By Paul Rozycki
We all thought it would be over after Nov. 8. Almost everyone expected Hillary to win by a close, but decent margin. She had a half dozen ways she could win the Electoral College. Trump barely had one. Yet after the shock and dismay of this unprecedented and vicious campaign, we are still reeling from the results.
It may take years to assess the full impact and implications of the 2016 campaign, but there are at least 10 things worth examining as we look back at the scarred and scorched political landscape of the past year.
Obviously, the dominant figure this year has been Donald Trump. Almost no one thought he had the slightest chance of winning either the Republican nomination or the November election. In his wake, there is much to be resolved and more than a few questions. Here’s a few for starters:
- Electoral College: For the second time in 16 years, and the fifth time in our history, the Electoral College has chosen the person who finished second in the popular vote. At the moment, Hillary’s popular vote margin is approaching 2 million votes. Are these two recent failures a sign that it’s time to revisit this old and odd way of electing presidents?
- Presidential Campaigns: Donald Trump broke almost every traditional rule of presidential campaigns—-and won. Based on past history he should have lost because of his endless insults, his lack of a campaign organization, the fact that Hillary outspent him, his failure to win any of the debates, and his complete lack of governmental experience. Just one of those should have destroyed any other candidate. Are all the ‘old rules’ of the game gone forever? What will the new ‘rules of political campaigns’ look like?
- White Working Class: With his angry appeal to the white working class, has Trump awakened a sleeping giant, or is this the last hurrah of a passing generation, and a backlash against an emerging and changing America that is rising in new century?
- Campaign Promises: After only a few weeks, Trump has retracted or modified a long list of his campaign promises and threats—erasing the Affordable Care Act, denying climate change, imprisoning Hillary, building a wall with Mexico, getting rid of lobbyists and banning all Muslims. Thankfully, he has stepped back from these, but what will he really do, and what will it mean for his ardent supporters?
- A Presidential Trump: For the week following the election, Trump acted ‘presidential’ in his acceptance speech and tried to reach out to ‘unite all Americans’. But, within days he was picking fights on Twitter with the casts of both ‘Hamilton’ and Saturday Night Live. Can the ‘presidential Trump’ last more than a few days? How will he react to something more threatening than a Broadway play or a comedy show skit?
- Fake News: This has been the ‘fake news’ election, where blatantly and intentionally false stories often garnered more readers and internet hits than legitimate news sources. In an age where editors and reporters are being forced out, and newspapers are shrinking, will we realize how critical a role they play? And whatever flaws one might find in the ‘mainstream media’, they are immensely more reliable than random tweets or Facebook postings from anonymous sources. When the media has been the target of many of Trump’s attacks, how will a free press manage in the hostile environment now developing?
- Uniting the Nation: Is there any hope that Trump will be able to unite the nation, when he appoints alt-right spokespersons such as Steve Bannon to White House positions? Will Trump be willing to denounce the racists, white nationalists, and wanna-be Nazis that have emerged as part of his movement? Will he be able, and willing, to rein in the alt-right fringe that has been energized by Trump’s victory? Is there any serious chance that he can heal the breach with all those he had offended in the last 18 months?
- Political Parties: What will the Republican and Democratic parties look like in the future? Will Democrats be able to regain the title of “The Party of the Working Man” and remain the party of minorities? Will Republican remain the party of big business, if Trump pursues his protectionist policy? Will it remain a conservative party? Do Bernie Sanders Democrats and Republican Trump supporters have anything in common?
- Local Campaigns: On the local level, one of the strangest things was how quiet campaigns were for everything but the presidential contest. Most of the candidates for county-wide offices were unopposed, and campaigning and competition for many of the other offices were surprisingly limited. In a typical election year, every street corner is littered with a forest of yard signs. This year there were relatively few. Was this simply a reaction to the distracting national election, or a sign of deep frustration (or satisfaction) with our local leaders?
- Flint Water Crisis: One key question is the effect of Trump’s election on Flint and its water crisis. Mayor Weaver came out strong for Hillary, and raised the Flint water issue at the Democratic National Convention quite effectively. Will that hurt her, and Flint, when the Republicans come to the White House in January? Or will Trump’s move to rebuild our infrastructure include money for Flint’s water lines? Will he be willing to work with Governor Snyder and Detroit Mayor Duggan?
In the end, these are most likely only the first of many questions that we will have over the next four years.
The answers may be as unpredictable as this election.
Political columnist Paul Rozycki can be reached at Paul.Rozycki@mcc.edu.