It’s easy to get lost in all the noise. Scandals on one side involving emails and a foundation, and scandals on the other over crude remarks about women and minorities. It is the news that has dominated this election cycle. Add to it two larger-than-life personalities and this is what you get. Make no mistake, my fellow Americans, despite the racket, tomorrow’s election has nothing to do with any of that. It has everything to do with a major underlying theme over the past decade: there is a lot of dysfunction in Washington and the American people are fed up with it.
A Tale of Two Candidates
A Trump supporter cannot understand why people would support a corrupted, crooked life-long elitist politician like Clinton. Any Clinton supporter will tell you that they are mystified why anyone would want a bloviating, egotistical xenophobe, and woman-hating racist like Trump in the Oval Office. Given the flawed character traits and questionable decision-making skills of both candidates, it’s no wonder why Americans are so confused…and conflicted.
The annuls of American political history have never recorded two candidates for president so universally disliked. According to the averages in Real Clear Politics, both have unfavorable ratings hovering in the mid-fifties. It’s gotten so bad that many are voting against the other candidate than for their own; something the Washington Post reported on back in May.
Since that is the case, where is all this passion coming from? Americans are more engaged in this election than ever before, especially on social media. Ratings for the debates soared (LA Times Most Watched). Memes clog our Facebook and Twitter feeds. If we detest our candidates as much as we are led to believe, why is early voting outpacing the last election?
The War Against Dysfunction in Washington
Trump v. Clinton has been presented as a battle between candidates but ignores the big picture. Campaigns are more than their candidates, and elections are about more than campaigns. There is an underlying current in America, and that is the dysfunction we see every day in Washington. Partisan politics, corruption, gridlock… Americans are tired of it, and have been for a while.
It was that concept that a young, up and coming African-American politician from Illinois named Barack Obama seized upon. He had and undeniable “it” factor – charisma, which is what most Americans are drawn to in candidates. Obama also had a message: hope and change. He was going to make the presidency more transparent. Factor those things in, and even a respected politician and military veteran like John McCain didn’t have a chance to win.
Reasonable people can disagree about whether President Obama fulfilled his promise of hope and change in his two terms, but I doubt anything will be reasonable about the argument. Certainly he did for some, while others found him lacking.
Fast-forward to 2016
This election has been billed by the outsider v. the elitist; a billionaire champion of the people squaring off against a lifelong servant of them. Much of that is marketing. Some of it isn’t. There is a latent anger running thought this country that manifested in the primaries. It was tapped by the outsiders and eccentrics alike – a loudmouthed, crass, non-politico in Trump for the Republicans, and a socialist from Vermont in Sanders for the Democrats. They both railed against dysfunction in Washington and corruption in the system. Imagine what this election would look like if those two had squared off in a general election for the White House.
Instead, Clinton got her party’s nomination (or stole, depending on your perspective), setting up the epic showdown that has dominated the news for much longer than anyone cares to remember. It is a heavyweight bout between two titans of personality in an election that isn’t really about them.
Draining the Swamp or Staying the Course?
This election is a referendum on America itself. With so much dysfunction in Washington, those who go to the polls are not choosing a candidate – they are choosing a direction. Trump supporters want him to do what he claims he will: clean up a system that many Americans feel betrayed and left them long ago. It’s why so many in his own party resent him (the Bushes) or won’t campaign for him (Paul Ryan). They represent the establishment, and Donald Trump is the anti-establishment candidate.
Team Clinton may not be happy with today’s America, but many feel Trumpism is dangerous and not worth the cost. While Hillary may not be a champion in the fight against dysfunction in Washington, they trust her to be more predictable and even-handed than her opponent.
Tomorrow’s election has more at stake than just the fate of the Affordable Care Act or Supreme Court nominations; it is a struggle to determine the course of America over the next four years. Is the chance to shake up our political system and end dysfunction in Washington going to prevail? Or is staying the course with a more experienced politician the way to go? Americans get to make that choice tomorrow and live with the consequences of it either way. Go vote.
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Copyright 2016 Politics as Unusual