Posted: Saturday, November 5, 2016 6:00 am
Over the past 12 months, roughly coinciding with the 2016 U.S. presidential primaries and the subsequent election campaign, my wife and I have criss-crossed the United States. While doing so, we could not help but follow the latest developments in what has become the most mesmerizing and depressing presidential election contest in modern U.S. history. Political theater and reality television at its bizarre “best.”
From Washington and the Pacific northwest to Louisiana and from Maine to Arizona we were able to feel the pulse and temper of many American electors. In our conversations, it became quickly evident that we were travelling through uncharted country — the Divided States of America.
Not only were the dislike and distrust of the two presidential candidates at all-time highs, it was clear to us that the anger and disdain towards a political and economic system that has left so many Americans behind and feeling irrelevant was more than tangible — it was visceral. It vibrated ominously through every conversation.
That some American citizens are now threatening to “exercise their Second Amendment rights” or, more darkly, to foment revolution demonstrates the menace and disgust at the tip of this electoral iceberg.
How did it ever come to this? How could a major, national institution like the Republican Party in particular become so out of touch with its traditional base of Caucasian, conservative, evangelical, blue collar and rural voters? How could the leadership and “establishment operatives” so misread the mood of their base and the country at large? How could that ‘ignore-ance’ lead to the nomination of a crude, demagogic and authoritarian “outsider” promising a mythical nirvana of times past.
And at the other end of the political spectrum, why did a grey-haired septuagenarian galvanize a generation of millennial youth convincing them of what they suspected all along — a Washington where the political power brokers have been colluding with Wall Street ‘banksters’ to garner power and financial spoils.
The common thread uniting this ideologically diverse and disaffected constituency is a distrust of the ‘Wallshington’ elites and conspirators and their callous use of the democratic process to selfishly advance their own interests and fatten their pocketbooks.
Now, all manner of apparitions — some real, most imaginary — have been summoned to convince an increasingly embittered electorate that there is a distinctive “us and them,” from blaming free trade for the corroding of the rust belt to undocumented immigrants stealing American jobs. Or confronting the reality that too many Wall Street CEOs were earning more in their first four hours of Monday morning work then the median annual income of American families.
The most extreme example of this bitter disillusionment has been, without doubt, the nomination of Donald Trump as the flag-bearer for the Republican Party. Surely the first indication that this was a party-off-the-rails was the unabashed nomination as its standard bearer of what a Harvard psychologist has called a narcissistic sociopath never deeply troubled by the truth or fiction of any accusation.
If polls are to be believed, there are over 70 million Americans more than willing to overlook his bombast and belligerence. He has denigrated women, Latinos and Muslims, Native Americans, the disabled, the judicial system, the military and dead heroes, the media, even calling into question the very foundations of democratic institutions — the electoral process itself.
Many in that economically disenfranchised constituency are quite comfortably concealed in that “basket of deplorables” — the racists and zealots, the ill-informed, the xenophobes and the other creatures of the far right who have now hijacked the Republican Party. Without doubt, the party establishment has misread the mood of the country and forsaken its traditional base. It will likely pay a gut-wrenching price for this grave mistake.
While the Democratic Party is not without its own internal challenges, in this most unsettling of American elections we may be in the throes of witnessing the undoing of the ‘RIPublican’ Party. What emerges from the autopsy is now anybody's guess.
Peter Andre Globensky was an adjunct professor in political science at Lakehead University and served as a policy advisor to former prime minister Brian Mulroney