From “Yes We Can” to “Do We Have To?”
The 2016 presidential election season is swinging into full force while the world watches our two presidential front runners desperately try to capitalize on each other’s flaws and capture the trust of this so-called “broken” and “ungreat” America. It is interesting to explore the traits voters value in this election, which has played out more like a reality television show than a serious, national debate that will have irreversible consequences for our country. How is Donald Trump, a billionaire whose rhetoric is often labeled “racist” or “sexist,” or Hillary Clinton, a politician seemingly branded by a lack of authenticity and indirect nature, supposed to win over America?
Some Democrats, and even Republicans, are vowing to abstain from voting this November, even if that indirectly puts more votes in Trump or Clinton’s pocket. Pundits are finding these two candidates to be the most unfavorable presidential choices in many years, polling so horribly that according to ABC News and The Washington Post, Trump has a 60 percent unfavorable rating and Clinton has a 53 percent unfavorable rating. To put this into perspective, the only other candidate to have such a large unfavorable rating greater than 50 percent was former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in 2012, at 52 percent. No Democrat, until Clinton in this election, has had an unfavorable rating above 50 percent, even with her unmatched foreign policy and political credentials.
From the negative polling and mediated aggression towards the candidates, it is easy to question if either candidate is the type of leader America can trust. While other global players solely see Trump’s success as comical, the reality is that Trump and his unfiltered nature rose to power so quickly and unconventionally by attracting a voter base that feels disregarded by past administrations. Traditional and social media can call Trump out for his inconsistent narrative, but that is not stopping individuals who identify as disenfranchised from falling right into the hole that Trump has carved out for them.
Clinton’s campaign is not moving so smoothly either. Many voters who waver in their support for the candidate, or who outright oppose her, complain Hillary is “dishonest,” pointing to her Wall Street ties and lack of transparency in her role as Secretary of State. Many view her as a secretive, agenda ridden politician trying to fulfill a role she has been working towards her whole political career. Because of Trump and Hillary’s campaigns, our society has become so numb to the absurdity of this election cycle that we have lowered our tolerance and conscious decision making in order to accept the present state of politics.
In this election, Americans’ expectations have been dramatically reduced. Think back to the hope and excitement surrounding political newcomer Barack Obama in 2008. The enthusiasm fueling the “Yes We Can” initiative, and his campaign promise to revive the slumping economy, was palpable and contagious. That overwhelming feeling created a strong sense of hope and togetherness among the American people, especially among his base of supporters. Presidential elections are supposed to showcase and reward the candidates most capable and worthy of being the leader of our country and provide a positive vision for what we as a nation can look forward to.
Within this election, however, many people outside of their core base of support do not believe in or even trust these candidates. Partly rooted in their views on a polarized Congress, the public’s expectations have become alarmingly low, blocking the public’s ability to vet, or care about, the best choices. How did we move from such a promise land to leaders and citizens who have not only stopped celebrating differences, but started disrespecting them? One can have their differences with President Obama, but even conservative David Brooks praised Obama for being a president with class, highlighting the integrity, humanity, sound decision making, and grace in the Obama Administration against past administrations.
As Donald Trump makes fun of mentally disabled people and Hillary Clinton deals with the fallout from the now-closed FBI investigation into her email scandal, it brings us back to reality and makes us question the type of presidential candidate we want. What would American politics look like if another candidate had won the primaries? We will never know, and history will long examine the impact of our choices in 2016. In so doing, we can only hope that the postmortem on this election will better inform how the American public goes about choosing the traits and attributes we want in our leaders in 2020 and beyond.
LEVICK Fellow Eleanor Brow contributed to this post.