By Luis Durani*
It is without a shadow doubt this election has been one of the most vitriolic, negative and perhaps worst display of electoral politics in recent American history.
While Tuesday will finally bring to rest what appears to be an endless new cycle coverage of the 2016 elections in the past year, the more important aspect is the continuation of the experiment that began more than 200 years ago can begin to show the first signs of fissuring based on how both sides react to the election results the day after. Has the American democracy reached a boiling point and beginning to unravel or is it more of a bump in the road? The actions and path both major party candidates take after the results are in will determine the efficacy and longevity of American democracy.
It appears with each election, the country becomes even more partisan and divided. A 2014 Pew Research Center demonstrated that political polarization has become more pronounced in the past few decades. Political polarization coupled with the economic distraught the American public has been enduring since the 2008 economic crash has led both parties to go further to the fringes, thus the rise of Trump and Sanders. Political affiliation is no longer ideological adherence between Americans towards the same end via a different mean but rather different means to two different Americas. This divergence has caused even further dismay and ignominy for the political system.
While President Obama had vowed in 2008 to heal the country and bring it closer together, the partisan division has casted the president’s legacy into disarray. The future of the country as a whole is bleak; the only point of agreement for both sides is that divide has worsened in the past 8 years. This view is echoed greatly with the fact that while only half of Democrats believe their lives have improved under President Obama’s tenure compared to the only 9% of Republicans who echoed a similar sentiment.
While President Obama has been the steward of the ship, he is not the only person to blame behind this division; the election of 2016 has brought to light systemic issues that plague the system, mainly the institution that governs the electoral system and the media.
2016 Election Failures
The US electoral system was created towards the end of the 18th century based on European democratic ideals and philosophies from an earlier period. While the principles these institutions and political mechanisms embody are vital, the means are archaic. Composition, wealth, education, and different societal attributes have vastly changed coupled with the leaps and bounds in technology. Whether it is in the realm of communication, transport, work, etc. technology has changed the way we operate our daily lives beyond the comprehension of the founders. The relic mode of nomination in which both parties elect their candidates have caused plenty of heart burn as well as disillusionment amongst voters, especially younger voters. One area of needed reformation is the nomination process. All the added intricacies that help ensure the status quo i.e. super delegates need to be thrown out. Another relic is the acceptance that a vast and large county, both in population and geography, is capable of being represented by two parties. Just the fact that the system, especially after the Perot surprise in 1992, has been confined to two parties is perhaps the ultimate reflection of this archaic mentality. Due to the heterogeneity as well as diversity in beliefs, values, and opinions that society encompasses today, people are more complex than their 18th and 19th century counterparts. Thus, two parties may not be sufficient to represent the entire political gamut especially when the two parties for all intents and purposes are the same on a national level. Instead of creating major impediments for other parties to enter the race on a fair footing, the system needs to be reformed to allow for an infusion of parties on an equal footing.
Another failure and perhaps one of the most detrimental to any democracy is the legitimacy and independence of the media. The mainstream media in the US has become an incestuous system of intermarriages between politicians, media pundits, and corporate interests. The fourth estate is becoming more like a fifth column. The free press is supposed to be the de facto fourth branch of the US government, providing the ultimate check and balance on government’s infringement and excesses, but in recent decades this has become more and more less so. The mainstream media has failed in its duties, thus they have seen a waning in their ratings year after year. The internet has become a source for alternate information for anyone interested in searching for it. But even further debilitating has been the revelations shown via WikiLeaks of the DNC sabotage attempts at Bernie Sanders and even worse perhaps the collusion of CNN hosts with party officials. Such revelations are not something easily digestible because neither a nation nor a democracy can recover the loss of trust.
A republic at the end of the day is nothing more than a collection of people in aggregate placing their trust in an elected set of representatives who will represent their values and beliefs in that supposedly august body. The election of 2016 has demonstrated what many use to think were conspiracy beliefs in that the media, government and elites are in cahoots ensuring the status quo. Perhaps this election is the ultimate epitome of this clash of the establishment in one corner and the ultimate fringe candidate on the other. If the transfer of power and results are accepted by both sides then all is well, but if one candidate objects then one can expect their followers to riot and protest and perhaps discussions of power sharing agreement can even begin similar to 3rd world countries. Despite who is the winner, the more important test for the American democratic experiment will come the day after because the test of a nation and democracy is not in times of peace and calm but in times of calamity.
About the author:
*Luis Durani is currently employed in the oil and gas industry. He previously worked in the nuclear energy industry. He has a M.A. in international affairs with a focus on Chinese foreign policy and the South China Sea, MBA, M.S. in nuclear engineering, B.S. in mechanical engineering and B.A. in political science. He is also author of “Afghanistan: It’s No Nebraska – How to do Deal with a Tribal State” and “China and the South China Sea: The Emergence of the Huaqing Doctrine.” Follow him for other articles on Instagram: @Luis_Durani
This article was published by Modern Diplomacy