The Normal and the Abnormal: More Thoughts about the 2016 Election

In class, I keep using the words “when things are normal, unlike now,” with reference to a lot of the general principles of American government and politics that we talk about.  And yet I can’t help observing that a lot of the things that are happening now which are very abnormal can be seen as the extreme version of what goes on when things are normal.  For example:

  1. When things are normal, the political parties make their positions look very high stakes, and weighted with great moral authority.  It’s usual for the Democrats to accuse the Republicans of being racist, of being heartless to the poor and to foreign refugees, of being overly militaristic, and it’s usual for the Republicans to accuse the Democrats of wanting to get the poor dependent on welfare payments rather than trying to work, and of weakening the country’s defenses in the face of foreign attack.  This year, the Trump campaign actually has the support of racist groups, and Trump is accusing Hillary of having virtually created ISIS.  And, consistent with the idea of the Republicans being more associated with strength, we keep hearing it said that a terrorist attack close to Election Day could still swing the vote to Trump.
  2. When things are normal, candidates for president exaggerate the powers of the presidency.  When Romney and Obama debated in 2012 over whether Obama’s policies had been good or bad for the economy, they were both engaged in a pretending game, because there had been stalemate between the two parties in Congress for the past three years, and it was nobody’s economic policies that the country had been getting.  Candidates routinely say “I will..” when they really mean “I will ask Congress to…”  However, even by that standard, Trump is alarming when he talks about the things that will happen when he’s elected.  “People will say Merry Christmas, not Happy Holidays.”  “I’m going to build a wall, and have Mexico pay for it.”  (He’s modified that slightly in recent days, but still…)  And in talking about crime and other societal problems:  “I alone can fix it.”
  3. When things are normal, each party claims that the other has an unfair propaganda advantage.  From the point of view of the Democrats, the Republicans’ advantage comes from money, and from the Republicans’ point of view, the Democrats have the unfair advantage of a biased mainstream media.  Underneath it all is that each party claims to speak for “the people,” and neither party can accept the fact that large numbers of “the people” are voting for the other party unless they’ve been brainwashed and manipulated, hence the claims noted here.  However, Trump is still on an extreme when he claims there’s a rigged election, and when he claims that the news media (like the New York Times) deserve all kinds of retribution for their bad faith.

Things are very abnormal this year, it can’t be denied.  But a lot of the abnormality seems to me to be taking the form of exaggerated versions of the normal.

 

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