Arguing that the 2016 presidential election has exposed the worst of American politics is about as fail-proof as positing that Donald Trump’s candidacy is going down the toilet. As a Millennial, I can’t remember a presidential contest that has been seeped with so much personal animosity. The 2012 election was pretty bad, too, but at least President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney ran on the issues, instead of questioning each other’s health, citizenship, and physical stamina.
Just how polarizing this election has become is difficult to quantify, but the Pew Research Center is trying. Their latest survey, released October 14, has several depressing findings that reveal just how split America is right now. Those numbers directly correlate with how the two major parties have decided to run their campaigns.
We were already aware that Clinton supporters despise Trump and Trump supporters think Clinton should be in jail. But not to this extent: according to the Pew survey, 85 percent of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters give Trump a “cold rating,” meaning more than eight in 10 Democrats perceive Trump to be a cold personality. The feeling is mutual on the other side: 77 percent of GOP or GOP-leaning voters give Clinton a cold rating, including 56 percent who give her a rating of zero. You can’t get much more hostile than that.
There are plenty of interesting numbers in the poll, but none more so than the 81 percent who believe that Trump and Clinton supporters disagree on “basic facts.” In other words, the only thing the two sides agree on is that they aren’t seeing the country on the same wave-length. Call it “we agree to disagree,” times 100.
The big question generated from all this is: can the country recover after a brutally long and nasty campaign? It sounds like a melodramatic query and suggests the United States is close to erupting into another civil war, circa 1860. Pundits typically ask this after every presidential election cycle, suggesting supporters of the losing candidate will not accept the results and instead hunker down in the woods and create their own alternative societies.
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Nothing like this will happen after November 8, even if Donald Trump kicks and screams like a baby that the election was stolen from him by a conspiratorial, corporatist conglomerate of Clinton campaigners, liberal media executives, sexual assault accusers, turncoat Republicans, and dead Democrats (as Rudy Giuliani suggested this Sunday). Americans will go on as usual with their lives.
Polarization, however, is very hard to extinguish, and the country is only getting more polarized after every single presidential election. Elected officials must do their part after November 8 to gradually stop this trend and reverse it. Otherwise, we’ll only see even more negativity and bitterness from voters in 2020.