We are fortunate to be living through interesting times. Life seems to have an intense urgency to it now, an edgy feeling of uncertainty and doubt. Having undergone a year of blistering, enervating and sometimes tragically comical presidential political campaigning, we emerged in November with an unexpected result. Some are happy, some sad, many, like me, wearily skeptical of what comes next. No one seems energized in a particularly positive way; but this is a qualified observation, living as I do in eastern Massachusetts, an epicenter of progressive political orthodoxy.
People much wiser than I saw this all coming. They’ve pointed out the huge disparity in turnout at the various political campaign rallies; legions waiting hours to hear Donald Trump, somewhat less for Bernie Sanders and far fewer for Hillary Clinton. And where Hillary Clinton’s staid, scripted, politically correct and carefully crafted campaign speeches did little to fire up the faithful or persuade the undecided, her one “Deplorable” slip during a weak moment only magnified the suspicion of many as to her true feelings toward those who opposed her.
Contrast this to Donald Trump’s endless barrage of insults, innuendos and off the wall pronouncements; statements if said in another time by another person would have been fatal to a political campaign, but for him apparently attracted as many as were repelled. The pundits missed this and his support has been attributed to “non-college educated whites,” as if being one or the other or both is a sort of disease. Even the term “Rust Belt” has been adopted as a put-down by some of Trump’s detractors.
I know many good people, from all ages, walks of life and levels of education. Some voted one way, some the other. Each believed in a valid reason to do so. None of them are stupid, radical, racist, anti-American, misogynistic or any of the other labels and judgments heaped upon them from the opposite side. None of them wish bad things for America, but instead yearn for a way forward in their lives. Recounts, recriminations, and continued droning on about the results seem to me both counter-productive and draining. It’s all over but the crying. This should end too.
What has not been widely discussed however is the issue of voter turnout, or lack thereof. In 2016, over 231 million Americans were eligible to vote. But fewer than 136 million chose to do so – about 58% of all eligible voters. This in spite of early and absentee voting created to increase turnout. Why is it that nearly 96 million people didn’t bother to vote? When you consider that the popular vote winner received almost 31 million fewer votes than the number of people who didn’t bother to cast a ballot, it suggests such dissatisfaction with politics, on the national level at least, that both major parties should hang their heads in shame.
In terms of selecting our President, I believe that our nation is simply too large and too diverse to prosper with such high levels of voter disgust and disengagement. But such widespread alienation from the political process seems to have had little effect on how the two major parties go about doing business. Their structure, rules of engagement and win at all cost philosophy ignores the desire of the millions of Americans in search of national unity, common purpose and a shared vision.
It’s been said that in a democracy, politics is the stage where our personal differences are played out.The parties are intended to advance our differing points of view in ways that seek solutions through compromise and consensus building. But rather than seek consensus and support compromise, the two major parties do all that they can to exacerbate these differences in a cynical manner to gain or maintain power. Rallying around opposite poles, the parties remain afraid to drop their labels, cross the aisle and cooperate to the degree that actually solves problems.
Where will be in another four years? Perhaps only Donald Trump’s hairdresser knows for sure, but this is doubtful. Will we be a freer people, more prosperous, more civil toward each other? Or will we be tilting away from democracy and toward a new fascism, once defined by Mussolini as the perfect marriage of corporation and state? Like I said, we are living through interesting times.