Interning in D.C. has been a dream come true, but working in D.C. during the election has been a nightmare. For the political die-hards, watching the sanctity of a presidential election devolve from an elevated C-SPAN program to “Jersey Shore” has been tough. Making sense of it has been even tougher. To help make sense of the chaos, I asked the politics fanatics who know D.C. best what they’re thinking.
If anyone knows American politics, it’s E.J. Dionne Jr., who is a senior fellow of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, the top think tank in America. He’s also a former reporter for the New York Times, current columnist for the Washington Post and frequent guest to NPR, MSNBC and ABC’s “This Week.”
How did this election get so nasty? When I asked E.J., he told me the nastiness in this election is simple… it’s Donald Trump.
“I do not think it’s a partisan statement to say that Donald Trump is the principal cause of the nastiness, simply because he operates at a level that no other candidate has in the past. There would have been a certain level of nastiness anyway, partly because the Republicans have never liked the Clintons. But no one I can think of would have been as comprehensively hostile to his opponents – in his own party as well as outside it – in the way Trump has,” said Dionne Jr.
Trump is not the only person being hostile. Both Clinton and Trump supporters have thrown cordiality to the curb this election. Carlos Lozada, the nonfiction book critic for the Washington Post, saw this first-hand when a book review of his went viral. Lozada told me he checked his phone one day to see a barrage of angry tweets and messages about some “Trump campaign email” he was a part of. Turns out, his review of Clinton and Kaine’s joint book-endeavour was included in a Trump fundraising email.
“It was deeply weird. There was an automatic assumption among a vocal group of readers that my tough review of the Clinton/Kaine book meant I was automatically a Trump supporter or a Clinton hater. It is also a reminder that readers sometimes attempt to define you by a single piece of writing rather than a body of work,” said Lozada.
Words can often be misconstrued, but numbers don’t lie, right? To help answer this, I called Ken Goldstein, an expert in political polling and director of the USF in D.C. program. While the rest of the nation was waiting to see if Bush or Gore had won in the year 2000, Ken was on the ABC election night decision team helping announce the call.
“You have this sort of weird world where people believed the polls on one side and didn’t believe the polls on the other side,” Goldstein said. “All the objective measures showed Trump doing better in the Republican primary than Hillary was doing in the Democratic primary. And everyone was 100 percent sure that Clinton would win and 100 percent sure that Trump would lose.”
Our issue isn’t that the polls didn’t see Trump coming. It’s that we refused to believe them.
It’s 2016 and we’re all thrown into this inexplicable storm of tweets, pictures, numbers, videos — it’s hard to explain. Even those tasked with the job of making sense of it all are stunned by this election.
So maybe we need to take a break from trying. Instead of glueing ourselves to the TV for the newest episode of Election 2016, maybe we need to turn off the TV altogether. Let’s take a step back and ask ourselves as Americans, what does our fascination with the drama say about us? And what can we do to change it?
Photo Credit: Paul Morigi/ The Brookings Institute