OP/ED: Has this election season gone down the drain?



It’s so easy to dump on Trump. He’s a hot mess. His most recent inanity was to insult the Muslim gold star parents of a fallen soldier. Rather than acknowledge their sacrifice by pointing out that he wants to prevent more American deaths by keeping terrorists from entering the U.S., Trump made the inept suggestion that the slain boy’s mother was not allowed to speak at the convention because of her religious subservience, thereby lumping all of Islam on the radical bandwagon. It’s hard to imagine a more foolish mistake. Trump spews tripe worse than Chauncey Gardiner in Jerzy Kosínski’s Being There. Yet, Trump is less the bumbling fool than the intentional dyspeptic. One would have imagined that Hillary could not have had an easier campaign to manage. But, she keeps on disappointing. Rather than a contest of lofty ideals, this election remains a match between Scylla and Charybdis.


James Gillray, Britannia between Scylla and Charybdis(1793)

The high negative ratings of both Clinton and Trump are unprecedented in modern times. The Democratic Convention theme that Hillary could be “trusted” was premeditated to diffuse a poll-tested weakness in her perceived character. Again and again, we heard that she is committed to her ideals because it is well understood by both the conservatives and Sanders supporters that she is unprincipled.  Why would someone so dedicated to “women and children” be so interested in amassing a fortune speaking to Wall Street billionaires? Even Bill Clinton’s personal encomium to the woman he loved could only be viewed cynically, given what everyone knows. Diehard Hillary fans must be suffering mind numbing cognitive dissonance.
If only Hillary were to understand what motivates the hard core Trumpites she might better find a way to bury his campaign. For these middle class white men, the deepest problem is not Hillary’s ties to big business or even her ephemeral interest in securing borders and jobs, but rather her alienation of their existence by omitting them from her coterie of groups needing special protections (e.g. African Americans, women, LGBTQ, Hispanics, Muslims, and the disabled). For certain, these groups merit empathy and protection. But to his supporters, only Trump seems interested in their rights.
Consider that the ideals separating Clinton and Trump are not easily compartmentalized into the traditional Democrat/Republican dialectic. Unlike many progressive Democrats, Hillary Clinton believes in a strong and forceful military and a robust foreign policy. While President Obama has sought to disengage America from her military ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, Clinton was the principle advocate of intervention in Libya. Trump, on the other hand, departs from the traditional Republican hegemonistic tradition by questioning a continued American commitment to NATO, Japan and South Korea. This topsy-turvy political landscape might be best described as bizarro-world affairs. So, it is not easy to explain Hillary’s inability to engage Republicans based on foreign policy ideology.
Clinton’s political physiology relies upon tried and tested methods of winning an election. She poll-tests her strengths and weaknesses and then formulates policy accordingly. Lacking real ideals, her campaign promises are a sundry of appeasements. For those taking comfort in her promises, one can only fear for them if the popular sentiment turns. For example, Sander’s demand for a $15 minimum wage might be Clinton’s new-found political slogan today, but don’t be surprised if it falls to the wayside if opinion polls turn against this tide.
Hillary’s commitment to polling even appears to exceed her allegiance to the Constitution. She endorses a poll-tested “right” to health care, which isn’t in the Bill of Rights, but only a limited “right” to bear arms, which certainly is. Regardless of one’s views of gun control, the proper way to amend the Constitution is to amend the Constitution. Trump’s supporters fear that her lack of principle might not just result in taking away their guns, but also their other Constitutional rights.
Among these presumed rights is the pursuit of happiness. Yet, while housing prices, rents, food costs and college costs have soared over the last 16 years (73%, 45%, 47% and 137%, respectively), real nominal mean household income has declined 3%. This has caused a record rise in personal debt, now 117% higher than just 17 years ago. While struggling to maintain a standard of living that has become unaffordable, these middle class workers hear little accommodation to their plight. Thus, they feel marginalized and angry because their concerns are not elucidated by the polls. As such, they are both neglected and negated.
Sure, Hillary provides a conciliatory attack on the wealthy, but no real solution to the plight of the middle class. Trump, ironically, lambasts free trade which, when repealed, will only lead to higher prices and a decline in living standards. Yet, it is the visceral nature of Trumps anger which really speaks to his supporters. Like Howard Beale in the movie Network, he stands at the window and shouts, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.”
The media continue to portray this election as a horse-race, which is a more apt metaphor than one might first imagine. However, the Electoral College contest appears to be Clinton’s to lose. Presuming a Clinton victory, the Senate will probably fall to the Democrats, though the House of Representatives will likely remain in Republican control. All this leads to fairly easy predictions for the near future of America:
If Clinton wins the Presidency but the Republicans retain control of the House, you can expect that none of her more liberal domestic plans will be enacted. For example, don’t expect a change in the minimum wage, an expansion of Medicare, government control of drug prices, an increase in taxes for the wealthy, liberal immigration reform, or free college tuition for the middle class. The House will not permit any of this. On the other hand, a Senate controlled by the Democrats will result in more liberal appointments to the Supreme Court. A foreign policy controlled by Clinton will certainly remain engaged in world affairs, including NATO, the mid-east and the Koreas. Expect to hear a lot of complaining by Clinton that the Republicans are obstructionists and Republican claims that they are the only force preventing Clinton from destroying America.  In short, expect more of the same.
In 2018, if history is our guide, the party not controlling the White House will gain in the Congress. So, it is likely that we will have continue to have a divided government until at least 2020 and there won’t be much real change in Washington. More likely than not, we will have to wait until 2020 to see whether the damage done by Trump becomes permanently consequential. Until then, expect the political campaigns to shed more heat than light.

-Jeffrey Oppenheim is a neurosurgeon and the former Mayor of Montebello, New York