Trump Clinton.jpgElections & Institutions LMU-LA (West Coast Perspectives) Uncategorized 

How Did This Happen?

By Michael A. Genovese 

Several election cycles ago, in a (presumably) tongue-in-cheek comment, former Swedish foreign minister and one-time head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Hans Blix said that he believed that citizens across the globe should have a say in determining who is to become president of the United States. After all, a president has a huge impact on countries across the globe, and the United States, for good or ill, leaves a large footprint internationally. Or as the old saying goes, “When the United States sneezes, the world catches cold.”

Blix and people around the world are justifiably concerned about who sits in the Oval Office, and that concern is grounded in experience. But Blix’s suggestion is unlikely to come to pass. In recent years, many states in the United States have sought to suppress the vote—at times imposing draconian registration policies designed to keep eligible citizens from voting. If this sounds too strange to be true, remember that the federal government does not manage elections in the United States. Each state is responsible for running the election as it sees fit. That is why there may be one country, but there are 50 different sets of rules and laws that apply to each separate state.

In an effort to suppress the vote of groups likely to vote for Democrats, those states controlled by Republicans have passed laws requiring that very specific identification requirements be met in order to be eligible to vote. Also, early voting has been shortened, the hours of voting limited, and the hurdles of voting heightened. The required new IDs that many new citizens, young people, the elderly, and minorities do not have will likely maximize Republican votes.

When these new restrictions are taken to courts across the nation, they are almost always found to be either unconstitutional, or as excessive and unnecessary burdens, and are thrown out. It is unclear if or how these new rules will impact the outcome of the upcoming election.

But, international focus is on the top of the ticket this presidential race. It is now a binary choice: Donald J. Trump versus Hillary Clinton, the television celebrity, real estate mogul versus the experienced, if dull, professional politician. Early polling gives Clinton a slight lead, but there are several avenues to victory for Trump, and with the debates coming up … anything can happen.

The two nominees register higher “negative” ratings than any two candidates in modern presidential history. Both are seen as deeply flawed with Clinton facing a “trust deficit” and Trump seen as inexperienced, combustible, and unpredictable. How did we get to this point?

The presidential selection system is long (people run for president for three years), costly (hundreds of millions of dollars are necessary just as an entry fee), and superficial (name-calling and argument by innuendo are more common than substantive policy discussions). One has to be highly ambitious, willing to give up any semblance of a personal or family life, grovel for money (Trump being the exception here), and willing to “dumb down” policy proposals to fit on a bumper sticker. This is not America’s finest hour. Rather than a debate over the future of the nation, elections are about how effectively one can trash the opponent.

America is, and has been for decades, a deeply divided nation: blue versus red states, us versus them. Partisan divisions mar efforts to come together to solve common problems, and the opposition is not seen as an adversary to be defeated in an election, but as an enemy to be destroyed on the battlefield.

And what does this mean for global policy? Hillary Clinton is likely to approach global issues much like Barack Obama has: incrementally and cautiously trying to steer the state a degree or two in the right direction. Donald Trump is less cautious, less engaged, less informed, and more volatile. He—like George W. Bush—goes by his gut. “I consult with myself,” Trump said when asked to whom he listens. He would be more likely to stray far from orthodoxy, which his supporters admire, and he might actually mean some of the things he says about Muslims, immigrants, torture, China, international trade, and wars in the Middle East. Clinton seems a low risk/low reward candidate, while Trump appears to be a high risk/high or low reward candidate.

The American public says it wants a change and Trump promises significant changes. After all, he is not a “politician.” Clinton promises more of the same, a hard sell at a time when the public –both Democrats and Republicans—are fed up with the status quo. Clinton will be someone the world recognizes; Trump will be different. The rest of the world can only sit back and watch (OK, Russia is meddling in the American election, but that, and Trump’s “bromance” with Putin, is another story). Whoever wins will have a significant impact on global policy from trade to climate change, the war against terrorism to refugee policy. Thus, as the great American philosopher Bette Davis once said, “Hang on boys, we’re in for a bumpy ride.”

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Michael A. Genovese is author of over forty books, holds the Loyola Chair of Leadership, and is President of the World Policy Institute at Loyola Marymount University.

[Photo Courtesy of Alexander Krassotkin]

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