2016 is shaping up as a completely weird election year. Americans aren’t happy with the status quo. But (aside from his most fervent supporters) most aren’t ready to let Donald Trump burn the place down and hope to salvage something from the ashes. But voters aren’t sold on Hillary Clinton, just yet, either.
Ezra Klein has described 2016 as Normal vs. Abnormal, with the Democrats behaving like normal politicians and a normal political party and Republicans behaving abnormally. His cataloging of the abnormality of this year’s Republican party convention and the language used there; the genuinely abnormal behavior within the Republican party, the fervent desire of many Republicans to support Trump without actually saying they support him, to distance themselves from his lurid behavior without actually condemning him.
It’s important to point out that, despite Bernie Sanders’ surprisingly strong challenge to Hillary Clinton, the Democrats have behaved as a normal political party. After a two term president, it’s not surprising and outsider would challenge the party establishment. Despite claims otherwise, the Democratic party followed the established rules and under those rules, Bernie Sanders lost the primary fair and square. Sanders spoke forcefully on Hillary’s behalf. He has endorsed her for the presidency. And, the Democrats have embraced many of his ideas and issues in this year’s platform. Sanders and Clinton, by the way, voted together 93% of the time. IOW, despite his outsider status, Sanders and Clinton have largely shared the same policies and politics.
The abnormality, the weirdness, of this year’s election is on the Republican side. A presidential primary that started off with 17 candidates? The “debates” that would have shamed actual adults? Seriously, they talked about penis size as if it were anything that matters for being president. The convention was downright bizarre. Lots of commentators have pointed out that the Republicans have spent years creating the conditions that made Trump possible. It wasn’t aliens who voted for Donald Trump in the primary – it was Republicans. And yes, Trump is a home grown demagogue who seems to know little about actual policy and care even less. He loves the noise of the crowd, the cheering. The tongue in cheek suggestion that we drug him, let him wake up on a TV set, of a reality show known as “President Trump” would probably satisfy him more than actually winning.
The American political landscape is fractured in ways it has never been fractured before.
And yet, an emerging, multi-ethnic, multi-racial coalition is emerging on the left – and being resisted with every ounce of strength by the almost entirely white right Republican party.
As I’ve watched her throughout the primary, the convention and now the general election, I have found Hillary Clinton is a compelling candidate. She may not be a “natural” like Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, but she is gifted. Sanders never stood a chance in the primary because Hillary spent years building relationships with the people who matter in the Democratic party. She focused on issues people care about and she has created a network of supporters. She’s going to be a gifted president. By contrast, the Trumpster Fire on the Republican side is as abnormal a campaign as anyone could have imagined. His supporters love it, but almost everyone else is looking on in a mixture of horror and amusement.
Trying to make sense of what’s going on this year has been a job of work. Which is why I appreciated Nancy Letourneau’s post at Washington Monthly.
We are used to hearing that elections must either be about “change” or maintaining the “status quo.” I would propose that neither of those is an apt description for what a majority of Americans are looking for this time around. Is it possible that behind all the noise being created by angry voters, a majority think that – while things are getting better – we need more progress? Could it be that voters know that taking America “back” means going in the wrong direction and that we need to go forward with the kind of change that is currently underway? Are a majority of voters capable of that kind of nuance in a world of either/or? That was essentially Clinton’s message at the Democratic Convention.
Clinton is rejecting the idea that this is a “change” election as well as rejecting the idea of maintaining the “status quo.” She is instead promising to build on the progress that has been underway for the last 8 years. That is precisely why President Obama was confident in passing the baton on to her for the next portion of this relay. And it’s also why this isn’t the kind of “normal” election we’ve seen in the recent past.
In other words, voters are prepared to make a more nuanced choice than in the past. The multiple disasters of the Bush era have been replaced by the normal political events of the Obama era. The Obama presidency has been largely scandal free (despite Republicans ceaseless efforts). Hillary is positioning herself as the candidate who can build on what’s good while repairing what’s wrong. Trump’s position (burn the place down and hope to salvage something from the ashes) only makes sense if you genuinely believe America has gone to hell in a handbasket.
And while things need to be better, we’re not bound toward the underworld just yet.