The Crisis of Consensus: Reflections on the US Election
On 1 November 2016, APCO’s Washington DC experts shared their insights about the US Election. This post captures my reflections from the event.
We are familiar with the rhetoric that the 2016 presidential election has changed American politics. An anecdote by Secretary Dan Glickman, one of our speakers at APCO’s US Presidential election briefing in London, was perhaps illustrative of this change.
In 1960, the country witnessed its first televised presidential debate between and Nixon and Kennedy. Set against an economic recession and the rising Cold War tensions, nerves ran high, not unlike the situation today. Yet, the first question posed to the candidates was regarding their agricultural policy.
As the former Secretary of State for Agriculture, Mr. Glickman’s narration of this story was ironic. But the underlying message was clear: America is moving away from a consensus-oriented and policy-driven discourse to a divisive and conflict-oriented one.
A divisive political discourse is of course a phenomenon that the audience can identify with, where Brexit is symptomatic of a similar change in the system. Lisa Ross, APCO’s Managing Director in Washington DC, who moderated the discussion, described these parallels as a ‘cultural revolution’ that both countries are experiencing.
Uncertainty is central to this cultural revolution. As Dan Scandling, who represented the Republican side pointed out, a few months ago we were unwilling to accept the possibility of Trump becoming the presidential nominee. Today, we are unsure of what to expect if he comes to power, given that he has denied conventional wisdom at every step of the way.
With a week until the results are announced, the pertinent question is of course, what next, and more importantly, are we prepared to deal with the verdict? Of course, the most pertinent questions are the most difficult to answer, which justified the time our panelists spent reflecting on how we got here, rather than what lies ahead.
However, if one were to extrapolate the future implications from the interaction with our colleagues in DC, then these are a few factors worth considering.
While the world has been watching the presidential election with bated breath, the down-ticket races are often overlooked. These elections are equally important considering that the Congress comprises the legislative branch, which is an integral part of Government. While the current investigations against Clinton may boost Trump’s campaign, it is unlikely that they will help him to win. However, their impact on the down-ticket races could be significant, as it is likely to encourage more wayward Republicans to go out and vote for their Senators and Congressmen.
A Clinton Presidency and a Republican House could be a dangerous recipe for political gridlock. While there are opportunities through which the administration can pass executive orders to bypass the legislature, consensus is ultimately the key for the polity to function smoothly. As Secretary Glickman pointed out, consensus requires trust in the system and strong leadership. Is either candidate capable of exercising this leadership?
Yet, amidst an increasingly cynical environment there may be a space for optimism. Whichever candidate wins has significant challenges ahead of him or her. However, perhaps this also presents an opportunity for redemption, by addressing these challenges and moving forward.
In a week from now, the impact of the 2016 presidential election on American politics will start to become a tangible reality. While most are in agreement that it will change politics, one can only hope that it shakes up, rather than breaks up the system.