The quadrennial national popularity contest underway pits the host of one of America’s longest running reality shows against a woman whose husband won election to the presidency. The vote always tells us at least as much about the electorate as it does the elected.
Like the homecoming king and queen in high school, the presidential nominees turn out to lack genuine popularity when you discreetly inquire with the subjects.
In the NBC poll released Tuesday, Clinton voters pick “opposition to Donald Trump” as the most compelling reason (33 percent) to cast a ballot for their candidate. Trump voters pick “opposition to Hillary Clinton” as the most compelling reason (36 percent) to cast a ballot for their candidate. Voters, wrong on so much in this election cycle, don’t err here.
The NBC survey finds that 58 percent of Americans say they either dislike or hate Mrs. Clinton. For Mr. Trump, the negative response comes from 64 percent of respondents. Americans vote against a candidate, and much else, this election.
This negativity favors the candidate of change, not of the status quo. Trump’s positions on trade, immigration, foreign policy, and much else represent a clean break from the dogmas of both parties’ elites. After an American Century in which the U.S. dominated economically, the Americant Century struggles in the face of annual GDP growth averaging below two percent and an ominous cloud of debt approaching $20 trillion.
The national palate understandably entertains the idea of a more exotic plate.
But this election revolves around not policy but personality. If Donald Trump could lend Hillary Clinton some of his, voters could bear both candidates more easily.
Mr. Boorish gives out the cell phone number of an also-ran, randomly suggests that the father of his main adversary conspired to assassinate John Kennedy, and says that a past Republican presidential nominee’s capture in Vietnam makes him less of a war hero; Mrs. Boring spouts platitudes: I’m not running for some Americans but for all Americans, blah, blah, blah, war on women, blah, blah, blah, this election is about you, blah, blah, blah.
Their very different relationship to honesty helps explain the negative reactions of most voters to them.
Trump suffers from a Tourette’s-like honesty endemic to billionaire bosses. Clinton, in the words of the late William Safire, comes across as a “congenital liar” reinforced in that state by a fawning media. She told CNN that her private email server was “allowed by the State Department” and told MSNBC “everything I did was permitted.” But Clinton and her aides, many of whom dodged interview requests, told little to the State Department’s Inspector General, who this week found “no evidence that the Secretary requested or obtained guidance or approval to conduct official business via a personal email account on her private server” despite repeated instruction to employees not to do this.
Though Trump struggles to speak in complete sentences, he excels at coining contagious catchphrases. His nicknames captured our thoughts about various candidates as they captured the candidates in clearly labeled boxes from which they could not, and may never, escape. His slogan may be the best in American political history, especially in its sly but not-so subtle inclusion of the key last word and in the defensive posture the phrase puts his opponents. Why don’t you want to make America great again?
It even provoked competing slogans that further validate his. An African-American woman in New York made headlines by donning an “America Was Never Great” cap and some humorous immigrants in Southern California sport red “Make America Mexico Again” hats. Surely “Make America Great Again” runs circles around Hillary’s official “Stronger Together” slogan revealed this week as well as her longstanding unofficial subliminal slogan: “Vote for Me Because I Have a Vagina.”
If a celebrity mogul versus the president’s wife sounds like something out of a Ray Bradbury novel, that’s because it is — almost. Characters in Fahrenheit 451 praise the winning candidate for his height and good looks. “Kind of small and homely and he didn’t shave too close or comb his hair very well,” a woman says of the losing candidate, who also used big words, dressed shabbily, and sported an overweight physique.
Physiognomy factors less into this campaign. But in the superficial matters (He’s rich! She’s famous!) deemed, even subconsciously so, important by voters, life imitates art. In Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury presents such vapid people as the consequence of replacing books with screens. Our replacement of a medium that stimulates thought with media that anesthetize the mind helped create citizens unfit to govern themselves let alone to participate in governing 319 million people.
She owns her husband’s last name and he owns everything. They don’t represent us but their success reflects something in us.