The presidential election of 2016 will be scrutinized and analyzed for as long as there are political scientists around to do it. Why? Because the contributing factors were so complicated.
The question is: How did it come to pass that an intellectually, morally and psychologically defective candidate was elected to the highest office in the land? Here are some of the factors.
First, the Republican senate, led by Iowa’s own Chuck Grassley, refused to consider Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, thus assuring that voters anxious for a conservative court would make it to the polls.
Secondly, the defeat of Bernie Sanders in the primaries disillusioned and demoralized young and progressive voters, many of whom simply stayed home.
Thirdly, the Democrats ran a candidate with historically high negatives; and furthermore, this candidate lacked the rhetorical flair it takes to neutralize the traditional Republican hype on fear and greed.
And when we add in the old “change year” factor, plus Comey’s October surprise, and the outrageous Russian interference the odds tipped in favor of a conservative outcome.
All of these dynamics were in play in 2016, but the most significant factor — and the most worrisome one — was the vaguely-expressed nationalism that managed to call forth the most vicious anti-progressivist sentiments in living memory.
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If you promise to “Make America Great Again,” and then leave the details of that vapid vision to the imagination of the electorate, you’re going to tease lots of credulous voters into thinking that it’s possible to turn the clock back to the halcyon days before we had to think about civil rights, women’s rights, Roe v. Wade, same-sex marriage, religious toleration, affirmative action, immigration, recycling, sustainable energy, endangered species, the EPA, the United Nations, fluoridated water, political correctness (read: respect, common decency), and all that other stuff that progressives like to make noise about. It was the nebulous “Again” factor that brought out the retrogressive votes.
But progressive voters know that returning to the past is a lost cause.
Progress may stall momentarily with the fulminations of demagogues, but if we clear our heads and pay attention we will get back on track toward a more safe and civil world.
Serious voters, both on the left and on the right, are already sick of moronic conspiracy theories and the putrefaction of political discourse.
They can see clearly that “America First” rhetoric is taken as a threat by the rest of the world. They realize that humanity is faced with global problems that do not respect colors on a map. They prefer diplomacy to war; cooperation to combat. They favor substance over imagery. They want pragmatism, reasoned debates and reliable evidence rather than fake news, zero-sum politics and the insane robotics of yesterday’s shopworn ideologies.
And next November they will step forward and announce to the world “Never Again.”
• Loyal Rue of Decorah is emeritus professor of philosophy and religion at Luther College.