continue to persist here, but he can't win the election.
Just as one should never choose a spouse and hope for a change in his/her pre-marital behavior, voters should never choose a Presidential candidate and hope that the weight of that awesome responsibility will tamp down undesirable behavior or traits. Elect-and-hope is a terrible outcome for the American people but that's the choice we have this year. Voters won't elect Donald Trump, but they will elect Hillary Clinton and when they do it will be with the hope that all the revelations and negativity surrounding her amount to nothing. Hillary's supporters–and she has tens of millions of them–are as blasé to revelations about her behavior and ethics as Trump's supporters are to his. It's not supposed to be this way. We should be electing the best candidate, not the least bad one. Sadly, such a candidate doesn't exist this year and thanks to big money's corruptive influence, may never again.