Hello world. It’s the USA here. Hey, listen, I know we look like a bunch of idiots. I can understand how you would think less of us now. We’ve done something really wrong and we have some making up to do. But before you write us all off as a lost cause, let me try to explain why we aren’t all as bad as the results might make us seem.
First and foremost, our election system is broken. Our election cycles are now almost as long as the terms served. Primaries serve as opportunities to pander to bases that make the candidates unpalatable in a general election and the candidates that make it through aren’t necessarily the ones that best represent the voters. And then there’s the “electoral college” which may (or may not) have made sense at one point but clearly only serves now to marginalize votes in states that usually vote one way or the other. We vote on Tuesdays instead of on the weekend. We vote by paper and walk in to just simply say our name and address to get a ballot. And we vote only for one candidate – no rank voting that would equalize the playing field. So why don’t we fix it? The only people in a position to change it are the same people who used that system to get there. And from where I sit now, I don’t see a way to fix this. Please, world, if you have a suggestion, we’d love to hear it.
The unlikable candidates that result from that primary process need to somehow encourage people to vote for them. But as we saw this time, the candidates only got less likable. We learned that Trump assaults women and he found numerous ways to be racist. And we learned that Clinton is somewhat tech-averse and set up a private e-mail server due to her fear of Republicans targeting her – which turned out to be not irrational at all. Too bad she conducted State Department business using that server. Subtracting that one IT-related misstep, she would have won. But if it had been anyone else to have made the same mistake with e-mail, they would have gotten a pass. In the public’s view, Clinton was already an unlikable liar. And the e-mail was something tangible and recent that would serve as the evidence needed. Personally, I do blame Clinton for knowing that she was unlikable and yet deciding that she wanted the Presidency badly enough that she would be able to overcome it. But at the same time, she’s merely human and probably had a difficult time acknowledging that there could be so much vitriol that would prevent her from being elected. Besides, her supposed transgressions pale in comparison to Trump. Surely sanity would prevail.
There’s also the question of whether these are the best candidates the USA has to offer. Well, on paper, Clinton is pretty well credentialed. I like the idea of a President with Secretary of State experience for these volatile and dangerous times. But yes, the unlikability. I don’t know if her being a woman was a significant reason for her to be seen as unlikable or just merely one of the factors. But that definitely played a part. And maybe the fact that we hadn’t had a woman come this close would mean that we would need to work our way there more slowly – which hopefully we have now. On the other hand, Obama was clearly the first black man to come close and he succeeded. But there must be more credible people out there to run than all of the Republican field. In my view, there were only 4 candidates who had the experience and persona to be President: John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Bernie Sanders, and Clinton. None of the other Republicans, Democrats (sorry, Jim Webb), Libertarians, or Green-Rainbow candidates had the experience or persona. So in the end, yes, apparently that is all we as a country had to put forward. But perhaps this tragic election will help bring more people forward who might be as well qualified and also might be likable.
I hear what you are saying world – regardless of how unlikable the candidates are and how broken the process is, Trump is only elected because people voted for him. So who are these voters!? They are the people who are fed up with Washington politics as usual. They think the country has gone too far in accepting people of all races, sexual orientation, and religions and may go further by limiting gun ownership. (This country has a weird thing for guns as you have no doubt noticed but that’s another post.) They want to “Make America Great Again” which in their view means go back in time to some mythological point where things were good. They fail to realize that things weren’t as good as the reminiscent goggles erroneously show. And they don’t realize that the shrinking of the world can’t be stopped so foreign policy today can’t be the same as it once was. These voters vote with their heart and based on faith. Not necessarily faith in a God, but faith in the power of conservative principals. In most cases, those principals probably originate from the faith in a God, but they have become their own thing to believe without needing facts to support them. That may work for a religion but it’s a lousy way to make policy choices.
And unsurprisingly, these people are largely older white males. That is, people who may be able to legitimately claim that things were personally better for them at some point in their past. As CNN reported last night repeatedly, voters’ educational status also played a big part in factoring who they voted for. Now you could argue cause and effect here – whether the education helps people understand why voting for Clinton was the better choice or that people who would vote for Clinton are the kind of people who would go to college. Regardless of cause vs. effect, the net result is that people who don’t have higher level education about how the world works are the people who voted for how they want the country to work. Obviously, everybody’s votes matter, but I wish we could do a better job of educating more people in this country. Unfortunately, again, too often, people see education as a bad thing – teaching science can directly contradict the concept of intelligent design. And in many cases, the people who make the rules about schools are the same people who have an interest in keeping things as they are. That only perpetuates the lack of education. We need to break out of this cycle and get more people educated. It isn’t that people are too stupid to learn. By and large, the country is full of bright people who just don’t have a world view because they haven’t seen the world and learned about the world. Better education is not something to be avoided; it is key to our country’s survival.
But Trump also won because people didn’t vote for Clinton. Obviously those who voted for Trump didn’t vote for Clinton but also there were many people who voted for neither. They are the people who stayed home or the people who wrote in somebody or the people who voted for a third party candidate. The typical Trump voter was going to vote for Trump pretty much regardless of what he did – even shooting somebody on the streets of NYC as he famously bragged. That’s because what made him an attractive candidate was saying and doing things normal candidates don’t. The best way for Trump to have lost votes as election day was nearing was to do or say anything conventional like “maybe a wall isn’t such the best idea”. Therefore, the Trump voter was already locked in. The Clinton voter on the other hand is typically more fickle. You have people with principals! They are people who feel like maybe Clinton matched their policies but didn’t like the idea of voting for somebody they thought was a liar. And people who maybe agree with some policies but not enough. Or maybe they felt betrayed by Sanders losing the primary. And then there are the people who wanted to “make a statement”. These groups are the people who left Clinton hanging. They are the people who didn’t “cowboy up”. Who didn’t put on their big girl/boy britches and do what was right, if less than ideal.
The disparity in how a conservative candidate can beat a liberal candidate with a similar sized base is an outgrowth of the faith-in-principals approach I described above versus the idealistic view. The faith-in-principals people can be more easily motivated to come together than the liberal idealists who splinter too easily into subfactions and can’t get back together to unify and do anything. This is also why even with a Democratic majority in congress, the liberals fought among themselves while the conservatives united. Unfortunately, this behavior seems endemic in the typical liberal. The only way for the liberal to win is to have much greater numbers so that the splintered segments don’t matter as much.
The expectation from polls that Clinton was going to win helped ensure she did not. That’s because the people who were thinking they didn’t need to vote for Clinton to keep Trump out, didn’t. It allowed them to waste their vote or not vote at all. The media breathlessly reported on the polls and even talked about the numbers of early votes coming in. Of course, that’s their job. But the fact that so much information is available is the problem. Back to the issue of the broken election system, a shorter cycle means less opportunity for people to feel like their vote doesn’t matter. My suggestion: no early voting, no absentee, all online, all at the same time, all nationwide, including Hawaii and Alaska. Then there is little opportunity to glean anything in advance, and there is no rolling results that could influence others who have not yet voted.
In summary, we have a broken election system that ensures damaged candidates emerge and are slogged over an 18 month process where any crazy stuff can happen only to get to election day with voters either voting for the conservative candidate or not for the conservative candidate and have only about a third of votes cast used to determine the winner. The great people of this nation deserve better than all of this nonsense.
And I hope you, world, will understand that as countries go, with us only in our 200s now, we are in our rebellious teenage years. We think we know it all but we don’t. Please be forgiving and go easy on us as we wrap up puberty and figure out how to be a grown-up.