Hillary Clinton may be the luckiest person in the world; certainly in presidential politics. No presidential nominee of any major Party has ever entered an election with lower “likability” ratings than Hillary Clinton; except for one, Donald Trump. No presidential nominee of any major Party has ever entered an election with a longer list questionable and seemingly corrupt activities than Hillary Clinton; except for one, Donald Trump. No presidential nominee of any major Party has ever entered an election under an active investigation for possible illegal actions, except for Hillary Clinton; not even Trump.
And yet, despite carrying around 30 years of scuffed-up political baggage and the rotting stench of a landfill full of political scandal that has made Hillary possibly the most distrusted and disliked candidate in presidential election history, as of now, it appears likely that she will be elected as the next president.
What’s going on here?
Hillary is not even all that popular with traditional Democratic voters. The Democratic primaries were intended to be a parade to her coronation, but instead they turned into a slogging slug-fest against a little-known 74 year old admitted Socialist. In the end it was the system not sentiment that gave Hillary the nomination. Makes you wonder how lucky Hillary is that Joe Biden was unwilling to take her and the system on in the primaries.
In the meantime, political neophyte Donald Trump using bluster, insults, grandiose promises and racist fear-mongering was improbably bulldozing through 16 other Republican candidates to (presumptively) secure the Republican nomination. Clinton is lucky that Trump took the Republican nomination, because he is probably the only candidate the Republicans could nominate that she could beat in the election. While Hillary is loathed by many, the prospect of a Trump presidency is terrifying to even more.
The story goes deeper than Hillary and Trump
Aside from the obvious deficiencies of Trump and Clinton, there is something deeper impacting this election that makes it even more difficult to pick a winner.
Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders offer forensic evidence that American voters – of both Parties – are dissatisfied, frustrated and angry with the status quo of the establishment political system. If that were not the case, Trump would have lasted about a month and Sanders would have remained an unknown Socialist senator from Vermont. The electorate has indicated, in no uncertain terms, that they want change; and are so desperate for it they will support one totally ill-prepared candidate and a Socialist.
In effect, Trump has been anointed as a “change agent” in this election, while Hillary embraces a continuation of the status quo. Under normal circumstances, when the voters have the attitude of “throw the bums out,” as a change agent, Trump would have an easy path to victory; especially considering how unpopular Clinton is personally. But these are not normal circumstances.
Trump is not your prototypical change agent who presents a clearly defined and understandable vision of change. He does not have a history of persistent and consistent opposition to the status quo and, most important for a change agent, he has not been able to build a consensus of trust among voters that he is doing the right thing, the right way. Under normal circumstances it would be difficult to see Trump as an effective change agent, but these are not normal circumstances.
Change to believe in …
The concept of change is complicated and is often seen as both friend and foe. Those most frustrated with the status quo are the most vociferous in calling for change, but for some strange reason, they are often the most likely to resist change when it is presented. Maybe it is the like the old idiom, “better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t.” This feeling is akin to the actions of an abused spouse who desperately seeks to change the situation, but fears what a change would mean for the future. As a result, there is often a willingness to accept the abuse, based on the false hope that the environment will change on its own.
Real change only comes about when people fear the status quo more than they fear the unknown of change. This axiom was effectively demonstrated in the recent “Brexit” vote in the United Kingdom. A slim majority of British voters were so fearful of their future in the European Union, they were willing to vote for a totally unknown future.
Trump has the opportunity to be a true change agent for the political system. As much as the idea of political change in this country is appealing and exciting (and needed), the reality of change is unsettling and scary; even for those who clamor for change. In the end, people are willing to embrace real change, only when they have justified trust in the leader who is leading them into the unknown. Earning the trust of the average voter (who does want change) by demonstrating that he is about the right change in the right way, is a bridge that Trump has not yet crossed.
Sure, Trump has the blind trust of his core voters, but they are not the majority of voters. Trump has a unique generational opportunity (just as Ronald Reagan did) to be a positive agent for change, but to do so he must earn the trust of voters. However, earning this trust is not accomplished with bluster, fear-mongering and demagoguery. If Trump fails to pass this test of trust, he will fail and so will the hope for change.
What is ironic (sad) in this situation is that at a time when people are crying out for change, but fearing that they can’t trust the unknown of change presented by Trump, they likely may elect the very person they distrust and dislike the most and she will bring about the least change in the system.