I’m like a lot of Americans. I’m dead tired of the 2016 presidential election, but I still find myself scrolling through social media feeds, reading and watching news coverage, and sharing opinions with friends and family. I’m sick of the election but also realize its importance. The time for choosing is upon us, voting has begun and, within a week, we will select our new president.
He or she will inherit a seriously divided country, a so-so economy and a confrontational Congress. Even worse, the president-elect will enter the Oval Office in January with a gaping wound. Yes, that’s right, the United States of America, the land of the free and home of the brave, has a rotten, stinky and infected wound. We won’t reclaim our leadership in the world until we stop the bleeding, stitch it up, bandage it and give it time to heal.
How did we get here? Where did we go wrong? What do we do next? Who can help us heal?
I’ve distilled this election down into two quotes. The first citation makes the case for Donald Trump, the second one for Hillary Clinton or someone else. Both quotes capture an important aspect of wounded America.
First we turn to The New York Times. Columnist Roger Cohen said this:
“Trump is telling people something is rotten in the state of America. The message resonates because the rot is there.”
Rot is a strong word, but let’s be honest — decay exists in America. The global economy has left many workers behind. Many lack the skills to compete in the information age and struggle to feed their families. They need more training and an optimized social safety net. They need someone to speak truth to power. Many have selected Donald Trump to be this man.
There’s also rot in Washington, D.C. This rot has given us a $14 trillion debt held by the public. It gave us the downgrading of our nation’s credit worthiness. It gave us nearly seven months of bickering about funding to fight the spread of the Zika virus … never mind that we are talking about birth defects. It has given us a Congress that kicks the cans of entitlement, tax and immigration reform down the road. The cans have piled up. They’re rotting. They stink. The establishment on both sides of the aisle has failed.
The second quote takes on Trump and shines a light on the much broader issue of simple-minded populism at its best and protectionism, isolationism, xenophobia and hate speech at its worst.
Speaking about Trump, conservative George Will said this:
“He has an advantage on me. He can say everything he knows about any subject in 140 characters, and I can't.”
Will, of course, is referring to the 140-character limit of a tweet. Instead of real substance, we get a bunch of emotion-laden headlines, half-truths or outright lies about President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, vaccinations and autism, marital infidelity, rigged elections and demeaning remarks toward women. Presidential candidates who use the word “bimbo” in a tweet lose my vote.
So the rot is real, but the disrupter is not. Rot won’t go away because of the leadership of the past or the lies and laughs of the present. We can only stop the decaying process with informed policies, true leadership and personal effort.
Our large, bloody and infected wound needs political medicine. But what is it? What will heal our political sickness? For this we turn to one more quote.
Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens reminds us that Trump and Clinton are a reflection of us. He said this:
“It takes the demos to make the demagogue.”
A demagogue is a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than reasoned argument. Step one in our healing process is to hold up a mirror to our own personal conduct. We must take responsibility and action for our country. The responsibility is ours, more than our leaders. To bind America’s wounds we must start with ourselves.
Natalie Gochnour is an associate dean in the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah and chief economist for the Salt Lake Chamber.