Beyond choosing next president, election also about us

Gone is the talk of “open” presidential nominating conventions or arguments about “open” primaries, which allow independents to vote in partisan elections.

The parties seem to have made their choices, closing a lot of open mouths.

What remain “open” are the November election and the temper of American voters. Because, aside from the forecasts by overrated and underperforming pundits, the outcome is truly an “open” question.

Uncertainty results from the surprising takeover of the Republican nomination process by Donald Trump, one of the most unconventional candidates in recent America history. He has exploited public unhappiness with the current political system.

Questions remain to be settled before the election. Will the GOP and Trump make peace or at least a truce? Will there be a third party, conservative or moderate, to provide shelter to traditional Republicans? Will the Libertarian Party offer an alternative? Will some Republicans support Hillary Clinton?

The Republican Party has problems. Traditional pro-business, anti-government, strong military Republicans have been losing ground to doctrinaire conservatives with different interests: no gun control, no same-sex marriage, few or no abortions and certainly no Affordable Care Act.

Trump seems to represent people who believe the entire system is failing and even corrupt. To them, what makes Trump attractive is his never having held elective office. He doesn’t talk like a politician. His appeal is based more on his style than on where he stands on issues dividing the GOP.

When analysts say that Trump has no chance of winning, they really are saying there is not a large enough constituency in the general electorate willing to support an inflammatory and apparently racist candidate. But could his anti-establishment aura override concern about his excesses?

The Republican Party, in business since 1856, is part of the American political establishment. Already divided, the traditional party runs the risk of disappearing. Given its divisions, Trump’s supporters may represent a constituency using its mechanisms not to make it either traditional or conservative, but revolutionary.

The GOP may have made matters worse by trying to be an exclusive club. It has worked hard to reduce voting access for minorities. That party attitude legitimizes Trump’s views on immigrants.

Before going too far with Trump’s effect, it’s worth remembering he has won about 11 million votes until now. In 2012, Mitt Romney, the GOP candidate, got 60.9 million votes and the total of the two major parties was 126.8 million.

Whatever his ultimate strength, Trump does reflect the political unhappiness of a block of voters. They believe candidates lie to them and that the answers are less complicated than the politicians say. They are ready to reject candidates who cannot give them simple answers to what they see as simple problems.

Voters want to be lied to. They want candidates who make big promises. No matter the candidate will have to deal with Congress or that issues are complicated. But when a candidate becomes president, he or she must be more realistic than when campaigning. That’s when it looks like they have been lying.

If the promises are simple and sweeping enough, yet cannot be kept for practical reasons, voters can finally lose trust not only in politicians but in government itself. The Trump candidacy, if he holds onto the nomination, implies there is now a large body of voters who have lost trust in government.

The book “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” marveled at the way average voters oppose their own self-interest by supporting GOP policies favoring the wealthy. Perhaps Trump has now caught the attention of these voters.

Look at the difference in the electorate between 2000 and 2016. Then, the popular vote for president was displaced by a court that made the decision by one vote, and the voters accepted the result without violent protest. Now, the Trump rejectionists are truly angry, and they are willing to rough up their opponents.

In effect, the country now has four political groups. Liberals and conservatives have long been with us. Moderates exist, but their numbers seem to dwindle. Add to that the rejectionists, Trump supporters who call into question the effectiveness of the traditional governmental system itself. If these groups cannot compromise, then what?

This year’s election may force Americans to take stock of their support for a system of government many have come to believe yields them nothing while the wealthy and the politicians prosper. That’s what vocal Trump supporters say.

The November election will tell us the identity of the next president. Perhaps more importantly, it may tell us who we are.

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil is a former local, state, national and international organization official. He is an author and newspaper columnist.