The 2016 presidential election has embarrassed America and disgusted voters. According to the Economist, a widely respected weekly news magazine, the expenditures of this election may reach five billion dollars, making it nearly twice as expensive as the election of 2012. The result of that cost will be the election of one of the two most reviled candidates in history.
What happened? How did we descend from relative effectiveness to the disgraceful level we have experienced in 2016? Who is responsible for destroying one of the must cherished institutions of our democracy?
The apparent guilty parties are Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and the news media. Others might include the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee. However, the RNC is no more inept than in previous years. The DMC too has been its usual unprincipled self. Nothing has changed for these two archaic organizations.
The Case Against Donald Trump:
Trump’s opponents have accused him of countless iniquities, many of which are manufactured fables. However, there is one overarching negative that has made this character assassination plausible. As a candidate, Donald Trump is stupid. He may have a high IQ, but he continually expresses himself with language that blows up in his face. That’s worse than stupid.
After more than a year of campaigning, Trump hasn’t understood that the language he uses to gain attention can be weaponized and turned back on him as a far more powerful destructive force. For example, in an early speech about illegal immigrants, Trump said.
“When Mexico sends its people they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.”
Trump was speaking about illegal immigrants. He was not castigating all Mexicans. Speaking off-the-cuff, he was obviously careless and foolish. In politics, that’s stupid. He made the statement once, but TV cable news repeated their versions of it thousands of times without consulting his original remarks. As a result, the public believes headlines like “Trump says all Mexicans are rapists.”
Trump has made countless other inartful statements. Many of those statements suffered the same kind of sensationalist interpretation. The voting public heard only the interpretation, repeated thousands of times within a week. Is Trump a racist? Is he an Islamaphobe? Is he a misogynist? Probably not. But he is apparently too stubborn to learn from his constant verbal mistakes. He’s a paranoid candidate who sometimes seems to have Turret syndrome. And in politics, that makes him stupid.
The Case Against Hillary Clinton:
Secretary Clinton’s supporters proclaim that she is a highly skilled executive with a glittering resume. Few people would challenge her resume. Moreover, there is no evidence to deny or confirm that she is a skilled executive. Why, then, do virtually all polls indicate that she is untrustworthy? Before Trump became a candidate, polls indicated that the former secretary may have been the most disliked politician in America.
The reason for dislike of Clinton is that she habitually lies. One poll asked respondents to choose one word to describe each of several politicians. The most common word chosen to describe Secretary Clinton was “liar.” There are many documented instances of her lying. There are videos of her lying. There are videos of her lying about previous lies.
To be fair, Clinton probably makes many true statements that are positively brilliant. Unfortunately, however, voters can never be sure if she’s telling the truth.
The Case Against the TV News Organizations:
Whether Clinton or Trump wins on November 8, TV news organizations will have enriched themselves to historically high levels. They have sold high-priced advertising in high volumes, with no serious competition. While earning this gigantic windfall, they have simultaneously lowered their expenses, by pulling their reporters from legitimate news beats and assigning them to the political campaigns where travel and other expenses are minimal.
To make this financial bonanza possible, news organizations have needed to keep their audiences tuned to their political programming. The only way to maintain their audiences has been to make each nugget of political information sensational, uplifting them to visibility far greater than their actual importance. This has forced the candidates, especially Trump, to constantly criticize individual reporters for unfair media bias. Though media people have been unquestionably biased toward the left, their behavior is consistent with levels of previous elections. The difference is behind the scenes. Program planning and story selection seem to be under the heavy hand of management people who have placed financial greed above news integrity.
The Final Verdict
An election season that most voters view with disgust has been the confluence of multiple misfortunes. We have seen a GOP primary with seventeen candidates destroying each other’s credibility so that the candidate with the most destructive rhetoric was the last one standing. The media narrative that Trump had somehow tapped the national anger was partially true. But the stronger GOP candidates—people like Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich— were victims of a bloated primary slate and an entertaining character assassin.
On the Democrat side, we saw a seventy-four-year-old Socialist nearly overtake a pre-selected candidate expecting a coronation. This unexpected challenge to the DNC’s inner circle of power required a series of unscrupulous actions to ensure their nominee’s victory.
Though the foolish behavior of both parties was distasteful, it was a series of minor sideshows that the news media reported as breaking news. After their treatment of the primaries, the news media needed to elevate the final race to new levels of sensationalism.
Though blame for devaluing the American electoral process has many owners, it seems fair to assign the largest portion of the blame to the news media.