For most college students, this year’s presidential election holds a lot of significance being that it’s the first one that they’ll be able to vote in. Unfortunately, a lot of students, along with other voters, are dreading going to the polls. Some feel that this election has morphed from being a democratic process into a sideshow spectacle.
Dr. Thomas Carty, a professor here at Springfield College who teaches a range of history classes including a White House, First Ladies, and Presidential Elections class, shared his own insights regarding this year’s peculiar election and the negative reactions it’s been stirring up. Carty was spoken to prior to the most recent presidential debate.
When asked if he could sum up the election in one word, Dr. Carty chose “unprecedented,” a word that seems to be the go-to phrase this year. While he follows up his choice with, “it’s always dangerous for a historian to say ‘unprecedented’ because we have a lot of knowledge of past events,” there are so many aspects of this race that justify it. For one thing, Hillary Clinton is the first woman to be named as the nominee for a major political party. For another thing, Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, has never held a position in government before.
Dr. Carty cited another aspect of this election that makes it stand out from ones of the past. “From what I’ve heard, these are the most negative ratings ever in the history of public polling data,” he noted.
The Washington Times backs up this observation, stating, “The negative views of the two candidates at this stage are unprecedented. Mr. Trump garnered a 58 percent unfavorable rating and Mrs. Clinton had a 56 percent unfavorable rating in a Fox News poll last week. Those numbers …mark the lowest favorability for a pair of presumptive nominees since at least the 1980s.” And of course, there goes that word again. Unprecedented.
It’s no secret why these two nominees are viewed so negatively. Both of their campaigns have been clouded by controversy, from Donald Trump’s late night tweeting and insult slinging to Hillary Clinton’s alleged illegal conduct and flip flopping on issues.
Dr. Carty spoke on this, explaining that although Trump has found support amongst “people who believe they’re outside of the political process, who are looking for an outsider to solve problems, […] his great failure is that he is unable to focus on the issues and he’s spending most of his time explaining or defending his personal statements and actions.” Regarding Clinton and her scandal-filled campaign, Dr. Carty remarked that “because the Clinton Foundation has accepted donations from foreign leaders and wealthy people, there are lot of questions as to whether she may owe favors to those people. In addition to that, she deleted emails that really belonged to the government and the People.” It’s no wonder that the American people are finding Trump and Clinton hard to like and even harder to trust.
The issues surrounding the two candidates have had repercussions that go further than just their ratings in national polls. A quick search on Google will pull up no shortage of results, a glance over at newspaper stands will no doubt reveal an abundance of snappy headlines about this election, and these candidates have consistently been trending on social media for all the wrong reasons.
As Carty put it, “there seems to be a lot of public participation and in some ways it’s good sign of democracy. But more and more I’ve come around to seeing the negative side of this. There’s more and more cynicism and negativity about politics.”
People are participating and people are talking, but their participation isn’t based on the good things they think that a candidate will do. More often than not, it’s based on the squabbles and spats that have become a hallmark of this election season. Trump and Clinton have only been fueling this fire of pessimism. As Dr. Carty noted, they’ve both been focused on “attacking each other and not so much on policy, but on their personal history or their allegations of corruption or on statements they’ve made. The goal of both candidates seems to be to focus the attention on the other candidate.” Not only does this increase the cynicism that voters are feeling, but it also means that no one is talking about the issues facing this country.
People who will be voting this year, particularly college students, feel as though they’ve been caught between a rock and a hard place. Carty himself could relate to this feeling, but in an effort to remain positive, he said that he’s come to terms with the feeling by focusing on the fact that in four years we get to try again. And while many worry about the four years between then and now, Dr. Carty points out that the power of the President is actually very limited.
“The President can’t just snap his or her fingers and make things happen,” he says. “The President is not the be all and end all.” So it’s fairly safe to say that no matter who wins the election, World War III is not inevitable.
“There’s a lot of good things happening in other parts of the world and sometimes we get so focused on the United States that we think the only important decisions are being made here,” Dr. Carty said. “So I think this election will come and go and the same problems will still be there and we as individuals have to looks for solutions to those problems.” In short, this election is not the end of the world. The best thing to do is to remain positive, grab some buttered popcorn, and stay tuned.