AND SO we find ourselves in the final week of perhaps the most bizarre presidential election in living memory.
Not since 1968 has our nation selected a chief executive during a time of such profound discord, racial strife, rapid social and cultural change, and profound mistrust of bedrock American institutions.
While the mainstream media remains focused on the horserace aspect of the election -- and Wikileaks largely does the job of investigative journalism the mainstream media used to do -- most people have long since resigned themselves to the sinking feeling that the Social Contract has been broken.
There is no way to understand the 2016 election without understanding that.
From Trump supporters to Black Lives Matter activists... from Iraq veterans fighting PTSD to families who just got 100 percent Obamacare increases... from single mothers working two minimum wage jobs to overworked and underpaid adjunct professors... from Millennials living back at their parents’ house to the neglected elderly in nursing homes... people from all walks of American life and all demographic backgrounds share the feeling that our basic institutions have failed us.
Despite our constant, all-consuming political debates on Facebook over which team jersey, Red or Blue, we support, the fact is we mostly find ourselves all in the same boat—constantly feeling betrayed by the system we’re always asked to trust.
With such a disconnect, it’s no accident that politics have become like sports or entertainment to many people.
Not that long ago, almost no one other than political science nerds like me followed elections closely.
Now, thanks to cable news and social media’s collective appetite for divisive content, millions of people spend hours each day following the ebbs and flows of their Red or Blue team’s fortunes as if it’s a live sporting event, viewing politicians like athletes on the field of play.
Go, Team. Just win, baby. The refs robbed us! Oh well, wait ‘til next year.
Meanwhile the same real-world problems keep compounding.
People ask: Why is it that in a nation of 320 million people Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the two candidates we have to choose from?
The answer is embarrassingly simple:
What type of person would want to try and run a nation of 320 million deeply unsatisfied people who have lost trust in nearly every institution, and in each other?
The answer to that question could explain a lot.
Many months ago I predicted Clinton wouldn’t survive the email scandal. Of course what I meant at the time was that Democrats would be forced to pick another nominee, which obviously didn’t happen.
But the fact that even at this late date there’s still the slightest, greater-than-zero chance of that happening due to the resurgent email scandal sums up how ridiculously surreal this campaign is.
Many months ago I also predicted that Trump wasn’t the flash-in-the-pan, reality TV candidate everyone laughed about, but could possibly garner significant and quite unfunny levels of support not only from Republicans but disaffected Democrats.
As I write this, he is now essentially within the margin of error in the average of national polls —only about three percent behind Clinton.
Now, I’m one of those weirdos who follows the boring, stupid polls and is interested in the boring, stupid mechanics of how people get elected.
If you’re a fellow poll junkie like me, you already know that in the most recent large-scale polling events—U.S. Congressional midterms 2014, UK Parliament 2015, Israeli Parliament 2015, Brexit 2016, and Colombia peace deal 2016 — the polls were nearly all wrong.
And not just a little bit wrong.
More importantly, in every one of those victories it was the same general side— the conservative and/or populist side—which won and outperformed the polls, in most cases dramatically so.
I was one of those early on who warned that Democrats were making a serious strategic error in nominating literally the most establishment, status quo politician in U.S. politics during an election cycle dominated by voter dissatisfaction and desire for change on both sides. Not to mention the whole active FBI investigation thing.
It is a strategic blunder which could possibly, though not likely, result in the election of Donald Trump, the most chaotically and catastrophically divisive presidential candidate probably in U.S. history.
Nothing that I’ve seen so far has changed my original assessment.
Seems incredible now, but a whole year ago this October, Bernie Sanders made his famous debate statement that “the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.”
He prefaced that by saying, “This may not be great politics,” and boy was he right. A year later you have to wonder what he’s really thinking about all this.
So what’s my prediction? Seems to me the most likely election result is for Hillary Clinton to win a much more narrow victory than most pundits are telling you right now, based on heavy early voting in her favor, increased Latino turnout, and the core advantage Democrats have in the Electoral College.
Unlike most pundits, I’m predicting Republicans continue to hold both houses of Congress. Which of course means a continuation of the frustrating gridlock we have already become inured to over the last several years.
Then again, I’ve been wrong before! The beauty of these things is this prediction is worth exactly what you paid for it.
My real concern isn’t that gridlock will continue — the Founders had a bit of a soft spot for gridlock—but that due to the venal, divisive nature of this election the United States will simply be ungovernable by either candidate regardless.
It seems highly unlikely that either Clinton or Trump will have the skill and wherewithal and mandate to restore our collective trust in the Social Contract.
And that sadly is a prediction I’m much more comfortable with.