As the American election enters the final phase of its anxiety inducing contest, millions of Americans await November 8th as the resolution to their collective nightmare. Tortured by promises of apocalypse or World War III if their preferred candidate loses, nearly half the country is bracing for the anguish of defeat.
A “victorious” candidate, eager to leave the turbulence of the 2016 election behind, will discover that governing an angry electorate in search of catharsis is nearly impossible. More dangerous than the policies of either flawed presidential candidate, populism threatens the very existence of our Democratic system and requires the full attention of our next Commander and Chief.
In all likelihood, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Attorney charged in Durham investigation pleads not guilty Attorney indicted on charge of lying to FBI as part of Durham investigation MORE will become the 45th President of the United States. A symbol of establishment politics in an election year that brought populism to the forefront, Clinton will be hard pressed to identify a governing mandate beyond defeating the amateur Republican challenger. Hampered by email scandals and botched FBI investigations, political capital will be scarce for a president 60% of the country considers untrustworthy.
Donald TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger says Trump 'winning' because so many Republicans 'have remained silent' Our remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE, the second place winner, will almost certainly fall short of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. Trump’s political obituaries will celebrate the role of the press in his final humiliation. However, an unintended consequence of Trump’s collapse will include a change in the media establishment as we know it. While criticism of the “liberal media” is hardly a new phenomenon, the balkanization of online media is.
Americans, disgusted with the quality of television and print news, have sought out alternative media en masse. One potent example of a flight from traditional sources is seen in the success of Breitbart News. In July of 2016, after Trump clinched the Republican nomination, the right wing media outlet ranked in the top-10 for US media publishers measured by social media engagement and continues to be one of the fastest growing news sites.
Whether or not popular criticism of the media’s partisan coverage is accurate or not, voters on both the left and right have developed an impressive ability to shut out the noise. Access to social media, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and YouTube, allows voters to engage directly with politicians, circumventing traditional media’s role as an information broker. This technology disruption has blunted the “dishonest media” millions of Americans have come to despise. Beyond fact-free election cycles, the lack of faith in media institutions damages an essential safeguard to the rise of tyranny.
The “rigged system” that resonated with Trump and Bernie voters is rooted in seething anger towards Wall Street and the Washington establishment. While the policy prescriptions of the candidates are wildly different, they do share a common foe.
In the years since the financial crisis in 2009, the top financiers and political elite have become increasingly interlinked, merging the popular targets of the Left and Right. What should be very concerning for a President Clinton is that populist anger is widespread despite a relatively stable economic situation. Unemployment sits at five percent, GDP is growing steadily and the stock market sits at all time highs.
Instead of reducing voter’s grievances to racism, xenophobia and misogyny, Clinton must meet populist demands on climate, immigration and trade in order to govern effectively. A professional politician who rarely has verbal miscues, Clinton’s biggest blunders have come when she shares her feelings about populist voters.
When referring to half of Trump’s voters as a “basket of deplorables," it may have seemed like an isolated incident to many of her staunch supporters. But Clinton’s vitriol has not only been reserved for those on the populist Right. Passionate Bernie supporters and third party voters have also been targeted for their idealism and are frequently ridiculed by Clinton surrogates. Speaking privately to Goldman Sachs, Clinton went so far as to call progressive voters a “bucket of losers” and declared passionate environmentalists “need to get a life.
On Election Day, with the backdrop of a popular president, reliable job growth and an endless sequence of indefensible comments, Trump is still poised to capture around 40% of the vote. How could this be?
As documentarian and Flint, Michigan native Michael Moore correctly noted, many disenfranchised voters see Trump’s candidacy as little more than a Molotov cocktail to hurl at the elite. In a popular culture that seems to looks up to Frank Underwood, Putin and other "strong" leaders, a financial downturn, 9/11 type terrorist attack, or costly foreign conflict, could mark the end of American democracy as we know it.
A disenfranchised public left with little faith in news media, political leadership or economic security, bulwarks against extremism, ensures political volatility for years to come.
Gall is a recent graduate from Boston University. In 2016 he wrote "Daedalus Syndrome: American Intervention in Kosovo," a senior thesis paper that earned The Ambassador Hermann Frederick Eilts Undergraduate Thesis Award
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