The 2016 presidential election: an awakening and beyond the rhetoric

Written by Muleskinner Staff

By ROBYNN KUHLMANN
Guest Columnist

(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) — This has been a very busy election season for me. Along with teaching and research, I receive media inquiries. This means that I have to pay attention to developments in not only the presidential election, but also all of the statewide elections, ballot initiatives and issues stemming from those elections or emerging due to them. I need to be able to relate relevant research to trends journalists pick up as newsworthy. In that sense, this is the time of year that I become a pundit, applying the knowledge I have to political events because of my expertise.

This presidential election was quite the test. I have a lot of pride in being an objective observer. I do not inject personal feelings into something I would otherwise have the ability to quantify or discuss in the context of politics as a science (Yes, it is a science). Every once in a while I would be inspired to write a column, only to find myself in a rabbit-hole of never-ending developments that did not seem to end. One thing I can assuredly conclude is that this presidential election was one big headache. I am not kidding. It proves difficult to make sense of the convoluted, illogical, ill-informed and aggressive messaging that characterized this election. We, as responsible citizens, have some work to do regardless as to who will be the victor in this presidential election.

All of the unresolved issues that have plighted the United States have literally exploded in discourse and in practice. Income inequality, race relations and racism, misogyny, and xenophobic attitudes have finally come to a head in mainstream discourse. It has been ugly. We do live in uncertain times. To be sure, the world has become much more unstable since 9/11, but that should not stop citizens from seeking to solve these problems in ways that go beyond knee-jerk reactions. These elections are an opportunity to openly discuss issues that have been swept under the rug. Having meaningful problem-solving discussions, though, are contingent on knowledge, a good civic education, being critical, not engaging in follow-thy-leader politics and the ability to assess the veracity of news sources.

The institutions of the United States were set up so brilliantly that we have a very stable and long-lasting democratic-republic. I can see that my students and many Americans are having a hard time navigating the political system and understanding how to find verifiable information. People tend to be leery of what they do not know – which may be one factor as to why trust in government is at an all-time low. To add to that, while living in difficult times, it is easy to shift blame for when things go wrong by using the blunt instrument of party affiliation. I urge students not to do that – it is never the case that one person or one party is always right.

This election is odd. Symbolic and outright racism is apparent, campaign e-mails have been hacked and both candidates have low approval ratings. We also have a situation where one candidate (Trump) is threatening to jail his political opponent (Clinton) if he wins. If he loses, he may be unwilling to accept the results of the election. That type of rhetoric is destabilizing in itself.  Anyone with good civic knowledge understands that the American political system has a variety of checks and balances. It is sophisticated and stable. That rhetoric is also the political badge of authoritarian regimes. This is something Americans have fought hard to deter. Further, the rumor that voter fraud is widespread is just that, a rumor. That notion has been debunked by research conducted by political scientists.

One thing that is certain coming out of this election is that while the Democratic Party is not without controversy, the national Republican Party is certainly fractured. It will take a while for the Republican Party to put itself back together after this Presidential election. Luckily, we have the millennials – the largest generation – moving into the political scene. I have noticed that this generation is curious, less divisive, and wants to steadily and pragmatically navigate the political system to solve problems. Of all of the turmoil this generation is observing, I have hope that these issues will be resolved. Thomas Jefferson had written that “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing” – and really millennials – this rebellion is yours to lose. My advice is to seek to understand the difference between fact, opinion and punditry. Emotions are OK as long as they are rightfully informed. Otherwise, you are being cheated and cheating others in the process. The U.S. has some healing to do and I am looking forward to the process.

Robynn Kuhlmann is an assistant professor of political science and the state government internship coordinator at the University of Central Missouri.