Now that Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee for President and Hillary Clinton has math firmly on her side to win the Democratic nomination, the next six months of politics is going to be contentious if not outright ugly. Not just because we’re heading into an election that no one wants, but quite simply because Trump and Clinton are the two leading candidates Americans describe as potentially “terrible” presidents: 44% of Americans think Trump would be terrible (as opposed to 10% who’d argue he’d be “great”) while 30% in the US say Clinton would be terrible (compared with 11% contending she’d be “great”). By the evening of November 8th (or in the early hours of November 9th), a large portion of our country will be disgusted with the election results.
This is beyond the typical political polarization we keep hearing about, including the latest figures from the Pew Research Center. A few examples: 61% of Republicans think defense spending should be increased, compared with only 20% of Democrats; 74% of Republicans are seriously concerned about the threats posed to national security by refugees from Syrian and the Middle East, while only 40% of Democrats concur; when it comes to global warming, only 26% of Republicans worry about the impact to the US, a fraction of the 77% of Democrats; on the issue of increasing foreign aid, only 32% of Republicans offer their support, compared to 62% of Democrats.
To be sure, ideological differences are to be expected between rival political parties. But as illustrated by these striking images, a divided Congress can bring politics to a standstill. And I don’t just mean the Republican stonewalling of President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland. As Trent Lott and Tom Daschle have argued, the lack of compromise, chemistry, leadership, and shared vision can bring our political system to a crisis point. The anger of the American populace has been palpable in this election cycle and certainly some of the appeal to candidates like Trump is the old “throw the bums out” angst. As philosopher Martha Nussbaum has observed, underneath this anger lurks fear and helplessness, and if this continues to go unaddressed, there’s potential to unleash a “dangerous rage in a way that might do great damage to the American people in the long run.”
So what is to be done? If so many Americans consider our political system to be so dysfunctional and find the presidential nominees so repugnant, what is the way forward? Read More