Before I get into any detail, I wish to state that I’ve been a registered Republican since I turned 18, about 10 years ago. On Election Day 2016, I cast my vote… for former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate who did not know or remember the significance of Aleppo. Governor Johnson received over 4 million votes, while Green Party candidate Jill Stein assumed just over 1 million.
I have a lot of politically passionate friends and acquaintances who supported Secretary Clinton and now see fit to blame those who voted 3rd party (myself included) for President-elect Trump’s victory. Is the answer truly that simple? I don’t believe it is that simple, so let’s peel back a few layers of America and attempt to see the root of what transpired on election night.
What Americans, and the rest of the world for that matter, witnessed on election night was the volcanic eruption of the American political system. Increasing partisan gridlock, polity frustration, and a tinge of apathy created a great deal of pressure; what appeared to be a solid American political landscape began to crack, and Election 2016 was the final burst of pressure that broke the system’s back, venting years of frustration from the far left to the far right.
Election 2016 was the most polarizing election in recent memory, and perhaps the most polarizing since Abraham Lincoln bested three challengers in the 1860 election. But the fissures in the American political system go back even further, to the debate on the Constitution.
In Federalist No. 10, James Madison explained in detail what every political system on earth suffers from: factional dispute.
“By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community…The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man…[faction] inflamed them [people] with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.”
We are human and suffer from our own biases; our views on society and on politics. Think about it, both Republicans and Democrats want the best for America. The difference is in their opinions and platforms of how to best benefit America. This simple division is the basic explanation for why the current gridlock is in place. Both parties reject the notion of compromise (except for on the campaign trail) and heavily push their view of America without accepting another point of view. And, to paraphrase Mr. Madison, when we (the people) don’t get our way/view, we react and throw insults at those who subscribe to different beliefs without considering those beliefs — i.e., not seeing the forest through the trees.
This narrowsightedness has taken away our ability to effectively interpret electoral scenarios. Again, social media and traditional media as my points of reference, each side believes their opinions are reflective of America. “America has spoken and Donald Trump was elected President of the United States.” Conversely, “The electoral system is broken because the majority of America voted for Secretary Clinton.” So, who’s right?
The Electoral College
The Electoral College has come under fire for misrepresenting “America.” Its critics argue that America is a democracy and that the popular vote should reign supreme, especially given that the candidate who lost the electoral vote, won the popular vote by roughly one million votes. I think these folks have an understandable gripe. It’s a gripe that they’ve translated into protests throughout the country. “How can someone lose when they ‘won?'” The assumption is that the majority of Americans live in cities and/or large metro areas, and therefore their voices were not accurately reflected in the election results.
I understand the argument, but I disagree with it. Let me explain why the Electoral College makes sense by using baseball as a metaphor. This year, the Cubs defeated the Indians in the World Series (it was an excellent Series, by the way). Let’s say that, hypothetically, the Indians won Game 1 10-0 but the Cubs won games 2-5 by a score of 1-0 in each game. If the World Series champion were determined by how many runs, instead of by the number of games won, then the Indians clearly won the World Series 10-4. But, the anomalous game one wasn’t reflective of the entire Series. In order to win the World Series, a team must win the majority of the games.
While more people voted for Secretary Clinton, more states voted for Donald Trump, and in a democratic republic like the United States, that’s what matters. Therefore, the system itself worked and this election anomaly is only one of five to ever occur. It’s not a perfect system, but a popular vote would be a true democracy — mob rule.
My Personal Take
I didn’t want Donald Trump to be President of the United States, nor did I want Hillary Clinton to be President of the United States. Why? I’m moderately conservative in most aspects of life, meaning I prefer my government lean and effective. I viewed both Trump and Clinton as candidates who would greatly expand the role of the Imperial Presidency. I’d prefer that the states and their people determine what is best for them (for example, let each state decide whether or not marijuana should be decriminalized). Neither candidate offered me much hope that the 10th Amendment would be respected. As I mentioned in the introduction, I voted for Gary Johnson. Now, I wasn’t naive enough to think that Gary Johnson had a shot at one electoral vote, let alone 270. But for me, Johnson exemplified what a fiscally conservative, socially liberal candidate should be. I took a Libertarian approach to the election: It’s my vote and I’m going to vote for who I think will best serve America, not based on what others believe.
Historically speaking, this election followed trends present in American electoral history — the power of populism, the status quo of the incumbent party. There was no major policy change and no great foreign policy/conflict victory in President Obama’s second term, despite the fact that the Democrats worked diligently to effect President Obama’s “change” platform, and this “change” became the norm. When something becomes the norm, people forget how these policies positively affect their daily lives.
Secondly, I remember hearing rumblings from disaffected Republicans (like myself) that the Republican party needs to evolve; it needs to change and reinvent itself if it wants to stay relevant in 21st-century American politics. I still believe this should happen, and that the Tea Party should be cut off; there’s room for a true conservative party in America. But now that Trump has won, I’ve heard similar rumblings from the Left. What does this mean for America? It means that the political party status quo is under siege and is at the brink of transformation. I hope this is true.
This election will be studied by political scientists and historians alike for decades to come. Even though it’s been a week since the election was called in favor of Donald Trump, I still have difficulty wrapping my mind how a candidate like him won, despite all the thoughtful explanations available online and elsewhere (check out Allan Lichtman, if you haven’t already). While nobody has any concrete idea what kind of president Donald Trump will be, we do know a few things for certain: 1) that the American Constitution is effective, and 2) political complacency results in unthinkable scenarios (the neo-Right taking both houses of Congress and the Executive).