So here’s an interesting question: Is the public more engaged on issues because of the quality of the campaigns, the debates, the issues being discussed?
Based on the content of topics in the news, I am hard pressed to conclude that the issues are being well served by anyone’s campaign, the debates, or what the media finds most deserving of its responsibility to present to the public. This isn’t to say that they are entertaining us, but it’s supposed to be the news not entertainment.
This isn’t unique to the 2016 election, the disingenuous style of political campaigns isn’t new but perhaps the extent and concerted efforts by parties, candidates and campaigns to adhere to and placate the extreme wings of their constituents is reaching the dysfunctional level. Add to this that no candidate or party have sound, reasoned and effective approaches or policies to deal with national issues and the net result is that we have the American equivalent of our candidate Nero(s) “fiddling while Rome burns”.
The source and cause of America’s political dysfunction isn’t of course principally with the candidates, it’s with the voters (including the ones who don’t). The reason is that the candidates and their parties can’t succeed without the complicity of the public allowing and even abetting the spectacle over the substance. It is this convoluting of emotional appeal in place of rationality that in part explains the rise in the “anti-candidacies” (those politicians who aren’t the same-old party hacks) that have a popular appeal. The appeal is satisfying, visceral and even communal. It’s politics as sport; the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ only one team can win view of the nation. The ‘traditional’ politicians even strive to garner that tribal susceptibility.
What does it mean to be an ‘anti-candidate’? It’s to be an ‘outsider’, a ‘pure’ this or that, a non-establishment partisan, and/or a ‘true-believer’. The benefits to being an anti-candidate is that you are already not something that the public hates, despises and sees as being the ultimate source of all the nation’s ills: Yes, a politician. Being an anti-candidate is a proclamation that you are not one of those scum that your supporters otherwise would object to.
The surprising aspect of being an anti-candidate is that they are appealing to the voters as not the people that these voters have so often elected in the past. The voters don’t seem to see the schizophrenic nature of electing a politician and then wanting someone who isn’t at all like the ones they just elected to replace them because they don’t like the results. Presumably the voters are applying a political version of the gambler’s fallacy. So if the voters just play another round they will definitely win because they have lost so many time before and are not due to get a ‘good’ politician. The notion that the voters themselves are choosing candidates that produce the unacceptable, inept, and damaging policies isn’t seen as the ‘original’ sin. Failing to see their own culpability the public is unlikely to comprehend that “the fault, dear ‘voter’, lies not in the ‘candidates’ but in ourselves”.
In this context, the ‘Trump-effect’ is a measure of how disassociated the voters can be with substance of a candidate versus the simple sensation itself a candidate creates. The Trump-effect presents itself across a variety of dimensions but in each the value and quality fails to present itself. Consider the value and quality that is derived from:
“He says what he thinks.” The implication is that he is being honest and not simply ‘politically correct’. Of course, saying what you think can be many things besides this, and there is no proof or validation that what is said is honest or in fact politically incorrect. Perhaps what is said prompts discussion, but then perhaps it just petrifies positions on an issue since what is said doesn’t contribute to a discussion, to an explanation of the reasoning that justifies the statement(s), or to a comprehension of what the issue is and what the impacts of any proposed policy would be. Is saying what you think good just because it is thought? Fools think what they say is good to the same degree that an actual intelligent person does. People who believe in their position on Climate Change think what they say is good, informed, reasoned, and correct; however, at the end both sides cannot be right. Saying what you think isn’t a sufficient condition to establish any merit in your position.
Then there’s celebrity, a trait that usually is detrimental to a candidate but it isn’t always so Trump isn’t the first celebrity candidate. But again what is the value or the virtue of celebrity in an anti-candidate being celebrity? Does celebrity prove or even demonstrate intelligence, wisdom, judgment, leadership, integrity, a sense of public/civic duty, or other admirable qualities that one would want in an elected official? Many celebrities are the epitome of the exact opposite of what voters would define as qualities that they seek in representatives. Just being well-known doesn’t attest to the abilities required to perform as national leader, or even a state leader.
In the current case, being a consistent and steadfast individual regarding core issues seems to be an asymmetric requirement. An anti-candidate can be a “Flip-Flopper” who has changed their stance on issues one or more times while other candidates from the same party would be disqualified if they were to ‘flip-flop’ or had ‘flip-flopped’ in the past. How the same voters who castigated previous politicians for what is now nothing to be concerned about doesn’t explain what changed about the quality of the candidate unless the issue was never important to begin with.
Finally, like other facets of an anti-politician, the concern over special interests’ having too much political influence is asymmetric. Claiming to be untainted by special interests is a claim but as all prospectuses note the claims made ‘based on past performance is no guarantee about future performance’. The claim isn’t necessarily accurate either. What constitutes a ‘special interest’ condition of influence, and thus how can voters know that none exists? Plus, since much of our political influence comes from political action committees and lobbying entities, the assertion that an anti-candidate is somehow free from or ‘pure’ of influence is a dubious claim. There is an asymmetry that isn’t absent in this situation that doesn’t seem to have occurred to others. If you have been a contributor to campaigns in the past, how exactly would you be clean of political influence? Perhaps if considered in a more fundamental context of the current political environment which has to exist for an anti-candidate to be possible there must exist the value and quality of having been a contributor to produce in fact a precursor cause to the dissatisfaction that the public has with politicians and with imbalanced and self-serving political influence.
That brings us to the salient question. Why do the voters attend to the spectacle and the entertainment and so ardently avoid the issues? Being an insider or outsider is only important if it brings with it a difference in what the public policies and approaches to government will be. Making an impact there requires that those policies are clearly stated, presented in contrast to that of one’s opponents, and explained in the context of how they will be delivered. And when those policies and approaches fail in being delivered and don’t produce the results “promised”, as they so often do, a candidate needs to be forthcoming with what their plan is for what corrective actions and changes will be made to undo the errors in policies that were advocated by said same candidate.
The voters should take heed of an American truth: “You get what you pay for.”; but more importantly voters ought to be equally concerned that “You pay for what you get.”