October 28, 2016
Like many others I have followed the Clinton/Trump campaigns. I have tried to understand what is happening in this historic clash of ideas, personalities, and views on how the US political system should operate. I would like to share some thoughts in this article.
The reasons underlying the success of Donald Trump should be a concern for anyone interested in the future of North American democracy. After weeks of so-called “melting down,” Mr. Trump’s poll numbers are still around 40% of the popular vote, while Ms. Clinton is generally not over 50%. According to the FiveThirtyEight blog, the national polling averages as of October 26 were 46.0% for Ms. Clinton and 39.6% for Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump retains this level of support despite the following: being extremely insulting to almost everyone who he disagrees with; employing cringeworthy political tactics; being accused of several instances of sexual assault; threatening to jail his political opponent if elected; taking confusing, shallow, and at times inconsistent policy stances; and generally demonstrating little respect for his political opponent or for the constitutional pillars and traditions of the U.S. federal system – including suggestions from the final Presidental debate on October 19th that he may not accept the election result if he does not win.
Why does he have the level of support he has? The answers are, of course, complex. However, I believe that their root is that many people – in America as well as in other countries – have lost respect for the political system and the political class, including those who run for office and those who advise them. These people think that government policies have not served them well insofar as costs (such as taxes) are higher and traditional jobs are fewer. Voters observe that big money is critical to electoral success. Political campaigning in America has become harsher, embracing more and more negativity; this mirrors the general exchange of gracious for crude dialogue in society. We see more things like extreme fighting sports, more public promiscuity, embrace of celebrity as a value in itself, more profanity and sexuality in general discourse and in entertainment like music, television, and movies. On top of all of these factors is a view that politicians are generally not worthy of being held in high esteem, and a belief that no particular skill is required to be a politician.
In the U.S. campaign, Mr. Trump has held himself up as the agent of change who can resolve the perceived failures of the current system, and he has cast Ms. Clinton, a candidate with her own set of assets and liabilities, as a symbol of all that is bad about the existing system.
The U.S. needs to fix its system to become more effective, at least to the extent that citizens again feel the government is moving things in what is perceived to be the right direction. If this cannot be accomplished, the number of people with rancor toward the federal system will continue to grow. If positive change cannot be made, a future Donald Trump will get elected, and we will begin to see election results ignored, political opponents put in jail, and legislation being passed undemocratically.
Dr. Brian Owen