Our National Angst Won’t Be Absolved on November 8
For anyone who is tired of the ugly mudslinging that has come to define the presidential election, Nancy Gibbs, editor of Time, has sobering news:
“As much as we want this race to be over, it’s just the beginning,” she said Wednesday at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in Laguna Niguel, Calif. “Nothing is going to end on Election Day.”
Speaking on a panel with MPW Summit chair Nina Easton, Gibbs said the drama, emotion, and unnerving precedents that have played out in the last few months aren’t just campaign issues. Instead, they are symptomatic of a nation in flux. This can be felt in everything from how the nominees communicate with supporters, to the topics that have come to define the election: immigration, trade, and the “debate over American values.”
Gibbs, who has now covered six campaigns, has watched the Internet’s role grow inconsequential to very important. But this time around, in an election where “Twitter rant” and “presidential candidate” have been used in the same sentence more than once, the rules have been rewritten. “The nature of communication — the channels of engagement — has been completely different,” Gibbs said. “And I think that’s one reason we’ve been so surprised day-in and day-out.”
Indeed, the unfiltered ability to speak directly to voters is a core tenet of the Trump campaign. “Surprise has been a strategy for Donald Trump — to keep people who typically have not been engaged in the political process engaged,” she said. “A lot of his strategy has been getting non-voters to vote.”
Who are these voters? A large percentage of Trump’s base consists of white voters without a college degree. According to Easton, Trump’s rise has brought “the plight of the white working class” to the forefront.
“Death rates have spiked among middle-aged whites without a college education,” she continued, a trend partially driven by rising levels of suicide, and addiction. “That’s astonishing in an industrial society — you have this class of people in this country who haven’t been examined or thought about before, but they are really in distress, both culturally, socially and economically. They have an agenda that is very much in opposition to the where the traditional business community has been in the Republican Party, the business community that wants immigration, free trade, and globalization.”
While particularly damaging for the Republican Party, this rift has repercussions for the entire country. “This is a very inward, anxious population that’s with us regardless of who wins this election,” said Easton.
And it’s not just working class white voters who are deeply dissatisfied. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are “the two most unpopular candidates ever, in the most watched race ever,” said Gibbs. There’s a pervading sense that “our institutions are not working.”
While Gibbs is ultimately hopeful that policymakers, particularly at the local level, will find “new solutions and new approaches to governance,” right now “there is a bipartisan spirit of discouragement.”
And unfortunately, it will take more than an election to change that.