A “Silver Lining” Conundrum
The Presidential Election of 2016
Say what you will about Donald Trump, but the rust belt strategy was a stroke of genius. He tapped into both the economic disparity of the working class and then identified whom they should be blaming for their suffering. Now combine that with a depressed voter turnout for Clinton.
The fact is that the same states that voted for hope and change by way of Obama eight years prior have now decided that they want an anti-establishment president.
Believe it or not, electing a narcissistic, vengeful rage salesmen and part-time womanizer to the highest office in the land might possibly be the greatest thing America will accidentally do for itself.
I’ll concede that if you felt that everything was fine with our political system before this election, you have every reason to gripe about the outcome.
But if there are issues with the current system that you want our politicians to actually address, then Hillary Clinton was not the best choice for president. This is the house that the Democrats AND Republicans have built, and their efforts are fixed on keeping it that way.
Not that Trump will fix anything, quite the contrary. It is possible that we’ll get lucky with a decision that might actually make our lives better, but far and beyond we hope that he doesn’t implement policies that are devastating and irreversible.
But if Clinton had won, the Democrats would have felt mandated to continue with their same old playbook. And Republicans would be searching for the next establishment candidate that was Trumpier than their predictable band of torch-bearers.
The reality is that this pimple had to come to a head before it was going to pop.
How the hell did we get here?
Just recently, the Democrats had two years of executive and legislative control and the Republicans had four years with executive, legislative and the Supreme Court, but somehow the parties made it out of these periods without the bliss that their constituents were looking for. Unable to blame the opposing party for their failures, they were left with no more excuses.
So why didn’t we see bans on abortion or gay marriage, or a system of universal healthcare, or “getting lobbyists out of Washington”? What happened to education reform, or progress on disparity, or a reduction in the deficit?
Well, apparently Americans are starting to notice.
And we’re tired. Tired of our politicians refusing to work together to fix our problems, of being told that “this time” trickle-down economics is going to make the middle class prosperous, of bankrolling the greed of the financial sector, of paying more for everything with stagnant wages, of watching the players legally game the system in their favor, of handing our vital resources over to private businesses for less value and control, of having our voices drowned out by mega-money bullhorns, of ignoring the impending catastrophe of global warming, of playing by rules that apparently only apply to the less fortunate, of providing companies with tax breaks while moving their operations elsewhere, of… of… of…
But most of all, we’re tired of being lied to. Lies have now been repackaged as “campaign devices.” What would constitute fraud by any vendor on the street is commonplace for those that make decisions about our future. On day five, president-elect Donald Trump made statements in an interview that the wall is going to have some fencing, Hillary’s not a bad person that needs to be locked up, and repealing Obamacare is not essential. Empty promises as political ear candy.
This bait-and-switch problem exists because it’s what has worked to get our representatives elected. A vast proportion of the electorate had been falling for the look-over-here game for so long that it’s become routine to simply tell the people what they want to hear, then engage in business as usual once in office, and it’s back on the trail in four years promising the same things. Rinse. Repeat. And with the people causing the mess always telling us what a mess it is, we’ve grown weary.
The Media’s Role
Our media has let us down though; perhaps causing more damage than power-wielding policymakers. Information is power and the task of communicating that information has proven itself dysfunctional when a profit motive is involved.
The reporting has become a “War on”, or “something-”gate, or a car chase, or Justin Bieber arriving at court. Journalists now pander to instant-gratification seeking attention spans by supplying a constant stream of drivel instead of upholding their prime objective. News by its very nature is more boring than a car chase, therefore not as profitable. But those with an interest in making gains from the communication of knowledge have deemed that boring doesn’t pay the bills. Nevertheless, exciting fails to inform.
A representative democracy cannot be expected to serve its citizens if the public is being confused by having only the most lucrative coverage conveyed by the press. Americans have real issues that we want deliberated by our leaders and the only forum where that can occur is the media. In the recent presidential debates, the moderators were more concerned with Trump’s tweets and Hillary’s emails, followed by an obligatory “tell us why you’re great”, with hardly any discussion on what they will address and how they’re going to address it.
It is the media’s sole responsibility to challenge politicians when they support and promote propaganda, but instead we are presented with equal time to any stance, regardless of the facts or degree of nonsense. Professionals and experts have been rebranded as conspiracy propagators, with reporters more apt to pursue what Joe the Plumber feels about an issue than what a NASA engineer understands about an issue. Just to maintain an adequate level of knowledge, the public has been forced to dredge a pool of misinformation to find the truth.
All of this while advancing a demonization of opposing views that keeps the people bickering amongst themselves instead of holding politicians and power-players accountable for their actions and inaction. Pundits are revered as modern-day soothsayers by preaching the gospel of “if only my team was in charge”, appealing to their follower’s emotional triggers, exposing whom they should be blaming for their woes (spoiler: it’s not their owners, shareholders or advertisers), and providing a falsified enlightenment by imparting the “real” news. In efforts to attain accurate information without taking it up as a part-time job, many just turn to their preferred pundit for a breakdown of the issues, further exasperating these self-made echo-chambers. Though these commentators’ perspectives break down under scrutiny, the lack of fact-checking gives them a free pass.
But most of the blame falls on a broken campaign finance system.
With the Supreme Court decisions of Buckley vs. Valeo and Citizens United, we have established a dash-for-cash model for financing campaigns. The parties’ prime directive is to win, and to win means that you need to outraise your opponent in order to have enough capital to “get your message out there,” regardless of whether it is sincere or misleading, righteous or self-serving. Those with the most money have the most potential to inform, or to misinform.
Consequently, today’s freshman legislator’s skill set has become more simplified, with the bulk of their time spent raising money instead of gaining experience on political processes. Your average citizen would prefer a public servant that devises policy with a shared vision for a better society, not the employee-of-the-month at some high-pressure sales job that is focused solely on setting themselves up to work for a company with deep pockets. The majority of the electorate and business owners are also uninterested in pacifying a partisan tele-marketer that shakes them down every two years. The relentless pressures faced by private industry for more, more, more has now made its way to the Republic.
I have trouble believing that this is the climate our founding fathers had envisioned.
Popular assertions in decision making has come to include the idea that “what’s good for business is good for everyone” (and it’s the only legitimate argument for continuing the current system). However, a business cannot be expected to be motivated by anything more than their bottom line, nor should it. These entities have no moral responsibility to act in the best interest of society. One directive: drive earnings. Or two directives: build a monopoly. But politics are complex, with numerous issues and the various options for dealing with each one. On one hand, you have the advancement of the human race, and the other, the monthly “Profit and Loss” report.
Business creates jobs and pays taxes to reinforce the system. That’s it. Both are absolutely necessary, and we have a responsibility to support both the creation of jobs and the preservation of our government. But there is no room to regard public issues of water and air quality, education, safety, infrastructure, healthcare, or anything more than their companies’ quarterly profits. Budgets for these concerns receive little to no priority unless it is compelled to by an external authority.
And now corporations and unions can provide large and anonymous funding to groups that are approved to raise an unlimited amount of capital to be spent on advertising for and against candidates. This decision was formed from the emphasis that corruption would not threaten democracy because these Super PACs would operate independently from the candidates’ campaigns. But overwhelming evidence is now showing that the line has been conspicuously blurred and the nonexistence of coordination that was meant to prevent exploitation is not only occurring but also has no oversight. In this last election cycle, the FEC chairman openly conveyed the level of dysfunction that currently exists at the organization by stating that “The likelihood of the laws being enforced is slim,” and that “There is not going to be any real enforcement”. Now organizations that will not or cannot consider adding “Political Contributions” to their budget are finding themselves at a disadvantage, especially those with competition that does.
With weighted “political speech,” these groups have a greater role in the electoral process and are taking full advantage of their capacity to sway public opinion. They have the ability to not only affect our national elections, but state and local as well. For example, if a Republican is deemed to have views of conservatism that are too close to the middle, these Super PACs will fund their challenger’s campaigns, sometimes even producing the rival. With leadership chosen by a singular group that is located hundreds to thousands of miles from where the impacts are felt, our communities are more likely to suffer than to be enriched, and advocates of states’ rights are justified in being concerned.
By October of 2015, $176 million (½ of all of the money accumulated for this presidential cycle) had been contributed by just 158 families. A family that has the potential to influence their legislators with a $250,000 contribution does not share the same challenges that a working class family faces. Considerations such as childcare, education, food, housing, healthcare, transportation, insurance, or retirement all have significant impacts on a families’ financial wellbeing. These households can’t be expected to understand the current struggles of ordinary people unless they assume the same constant examination that is shouldered by the ones that do. And since our present-day situation only serves the interests of those that can afford to purchase a voice, heavy contributors have a louder one.
But Americans have taken note that regardless of how we feel about implementing renewable energy solutions, sensible gun legislation, marijuana laws, fair elections, or any issue that threatens the profits of those bending our legislators’ ears, our opinions have been overruled. The system was designed to represent the political will of what is best for the populace as a whole, but the impending results reflect our failures to factor in the realities of undue influence and lack of oversight. How disappointing that we’ve allowed a system of government of, for, and by the people to be so poorly represented by our own leaders.
Now, let’s call this what it is — legalized political bribery. And for us to move forward, we’re going to have to deal with it.
We can actually fix this!
The nation likely just witnessed the most dramatic shift in politics in our lifetimes. This election has proven that Democrats and Republicans alike were fed up with establishment politics, that a third-party candidate can win the presidency by running on a Democratic or Republican ticket, and that we are serious about wanting real change.
But since we won’t commit to fixing something until we’re confident that it’s broken, the situation will have to get really bad before we take action.
Enter Donald Trump. Who really knows what to expect from his presidency, other than further disregard for truth. But the positions taken by him and those he has surrounded himself with are those that will take this country further from the ideal, not closer.
Regrettably, this was the fastest way to actual reform. “The Party of Lincoln” is now obligated to determine why their constituents elected an anti-establishment president instead of the usual suspects and actually start paying attention to their concerns. They will be the governing party at least until the mid-term elections, and the decisions that are made will be the kind that get them re-elected, or won’t.
But first we’re going to have to start a dialogue with each other and our leaders about remedies to repair the broken media. Ideas like breaking up the mass media conglomerates, compartmentalizing programming by classifying shows as either news or “Info-tainment,” designating news organizations as non-profit, or holding journalists accountable for unsubstantiated reporting.
And there is so much that we can accomplish right now. We can pull ourselves out of these man-made bubbles by turning off the talking heads that already agree with us and seek out information from trustworthy, respected, and unbiased sources. We can boycott businesses that advertise with propagandists, call and write our local and state politicians, get involved in causes we care about, take to social media to express our dissatisfaction when these issues aren’t addressed, oppose those that promote disinformation campaigns, and perform our own research when doubtful. Since the information age has finally caught up to politics (unless the nightmare scenario of reversing Net Neutrality occurs!), the truth IS out there.
Americans overwhelmingly agree that a problem exists with our campaign finance system and that we should do something to fundamentally repair it. We can start by seeking leaders that will work to achieve a system that represents everyone’s interests by devising policy that takes the progress of the whole into account, and holding them accountable.
Since fixing this is as simple as passing state and local laws to make corruption illegal, the will of the people should not be underestimated. This past election cycle, 13 districts in the United States passed measures calling for modifications to their campaign finance rules, including a massive state-wide revision of election reform with South Dakota’s Initiated Measure 22. We can also support campaign finance reform advocates and legislative efforts like Represent.us’s American Anti-Corruption Act or Issue One’s Blueprints for Democracy.
This is our calling. It’s going to take effort but the end result will be a better world for ourselves, our loved ones, and future generations.