by Madeline Merrill
On April 12, 2015, Hillary Clinton minimally surprised the world when she announced her intentions to run for president...again. As Secretary Clinton was a 2008 Democratic primary contender, vying against President Barack Obama for the official party nomination, very few were shocked when Secretary Clinton re-ignited her professional intentions to reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as our nation’s Commander in Chief. At 3 PM on that Sunday in April 2015, her election team released a two-minute video with Hillary’s official pledge to run for president. This was the launch of what would be one of the most well-funded campaigns in American history.
Not too long after Secretary Clinton’s platform went public, on June 16, 2015, businessman and media mogul Donald Trump declared his intentions to campaign for the Oval Office. In the halls of his very own Trump Towers, the billionaire tycoon publicly shared that he would run for President and overturn years of legacy politicians to “make America great again.”
Fast forward a year and a handful of months - some $1.3 billion for Hillary and $795 million for Donald later - and we have a new president-elect. The images of sobbing Hillary supporters and ecstatic Trump fans inundate our news feeds as Cabinet positions are already starting to be filled and rumblings of potential Supreme Court Justice nominations circulate the web.
However one feels about the election, however you cast your vote, most Americans agree that the results were surprising. Secretary Clinton was projected to win, with an 85% chance of victory, as of 10:20 PM Eastern Time on November 8, 2016 . How could the pollsters get the numbers so wrong? And how could Hillary’s campaign, so machine-like and well-oiled in its deliverables, fail to propel Secretary Clinton to the Oval Office, with such a seemingly concrete victory almost within its grasp?
From the start of this presidential race, the characters in the running have been anything but predictable. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley challenged Secretary Clinton for the primary. Mr. Sanders championed debt-free and tuition-free higher education, access to Affordable Care Act coverage for immigrants, a demilitarized police force, among other notably progressive policies . Supporters “felt the Bern,” ardently believed in Mr. Sanders’ economic models, and when Mr. Sanders conceded the party nomination this spring, many felt Ms. Clinton was just “too moderate” for the Democratic party.
On the Republican side, Mr. Trump’s rise to the party nomination was unorthodox, to say the very least. The conservative party had a well-seasoned and well-established deck of candidates - Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, and Marco Rubio had to jump through a series of polls to even make it to the primary vote. The Republican field began with seventeen candidates vying for the presidential nomination - Trump silenced the competition on July 22, 2016, when he accepted the Republican party’s support at the GOP National Convention.
And now, with two short months until Inauguration Day, with a concession speech from Secretary Clinton behind us and an acceptance speech from Mr. Trump already circulated around the world, so many Americans are wondering how our country arrived here, with this candidate, in this fashion.
Political scientists, policy analysts, and the general public collectively lament the nature of this particular election season. The national conversation shifted from a comparison of party platforms to an attack on the other candidate’s personal character and integrity. Todd Purdum of Politico writes, “To judge by the daily parade of headlines and sound bites, the 2016 presidential election has boiled down to one steaming mass of invective, calumny, character assassination and contempt: the madman versus the prevaricator, the bully versus the biddy, the devil you know vs. the devil you don’t.” We reverted to a nation of bullying - on both sides of the aisle - and now, we must live with the unsavory politics we have collectively unearthed.
The margins of victory for candidates in specific states were more significant than the differences in the 2012 election. In the District of Columbia, for example, Secretary Clinton carried the vote by 93%, and carried the Northeastern region with three-fifths of the votes cast. In contrast, Mr. Trump won Tennessee and Kentucky with three-fifths of the popular vote, and in West Virginia, won by a two-to-one margin .
Regardless of party, regardless of political loyalty, the results are clear - America is more polarized and more divided than ever before. Online social media outlets create echo chambers that solidify our own beliefs and validate our pre-existing biases and values.
We live in a dangerous time. No matter which candidate you supported or which platform you adopted, we must collectively acknowledge that American politics is no longer civil. Our modern-day election cycle scrutinizes character over policies and personal choices over solutions to pressing problems.