Originally published on November 8, 2016
Yuan Peng - vice president of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations
As the 2016 U.S. presidential election draws near, it has become evident that – no matter who wins – history will deem this election the most dark, chaotic and negative one in the past two centuries. It certainly will not be viewed as a victory of democracy.
To begin with, the two main candidates have smeared each other in the most despicable and uncivilized ways during their many campaign speeches, causing some U.S. citizens to turn away in disgust. The campaign has undeniably revealed the dark side of so-called democracy in the U.S.
The Democratic Party eliminated Bernie Sanders during the nomination process to make sure Hillary Clinton won the candidacy. Then, in order to put pressure on Donald Trump’s campaign, some Republican heavyweights called upon fellow Republicans to vote for Clinton, the candidate of the opposing party.
As a result, almost all mainstream media has chosen to stand with Clinton, leading Trump supporters to conclude that U.S. democracy is dead.
Indeed, the election has been chaotic since its start. During the presidential primaries, Sanders nearly caused a party upset when he threatened Clinton’s nomination. On the other side, the script for the Republican Party campaign gave television drama “House of Cards” a run for its money. Promising political stars like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz were felled on the battlefield one after another, but Trump – who was often deemed an “unlikely” candidate – made his way through to the final round.
Once Clinton and Trump were the only major party candidates left standing, they began to attack each other with scandals, including Clinton’s private email server controversy and the charges of sexual harassment against Trump, turning the campaign into a true mess.
This is a “bad” election because it is tasteless. More importantly, the whole process has been dominated by extremist comments and personal attacks, so much so that the candidates eventually gave up on systematic explanations of their policy views. Finally, the whole campaign lost its meaning and was reduced to nothing more than a farce.
Such chaos and disorder tells the world that the U.S. is “sick” when it comes to the nation’s own economy, society and politics.
First of all, the U.S. economy is no longer in good shape. Though it is recovering, the public has not benefitted from that momentum, as economic growth is mainly being driven by quantitative easing and other monetary policies, leaving structural conflicts untouched. Even worse, the wealth gap is widening, the middle class is shrinking and the youngest generation is lost at sea.
In addition, social problems remain unsolved. In the eight years since Barack Obama took office, racial conflicts have not been eased, but have in fact escalated. Conflicts over race, gender, religion and class have stoked anger, anxiety and depression in addition to isolationism, protectionism and populism. It is only due to these uneasy sentiments that Trump has been able to last as long as he has.
At the same time, the current political system is riddled with problems. The U.S. used to take pride in its “American-style democracy,” represented by a separation of powers. However, even these checks and balances failed to rein in the confrontation between the two major parties.
Extremity and separation prevail in U.S. politics today. Partisan standoffs and interdepartmental confrontations are taking place all over the country, dragging down political efficiency and disappointing the public. Even many U.S. political scholars are concerned about the future of American democracy.
The etiology of the country’s “illness” lies in its postponement of systematic reform, which the country should have launched after the Cold War. As a result, structural conflicts accumulated day by day into a sort of chronic disease.
When Bill Clinton was in power, the U.S. was so obsessed with its Cold War victory and prosperity brought by the “new economy” that reform momentum was quite lacking. After George W. Bush took office, emergencies like the Sept. 11 attacks pulled the country’s focus to counter-terrorism and the Iraq War, leaving no time for reform.
It was not until Obama was inaugurated that the U.S. noticed the urgency of reform, and became determined to see that reform through. Yet Obama missed his best chances to accomplish this thanks to insufficient political support.
Obama’s hands are tied now, and the two major parties have failed to reach a consensus on immigration, gun control, taxation, education and several other big issues that impede the social and economical development of the U.S. Though the U.S. economy was revitalized during the last eight years, the biggest beneficiaries have been Wall Street and Washington bigwigs, while the incomes of average citizens have still not returned to pre-economic crisis levels.
Due to political conflicts, Obama was powerless to resolve issues such as gun control and illegal immigration. The chaos that has emerged during the 2016 presidential election is in reality a way for the public to vent their anger about the current situation.
Therefore, no matter who wins this election, the next president-elect will face a true political conundrum. Meanwhile, the world will look on with concern, waiting to see whether the U.S. adopts a more cautious diplomatic policy or decides to make aggressive overtures. So what path will the U.S. choose? We shall wait and see.