A Toxic 2016

USMap2016

9 months ago, I asked a simple question: Can you still be a Moderate in America?

I followed up on that inaugural post by highlighting Clinton’s email issue as a continuous thread in the election, identified The Angry White Electorate, and imagined a Trump revolution. I tangled with Bernie Sanders supporters, volunteered for the Clinton campaign in the New York Primary, and called out Republicans for their support of Donald Trump. Bernie never contested the convention and no, I was never a Correct the Record Clinton Operative. I was always just simply a Moderate with a platform, hoping to find some sanity in an insane election cycle.

After a long 9 months, I still don’t know if it’s possible to be a Moderate in America.

But we’re about to find out.

As of today, the prevailing narrative is that this election is a choice between two equally awful candidates.

It’s not.

While it’s true that from a survey standpoint, both candidates are the most unpopular in polling history, it is not a fact that our choice in this election is parallel. Remove the dirt, the mud, the toxic sludge of the past two months, and what we’re left with is a very clear choice between two different Americas.

One candidate is offering uncertainty. The other, continuity.

One candidate wants to build a wall, ban refugees from entering the country based on their religious beliefs, disengage from decades-old alliances, abandon our trade agreements, and roll back eight years of progress. His campaign revolves around the idea of protective exclusion.

The other candidate has taken the opposite approach by practicing a policy of inclusion. She has embraced every religion, race, ethnicity, and gender. It’s the first campaign in modern history to acknowledge systemic racism as a legitimate cultural norm. She has opened doors to previously ignored segments of the population by putting people with disabilities and the LGBTQ community on equal footing with issues like jobs and national security.

One candidate is promising a reversion to some 1950s mythological utopia that never existed, embodied in a slogan stolen from Ronald Reagan. The other, offers an appreciation of our changing demographics and the difficult challenges we face in an ever-increasingly diverse society.

This election will determine which of these Americas we live in for the foreseeable future.

The historical record will likely paint a different picture of 2016 due to one person: Donald Trump. He alone is responsible for the toxicity of the past nine months. His campaign of insults and immaturity destroyed any possibility of the narrative above being presented to the American people. By poisoning the well of contemporary politics with outlandish stunts and excessive vitriol, he dredged up the worst in our society and provided a platform for the abhorrent racism, sexism, and xenophobia embodied in the Alt-Right movement. Language and rhetoric once unacceptable has been moved into the parlance of this new politics, and it’s deeply disturbing to many, yet completely tolerable to uneducated, angry white, working class Americans.

As a member of the white working class, I’m sympathetic to their struggles with employment, wages and opportunity. I am not however, sympathetic to this reaction. Electing a wealthy demagogue that disavows a minimum wage is not the answer to stagnant paychecks. Scapegoating minorities and undocumented workers is not the answer to the lack of opportunity. Cheering on the foreign entities attempting to manipulate our electoral process is not the answer to your frustrations with our government, and quite frankly, borders on treason.

For their part, the Clinton campaign has fought fire with fire. After watching Donald Trump’s primary opponents get swallowed up in the cesspool by trying to be reasonable, they made a calculated choice to paint Trump as temperamentally unfit to lead by using his own rhetoric against him. In an effort to win this election, they’ve repackaged the toxicity and force-fed it back to us until we’re so repulsed by the tone that we tune out the television. In that way, the Clinton campaign only heightened our sense of disgust. If it turns out that this strategic maneuver led to voter apathy, they’ll share the blame.

But for now, it’s been all Trump. He stirred the pot and seasoned the anger with a mix of blame and resentment. He is the contagion of this election, and we can only hope his brand of politics doesn’t spread.

As it stands right now, tomorrow’s outcome is uncertain. National tracking polls are all over the place, and as is the natural cycle of elections, the race has tightened in its final days. From a historical standpoint, Clinton has an edge. A stable and slowly improving economy, coupled with an unbroken lead in the polls that’s only taken temporary dips favors her for a win. The sophistication behind her ground game and voter targeting has pushed her ahead in the early vote and leaves nothing to chance on Election Day.

Nevertheless, it’s also been a year of unprecedented surprises, so anyone calling this election before the results are in is guessing.

What is certain is that this election will do little to end the civil strife it has brought to the surface. Either way, close to fifty percent of the population will be irritated with the outcome. Because the winds favor Clinton, many supporters of her opponent have vowed to challenge the result. With violence if necessary. Republicans in Congress have already promised endless investigations and even proposed premature impeachment of a yet to be elected candidate. Should Donald Trump win, the other side will likely suggest similar roadblocks to his ability to govern.

That’s the thing about a culture of toxicity. There’s no magic potion that will immediately neutralize its effects on the collective psyche; no antidote can cure the long-term damage it’s done to our emotional well-being as a country. It’ll be a very long time before we’re able to remove the toxins of 2016 from our political bloodstream. On November 9th, we’ll all have to begin the process of decontamination.

Together.

Whether we want to or not.

 

 

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