Why 2016 is terrifying – but we’ll be fine

I’m a political science major and my summer job this year is canvassing for a local State House campaign, which means that I get paid to walk around and talk politics, which I do anyway. It’s a sweet gig, and the candidate is a good guy, so I like it a lot. But what I find interesting is that often when I get the chance to talk to voters (about every tenth person actually wants to talk to a young guy with a “Vote” t-shirt handing out literature; go figure) they inquire what I’m studying. When I tell them, the most common response is “Oh, so this year must be so interesting for you!”

Sure, this year is interesting, if you call blatant mudslinging, widespread allegations of corruption, and the steamrolling of basic liberties ‘interesting’.

I usually attempt to deflect politely. Some of those voters have strongly-held opinions of their own and I don’t want to hurt my candidate, so I try to change the subject as best I can. As an example I might answer with a simple “Yes, ma’am,” a laugh, or a tacit agreement. This year is interesting from a purely scholarly perspective. It’s interesting like the 1960’s are interesting: everyone who lived through them will tell stories about them, often unsolicited but appreciated by people like me nonetheless. What other chance does a young political science student have to see the potential demise – or at least dramatic evolution – of the major political parties after so long with two stalwarts of partisanship? As an independent, especially, it seems intriguing since I have, so to speak, no dogs in the fight; but I have a dog in the fight nonetheless. We all do. In a fight for control of the most powerful nation in the world, every American and perhaps even every living thing has a dog in the fight. What happens in America has a profound effect on the world economy, global politics, and, indeed, the future of the planet.

Now it seems hyperbolic to make such a bald statement. How can one presidential election change so much?

It can change so much when the two frontrunners are so widely hated; when the American people are, more than ever in living memory, disillusioned by establishment politics; when, according to some estimates, 43% of the nation call themselves independents and are therefore swing voters. Nothing can be counted on. I was at a summer camp when Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination. I sat a table one lunch and found out about it because the table next to mine was listening to his speech and laughing uproariously at his nativist, seemingly ludicrous propositions. One of those guys (who had done a fairly decent mockery of Trump’s voice) is now a vehement Trump supporter. At the time of this writing, Trump is the presumptive nominee and his numbers are rising. He is a brilliant politician, despite his supporters’ insistence he is not a politician. His success is due to a strong, even natural inclination for keeping himself in the spotlight. According to the Economist, over 60% of those polled have said they will not vote for Donald Trump under any circumstances.

On the other side of the fence there is Hillary Clinton, whose whole campaign should have been a victory lap. She lost the nomination to then-Senator Barack Obama in 2008. It should have been her time. But, starting in 2015, she was legitimately challenged – not by any expected, obvious but easily defeated rival like Martin O’Malley, but by an old Senator from Vermont who, if he had his way, would make the United States a socialist country, dramatically tax the rich, and make healthcare a right. There should have been little contest. Instead there was a gritty one, and though Sanders has little mathematical chance of the nomination now, he will likely fight hard enough to change the Democratic party’s platform for years to come. It is because Hillary, despite her supposedly strong position, is weak. Her detractors come from both the right and left; socialists and libertarians both deride her name; conspiracy theories about her emails, the Benghazi scandal, and a purported ‘kill list’ – the veracity of which is less important than the fact that it exists and is believed by many – abound. She holds out against Trump in numbers, but only barely; her ‘disapproval rating’ is in the mid-fifty percent range. Over half have said they won’t vote for her, either.

It is these two who the American people think they have to choose from.

There is a third option.

Gary Johnson, a former Governor (of New Mexico) is running on the Libertarian ticket and will be on the ballot in all 50 states. Even if he only garners 20% of the vote the Libertarian Party will be a major party all at once, taking over some Congressional seats and, riding their sudden vault into the spotlight, likely winning many local and State positions.

It is unfortunate that people are so defeatist about the prospects of this election. At the beginning, many had high hopes for this election cycle, particularly Republicans. I was sitting with a friend last July, just enoing and hanging out, and the subject of politics came up. After debating the many Republican candidates, she asked my worst and best case scenarios.

My worst case scenario was this one: Trump vs. Clinton. It’s Loudmouth Man versus Establishment Woman – for those actually paying attention, Libertarian Man is sitting in the back waving his hand in the air –  and the audience doesn’t know which one is the real villain of the story. I frequently tell my Democratic friends that I want to vote for a woman, just not one with so many skeletons in her closet; I tell my Republican friends that I like the idea of a businessman getting into politics, but maybe he should get some experience before he becomes President; I tell my Libertarian friends that they’re going to destroy one or both of the major political parties, to which some of them react with glee.

This year will be a mess no matter who wins. It will certainly make history either way. A Libertarian friend of mine expressed it so: Vote for Hillary if you want to change nothing; vote for Trump if you want to change everything; vote for Johnson if you want to change some things. Take your pick. I take that back: get informed, then take your pick.

I’ll be watching what happens. This whole thing sounds defeatist, but there’s an upside. My generation, the millennials, are largely derided as lazy, glued to our smartphones, or outright stupid. Those things can be true. I know stupid, lazy, phone-addicted millennials. But I know many millennials who are, as a result of this election cycle, caring deeply about politics. We’ll make our fair share of mistakes. Every generation does. Despite that, I’m confident that we’ll be able to get into the dirt and fix things. As a generation, we want to make things better – and we will. The older generations just need to keep things from falling apart for the meantime.

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