What I Think Historians Will Say in 20 Years about the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

What I Think Historians Will Say in 20 Years about the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

How crazy it was that America’s elders nominated the two most
unpopular major-party candidates in U.S. history. On the Democratic side,
a corporate-lensed centrist wife of a former president in a country
founded on revolt against idea of family dynasties–less than two decades
after a similar family experiment in thorny rose Bushes proved a cosmic
explosion disaster–a candidate claiming to be practical progressive
after a history of pushing slashed safety nets for America’s lowest-income
families, letting private health insurance company bureaucrats write
national health care bills, advocating water-poisoning fracking drilled in cracks
through global bread crusts, voting immoral war in Iraq, supporting mud-slinging
military coup Honduras, pushing Libya war that hatched a room-sized chaotic egg
birthing a new generation of teenagers seeking revenge for sibling deaths
blamed on manic-moody Uncle Sam. In a dessert plate of ironies, Hillary Clinton
demanded through Election Day that Trump release years of buried tax returns
filed in duplicate and double-speak after herself spending months in a Star Trek cloak
of invisibility to hide public transcripts of quarter-million dollar speeches made
to cheer up Goldman Sachs while that company was pretending sad regret
for its heavyweight champ role in wrestling down all four corners of the economy.

trump wedding clintons

Most 2036 history books speculate that, in earlier eras, bucketloads of low-personality
centrist Republicans would have won this election handily, like New Jersey’s
Clifford Case, Maine’s Susan Collins–but in 2016 right-wing lunatics who had never
read Thomas Jefferson nor Thomas Paine had taken over the Ghastly Outrageous
GOP Party and decided a lying ego-driven skyscraper developer TV reality star
known for cheating casino contractors and ex-wives, and accused in little-discussed
court papers of raping a teenager, now somehow represented white working-class
male interests under threat from invisible alien dust able to sneak through porous
plywood border house walls. Maybe it was because a mainstream media criticized
as rigged by Trump was too intimidated by possible loss of advertising dollars
to show dozens of rolls of videotapes showing Trump’s sociopathic lies about
his previous positions on Iraq War, intervention in Libya, and intimate knowledge
of key leaders of the KKK? Maybe ratings-related ad money could explain
not enough coverage of his insane promises to bring back illegal torture, to drop
bombs on heads of youngest children of suspected terrorists, to use nuclear
weapons simply because we have them, to jam his ever-wagging and deregulating
index finger into gears of any solar-powered effort to slow climate change?

Because the two main party candidates had history’s highest-ever unfavorability
ratings, more voters than usual looked at third-party possibilities, but the former
Republican governor pot-smoking right-wing Libertarian had an Aleppo-sized
policy gap to annoy almost everyone on both left and right, and the Green Party’s
medical doctor candidate, who had best progressive positions, was seen as
too unknown and politically inexperienced to win—with many sympathizers
wondering why Green Party kept running expensive Presidential campaigns before
first becoming known for major work to change country’s outdated election
mechanisms—like instant-run-off voting, fusion voting, or proportional representation—
to make a 3rd party campaign viable; and before updating its implosion-inducing
consensus decision-making process that made sculpting a large group
filled with potential far more difficult.

By mid-September, 2016, Trump had bragged about his ability to hire the best
people, but had already fired three sets of chief advisers, settling on political loyalists
that came labeled with the I.D. tag: “don’t tame this aging tiger: let insane Trump
be insane Trump,” and it was clear that, barring any egregious errors, this was going
to be Hillary Clinton’s close election to lose, as clearly the less dangerous of the two.
While Clinton would likely continue strolling onward carrying the traditional
U.S. backpack of war, hunger, and potential climate-based extinction; Trump was
planning to put that backpack into a slot-machine-filled trunk of a coal-fueled
racing car. What ultimately seemed to derail Trump was his initial obsession
to criticize parents of a Muslim soldier who had sacrificed his young life for an
unwarranted U.S. war, parents who had held up a pocket copy U.S. Constitution
and asked rhetorically, knowing beforehand the answer was no, whether Trump had
ever bothered to read the document he was running to uphold. Then Trump
handily lost all three mass-televised debates, for which his team proudly announced
that he had refused to prepare. Despite the two dozen negatives that came
with Clinton, despite tactical and literal stumbles, many celebrated America
finally electing its first woman president, and breathed a momentary sigh of relief
that global warming was not being placed on a fast-forward conveyor belt,
that slightly left-of-center judges would be appointed to Supreme Court, that federal
housing and education budgets would see a too-small raise as opposed to steep cuts,
that at least a rhetoric of opposing sexism, racism, and homophobia had triumphed
over Trump’s dog-and-bear whistle appeals to ethnic scapegoating and taller
concrete barriers. What activists realized was that Clinton offered them added time
and potential to attempt organizing work, since people more likely to spend time
on tasty tree-plantings with some prospect to bear fruit, with some decent chance
to change a susceptible administration on key policies like Leaky Oil Pipelines
and anti-human-and-sea-life trade treaties, whereas Trump would have ordered
spiky law-and-order police clubs and alt-right supporters’ fists to crush heads
of young people pleading for more utopian worlds.

Despite his lack of advancement to November’s election, what majority of today’s
historians find most memorable about the 2016 contest was that over 80%
of Democrats under 35 voted in Democratic primary for most progressive choice,
Bernie Sanders, a huge surprise to a mainstream media whose most celebrated
pundits underestimated the potential of a candidate for U.S. president self-identifying
as democratic-socialist. When the final 2016 tally was overcooked and cooling,
most progressive election historians began penning e-book meditations
on the question of how these young progressives would organize in years and
decades ahead for healthier policies on climate preservation, single-payer
medical care, colleges easy on the knees, empathetic economics, a warm downpour
of human rights, and the basic importance of maintaining the inhalation
and exhalation of planetary life. The creative ping pong strategies that young people
developed in ensuing years surprised all the old TV news experts, like the way
Emily Dickinson had described a great poem making readers feel as if their heads
were popping off.

Eliot Katz is the author of seven poetry books–including Unlocking the Exits; and Love, War, Fire, Wind. His latest book, published in early 2016, is a readable, scholarly volume, entitled The Poetry and Politics of Allen Ginsberg. Called “another classic New Jersey bard” by Ginsberg, Katz has worked for four decades as an activist for a wide range of peace and social-justice causes, including many years spent as a housing advocate for homeless families.