The Long & Winding Road: Election Day 2016

by Watson Scott Swail, President & CEO, Educational Policy Institute

Today is the day when we can march to the polls, sit back, and finally say “Thank God this brutal campaign is FINALLY over!” If you are still upright and in good health, congratulate yourself for enduring our political version of The Hunger Games.

The US Presidential Election process is unlike any other around the world. While the Canadian and British elections last a mere 8-10 weeks, this election began on Wednesday, November 7th, 2012, the day after the last Presidential Election. On that day, the media started speculating about who would run in 2016 since the second term of a presidential term is always kind of lame duck. In 2013, both Clinton and Trump formed unofficial exploratory committees, and, along with dozens of other also rans, began running in earnest in early 2015. This campaign literally changed how our cable news networks behaved and organized. CNN, once the proud conveyor of world and domestic news, now became a one-issue source of political information, as did MSNBC and Fox. The only respite was the occasional disaster or populous death.

This morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Mike Barnicle said that “This pageant for democracy that we witness today it is truly extraordinary and makes you really proud to be an American citizen.”

I could not disagree more.

This campaign, among all others, has reduced the political trust and process to a shadow of what it once was. Jon Meacham of Time Magazine reminded us that fewer than 1-in-5 voters trust the federal government and that there is a palpable paranoia of trust in politicians. While some say that these long campaigns strengthen candidates and build character, the low-brow mudslinging has weakened the presidency and the respective candidates. The brand of President of the United States has been cheapened, in large part, by a reality TV show star who has little respect for authority, rules, and the law in general.

A lot of people are wondering how we ended up with these two candidates out of 330 million people in the US. It is simple: the system heralded them. They both won their primaries, which also seemed to go on forever. Say what you want, but this is the system we built; the one we deserve.

Given the latest polls and trends, by tomorrow morning the President-Elect is likely to be Hillary Clinton, with some pundits expecting a landslide in terms of electoral votes plus a win in the area of 4-5 percentage points in the popular vote. We will see, because until people actually vote, you can never count on what the voting population will do.

Regardless, the real challenge is what happens starting on January 20 when the President-Elect is inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. At that moment, the President must deal with a divided Congress: a group of 535 elected officials that, Congress after Congress, has managed to conduct a trickle of business that is so important for this nation to run effectively. If Hillary wins, the GOP have already thrown down a preemptive gauntlet to stand in the way of her Supreme Court nominations and other campaign promises. If Trump wins, the GOP will work diligently to mold him to do what they want to do. Don’t think he will run Congress. He won’t. No president does.

I’m not so sure either direction is helpful for the future of this nation.

In the end, nothing is too disastrous, even though, in the midst of a hostile campaign, it seems like the world could end if your candidate does not get elected. That never holds true. The same political system that makes it so difficult to get anything done is also the one that ensures that nothing dastardly or destructive happens. Some may argue, but mostly, this is accurate.

This election is not rigged. There is no voter fraud to speak of. This is just another important election in the history of this nation. They all are.

Democracies are not perfect political systems. They get dirty. Ugly. But they do provide us with an important opportunity to exercise our unique right and privilege to vote our beliefs and conscience. In 20112, only 57.5 percent of Americans voted. That is a shame, because voting is one of the greatest opportunities an individual can have in life.

Please do not waste such a grand opportunity. There is nothing quite as fulfilling as walking out of a voting booth with an “I Voted” sticker on your shirt or jacket. You contributed to our society by a simple vote. It is important.

Regardless of how you vote, do one thing today if you haven’t already:

Vote.

Enjoy your day.

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About Educational Policy Institute

The Educational Policy Institute is a Washington, DC-based research think tank on education and the social sciences. EPI conducts evaluation and policy studies on various educational issues from Pre-K to workforce outcomes in the United States, Canada, and beyond. Visit us at educationalpolicy.org.
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