Almost two years after Donald Trump was elected, the pundits are still offering their opinions as to what the political class learned from that day in November 2016. While raw election data can often produce interesting analyses, there is one simple fact that is usually forgotten after being buried in exit polling and party spin: The Founding Fathers designed our elections to be unifying events that give citizens the opportunity to control the course of their government. Unfortunately, we may be living in an age where this is no longer true.
While we like to think of our elected leaders as representing our individual interests, the truth is they don’t. Every governor congressman, senator, mayor, or county commissioner represents thousands of individuals whom collectively have hundreds of diverse interests. These voters are broken into voting blocks that believe, or behave, in competing ways. Within each group, there are most likely many sub-groups that have their own agendas. The end result is a fragmented puzzle. That puzzle, when it’s linked together, represents our government. Every few years, elections are held in an attempt to put the puzzle back together again. The problem is that less than half of all eligible voters choose to vote, and in every office except the presidency, the candidate that gets a majority wins. So, in actuality, roughly thirty-five to forty-five percent of the nation’s puzzle pieces fit together after any given election. This means that sixty to seventy percent of the puzzle doesn’t get “put together” into a unified, cohesive form.
Now, it used to be that politically fragmented groups never had an opportunity to communicate with each other after their candidates were defeated, and this kept them politically weak. They would watch Walter Cronkite report the results, see the cheering crowds (from the winners’ campaigns of course) and come to the conclusion that they are out of sorts with mainstream America. Thus, the people who loved candidate X for his stance on the importation of bat dung never had the means to know that even though their guy lost the election, there was a sizable block of likeminded bat dung lovers spread across the nation in other voting districts.
Flash forward to today. In an age where the tools of communication, and a pathetically sensationalized media, allow our association of dung lovers to find each other and form national action plans, things start getting a little dicey. The fact that minority groups (not racial but political) now feel enabled by the presence of like-minded people across vast geographic areas gives them the perception that their belief system is strong and reasonable, and if they can just keep stirring the pot until the next election, they can put a stop to the chicanery going on at the state house, or in Washington. This has allowed groups to self-identify more with their causes and beliefs rather than with their parties, communities, states, and even their nation.
The end result is that our national puzzle may never be able to be put back together again. Does this mean the ruin of the United States? Absolutely not. A lone, Denzel Washington character walking down a ruined, marauder-infested highway is not in our future. It just means that, barring some nationally unifying event, our political system will always be under constant pressure, and our elections may be volatile.
The American democratic puzzle may never be the same. Many leaders have picked up on the new dynamics and some have leveraged Internet-savy skills to produce impressive political victories. But a digital mob’s only loyalty is to its foundational belief system, not elected officials who claim to represent those beliefs. Equivocation and rational compromise based on real-politik will not win elected officials any admiration. The Internet enables voters to focus with singularity. Hyper-reactive single-minded voting blocks are here to stay. This probably means that our system of government will never be the same.