The 2016 presidential election has become one of the most memorable elections in recent years due to the remarkable trend that no two major party candidates have ever been perceived as so completely unlikeable and unpopular.
According to a May CNN poll, 57 percent of voters view Donald Trump as unfavorable, while 49 percent hold Hillary Clinton in a negative light. Both of these marks are lows for candidates who reached unfavorability ratings of 67 percent and 56 percent, respectively, earlier this year.
At her best, Clinton is a defender of minority groups and women, an advocate for greater control and environmental protections, and an experienced politician as a former first lady, senator and secretary of state.
Opposing Clinton on the Republican ballot is Donald Trump, who can optimally be described as a scrupulous billionaire businessman with extensive social capital. Ideally, Trump, as a person “uncorrupted” by the political system, would bring a no-nonsense approach to potential congressional shenanigans, enabling him to “make America great again.”
Unfortunately, this election year has revealed that neither candidate has represented that best.
“Crooked Hillary” has been dogged by scandals. “Dangerous Donald” has single-handedly managed to offend nearly every major minority group. Subsequently, each campaign has focused more on the personality, temperament, and character of the other candidate rather than actual policy issues. Such tactics seem to create an alarming political situation for the average American voter.
Unless you are among the minority of Americans that feel strongly aligned with one candidate in particular, you are likely pursuing the “lesser-of-two-evils” strategy.
To many Americans, the prospect of choosing between a liar and misogynist can appear to be especially daunting. Like most individuals on this campus, I will be voting for Clinton this year, though I am not especially thrilled about the prospect of doing so. Unlike the campaign of Barack Obama eight years ago, there is no palpable excitement, but rather a mood of resignation or depression.
For those of you that are experiencing similar emotions, I am here to assuage your political bereavement, for there is no reason to worry.
Political scientists have described what is known as the American ideological consensus, which describes the social and economic spectrums that nearly all Americans fall under. When one focuses on both Trump and Clinton’s official policy statements, both candidates fall within the American ideological consensus.
In other words, compared to the variety of political opinions seen in the international community, there is no significant variance between the policy statements between Trump and Clinton. Crazy, yes, but also true. Such comparisons, in my opinion, help put this volatile election in perspective.
Furthermore, I believe that it is critical that we trust the checks and balances that have been implemented in our governmental system. While the political process has evolved significantly, there are still significant checks on the power of the executive. On the steadily decreasing chance that Trump does win (roughly 18 percent, according to Las Vegas oddsmakers), he will inherit a likely Republican Congress that is not 100 percent united with him and therefore not willing to pass any of his proposed legislation.
The democratic representation of the our three-headed republic ensures the slowing of the political process. Just like any other presidential candidate, Trump will not be able to implement his legislation as quickly as he believes, and therein lies the beauty of a democratic system.
This, in combination with policies that are not immediately feasible, severely limits Trump’s political success. Furthermore, threatening nuclear warfare is never politically advantageous, making it highly improbable that any situation would occur.
Most importantly, however, perhaps we should be more keen to shift our attention from the national level to the local level of politics.
I recently had the opportunity to hear Jeremy Stutsman, Goshen’s mayor, speak in my religion and politics class. During this session, the idea that stuck with me the most was Mayor Stutsman’s remark that every politician at the national level should have served at the local level.
At the local level, he explained, a politician does not have the luxury of creating government shutdowns, because local government provides many essential services. This idea really shifted my political focus because national government will never represent the entirety of the population in the best way. Local government may not either, but it is much easier to be cognizant of the issues facing people that are often marginalized by our national government.
Even better, our local communities are often microcosms of national issues, but instead of only affecting issues with our votes, we can impact the community with our actions. The relationships that we form at the local level are often much more effective at implementing change.
Regardless of who wins this upcoming election, we should be less worried about who represents us on the national level, than we are about how occupied we are with activism at the local level, where our impact results in discernible changes. Great movements often start from the bottom, not from the top.
If you would like to discuss these ideas in greater detail, I would love to meet with you.