We always say this election is the most important in our lifetime, probably because it is. Who wins the White House in November will impact policy, the planet and people’s lives for decades. Sure, this one is unique in that this will be the first time one of the two major parties will have a female top the ticket. Trump’s candidacy is less unique because he’s still the same older, wealthy, white, male like all previous, candidates the Republicans choose. Republicans even had an actor/celebrity top their ticket before, the difference being Reagan’s screen test was as California’s governor and Trump’s was on “The Apprentice.” Even a contentiously fought Democratic primary is nothing new. (See 2008, 1988, 1980 and 1968 as examples.) And yes, the Supreme Court hangs in the balance but that’s always true too, although we’ve never been down one Justice before, another one of those pesky first-time conditions Congress made especially for President Obama.
But there are a couple factors that are unique this time and will impact election results this November. The first is our first presidential election after the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, removing the Federal oversight of some southern states’ voting laws. The second is the way the majority of us are now consuming political information, which is primarily via limitless Internet sources, a symphony of voices and opinions often branded as fact. So these two conditions may mean a lot of legitimate voters won’t be allowed to vote and many others may be making their voting decisions based upon fantasy and fallacy.
The very day after SCOTUS’s Shelby v Holder decision, that eliminated Federal pre-clearance of voter laws by former southern slave states or counties, southern lawmakers made statements of intention or declaration to establish voter ID laws and other restrictions. Investigative journalist Greg Palast estimates as many as 3.5 million voters have since been scrubbed from the rosters. The GOP is not even pretending these actions are anything but modern Jim Crow laws. Where they could, some states implemented these tactics before the 2012 elections so we already know this disenfranchises legitimate voters. Mike Turzai, Pennsylvania state House Republican leader, came right out and admitted his state’s voter ID law would help Romney win. (It was tight but President Obama took it.)
The new laws cause disproportionate hardship on segments that historically vote for Democrats, like minorities, students, lower-income people and seniors, all who are more likely to lack the proper documents or the finances to obtain the new, required voter identification. So coupled with years of using shady, electronic voting machines that lack a paper trail and the gerrymandered districts drawn after 2010, voters will need to turn out like they did 2008, or the consequences could be devastating for Democrats.
What’s happening to our news and information channels is even more of a wildcard. New voters and new media make for a new political climate. A greater percentage of people than ever are consuming their news mostly from Internet channels that didn’t exist four, eight or 20 years ago. Diversity in news sources is a great asset to democracy but it can be a double-edged sword. News, opinion and infotainment are blurred so what we think we know might not be fact. We also tend to cherry-pick from sources compatible with our views, echoing our confirmation bias. We’re voting for president of the United States, not who gets thrown off the island.
The days of, “If Walter Cronkite said it, it must be true,” are simply gone. Most feel mainstream media has lost its historic, journalistic credibility and trust, replaced by its lust for ratings and ad revenue. It’s no wonder the savvy voter is looking outside the once giant network TV airwaves when CBS executive chairman, president and CEO Leslie Moonves recently declared how great Trump’s ad money is for their coffers. “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” That sound you heard was Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Morrow turning over in their graves.
The two candidates are perfect for the bias and blurred lines in today’s information channels. We have about the same 25 years or so of public presence from both Clinton and Trump. One has been marketing the image of a wrestling promoter that is part hype, a lot of ego, plenty of shady business deals and a dash of carnival barker. I am referring to Trump.
The other has been part of what she called a “vast, right-wing conspiracy,” scrutinizing President and Mrs. Clinton in the private lives and in public service. From an investigation about an investment loss mushroomed the Lewinsky story. From four embassy deaths blossomed the email story. For those who weren’t paying attention for any reason in the 90s, check out Henry Lewis Gates’ 1996 The New Yorker article on Hillary Clinton.
Whether you are inclined to vote Republican, Democrat, third party or not at all, you owe it to yourself to know the origins of Washington’s and the media’s criticism of her. Too many are interpreting their opinions from a patchwork started from whole cloth back in the 90s.
Civility, good public policy and facts still matter but if Trump wins the presidency, they may no longer be what we get – or deserve.