Bigot. Warmonger. Rapists and thieves. The 2016 election seems to have a very different tone than any election we have seen in our lifetime. While we like to think that much of this vitriol has to do with the behavior of one particular candidate, what is happening in our country is bigger than just Donald Trump.
Whether we like to admit it or not, this election (as the elections before it) is a mirror reflecting all that is good and bad about America. This quadrennial event acts as a sort of litmus test; attempting to place specific pH onto a nation that should arguably remain neutral. We have seen some troubling things thus far, but unfortunately, the troubling things we have seen seem to have some deeper cultural causes.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the motifs that have reoccurring throughout this election cycle and see what conclusions we can draw, shall we?
Racism: The most obvious recurring theme this election has been racism. Aside from all vulgar rhetoric on race we have seen from Trump, racism is taking on a bigger role in this election than it has in the past. What we are seeing in this election cycle, particularly from the right, is a change in demeanor. While the aging GOP establishment has consistently run on the precept that racism doesn’t exist anymore, the Tea Party right has changed the ball game.
Since the beginning of this election cycle, the tone regarding race has become incredibly volatile. We are seeing unabashed racism on all levels of government, and Trump has seemingly legitimized what had previously been taboo or “tongue in cheek” racism (for lack of a better term). Trump supporters, in many instances, predicate their political views on racist principles that are, like it or not, a part of the American political system. The GOP establishment is split on how to react in many cases, with some being silent, others backing Clinton, but this is a far cry from the GOP we saw unite just four years ago behind Mitt Romney.
From the legitimization of Islamophobia, to the recent criticism of 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and of course the consistent belittling of Mexico and Mexican immigrants to our country in the public sphere, America has learned this cycle just how racist we are. And if you need to know who in your circles is racist, all you need to do is just scroll down your Facebook feed and you can find out.
While we cannot and should make this sort of speech illegal (the first amendment is a sword that cuts both ways, after all), it is our job to create a social sphere where this behavior and language is not only unacceptable, but shamed. Let’s put this trash back underground where it belongs.
Ego: Speaking of your Facebook feed, have you noticed a change in the past year or so? It seems so strange that in a country filled with so many people that are obviously right that we would even have any sort of disagreements, right?
The absurdity of the social media realm has definitely had an enormous effect on the current political climate, but not in the most direct way. Social media is an enabler, of sorts: allowing individuals the ability to immerse themselves in things that feed their ego and bolster their own beliefs. It is very uncommon for people to “follow” or “like” pages with views that will conflict or challenge their own. Social media pages are becoming more and more personalized, and this creation of the “safe space” on the web is becoming dangerous to the American condition. Try taking a look at a friend’s social media feed from their POV (with permission, of course) and examine how truly different what you and your peers are exposed to can be.
In addition to our social presence stroking our ego, most of us get an affirmation of how right we are everyday when we drive to work. The car is another instance where we are given a false sense of entitlement; with “that guy” always being the asshole by cutting us off, or taking our parking spot. With the amount of work and fiscal investment we put into our cars, and the associated freedoms to move large distance, it is no surprise that many of us see the car as a sort of safe space and entitlement. But interestingly, with more and more of us driving solo, there has been an increase in the number of road rage incidents and they have grown more and more deadly.
These are only a few examples of how current societal trends have encumbered the growth of millions and millions of swollen egos. America is in danger of growing an even bigger head than it already has. Getting embroiled in countless debates on Facebook plays zero role in changing the outcome of the election or someone’s opinion, but is actually only an exercise of the throat. Far too often nowadays we drift away from Teddy Roosevelt’s principle of “speak softly and carry a large stick” and become the loud guy at the party that pulls his gun out to win an argument. We need more Teddy Roosevelts and less Yosemite Sam’s.
When we act citizens act this way, are we surprised that our two options for President are entitled, ego-driven narcissists? We are reaping what we’ve sewn.
Unpredictability: Aside from the parade of gaffes that seems to be this election, there is an air of mystery that still hovers and keeps us all on the edge of our toes. This cycle, polls have finally proven themselves useless. The Sanders primary win in Michigan was the nail in the coffin of traditional political polling. More and more, the medium of the poll has become the problem. With fewer citizens owning land line phones or willing to participate in surveys, pollsters have had issues for many years trying to paint an accurate picture of the political landscape. Now, it seems that perhaps “the jury may be back in”. Don’t be surprised when political pollsters continue to track and analyze your online behaviors in an attempt to keep themselves employed.
Additionally, it seems absolutely ridiculous to think that with as much as Americans talk about politics that only 9% of Americans chose one of the major parties’ nominees for President in the primaries, and even more absurd to think that less than 60% of Americans voted in the last Presidential election. The walkout of the “Bernie or Bust” caucus at the DNC, and the #NeverTrump campaign is a definite sign that those feeling disenfranchised may end up staying home in November or (*gulp*) vote for a third party. There is no doubt that the unpredictability that has haunted the primary season will continue into the general, and most likely, into the next four years in our country. A ruler without a mandate from the people cannot rule, and that’s just what we may have come January.
The Lesser of Two Evils: Americans on the whole continue to use the “lesser of two evils” argument, attempting to demonize Trump or Clinton, claiming there are no other viable candidates. This kind of two-party domination has been, and will continue to be, one of the biggest problems in the American political system.
While there are two other parties with candidates rallying many disenfranchised voters, the Libertarian Party and the Green Party, neither party offers voters a candidate that could actually win. Gary Johnson is an extremely conservative political entity, who’s troubling remarks on the Joe Rogan podcast regarding a benevolent dictator and extreme positions on the role of government prove he is not ready to be taken seriously, and Dr. Jill Stein, who has only held one elected position before in the Lexington, MA Town Meeting (hardly a viable track record for someone who wants to be President). A vote for perennial candidate and satirist Vermin Supreme may be a better option than both.
What Americans are dying for is a chance to vote their conscience again; to vote for someone they like, rather than against someone they don’t. But until we break black-and-white paradigm that is now our political system, and continue to allow two private entities to control our government almost entirely, we will be left to choose between a giant douche and a turd sandwich.
But therein lies the rub: how do we get someone with adequate experience into a position to run for president? Sadly, the answer is a boring one. We must groom them. We need a new generation of politicians that are unafraid to speak their mind, fight for what is right, and take on the two-party system and beat them at their own game.
These four symptoms of our social disease are but a small portion of the ways this election is the embodiment of American life. We owe it to ourselves to demand more from our government, and to help be a part of the change, and until we do, our elections will continue to get worse. After all, Kanye 2020 is only 4 years away.
Sean McGill (@seanMCthrill)