US Election: Looking On In Disbelief

Perhaps the only thing uniting the electorate of the United States in the last days before our presidential election is a sort of bemused disbelief at where we are and how we got here.

Presidential candidates on (unmarked!) US ballot.

Presidential candidates on (unmarked!) US ballot.

Calls for imprisoning political opponents, refusals to accept election results, and unabashed jingoism are actions Americans associate with distant, undeveloped or false democracies—those lacking America’s implacable founding principles.

Yet all are so common in the Trump campaign that they have essentially become slogans. And as they ring out from the pulpits, trailer parks, shuttered factories and man caves of mostly white America, Democrats repose in their lofts, lecture halls, ghettos and in ivory-buttressed certainty that it is all merely the prattle of the uneducated and hateful. But the wholesale dismissal of Trump supporters as stupid, bigoted philistines seems a similar type of blanket judgment.

It is a common statement from both Republicans and Democrats that they cannot believe that Donald Trump has come as far as he has in this election, so let’s look at some of the reasons why he indeed has.


Fair Warning

Trump was written off by the GOP establishment as a sideshow, whose political pedigree was established by spearheading the ‘Birther’ movement and legitimized by his fame as an entertainer synonymous with ostentatious wealth. But the Republican establishment has become ever more dependent on a power base at odds with demographics (particularly race and age) and social norms—a dependence amplified by the media echo chamber. Republicans found their very own network in Fox News. They failed to see the consequences of keeping their base incensed and paranoid in order to bring them to the polls to vote Red. Yet they had fair warning before the rise of Trump.

An angry fringe of conservative, anti-tax, anti-government, Tea Party candidates swept the 2010 midterm elections with many establishment candidates losing to these harder right votes. Yet the GOP higher ups saw only power and remained insouciant (unless directly challenged in their own seats) as they continued to stoke the Fox News fires. Words such as ‘compromise’ and ‘compassion’ became anathema under Obama’s presidency, as the GOP establishment goals remained short term and singularly obstructionist.

This is exemplified by their refusal to nominate a ninth supreme court justice, which would allow the third branch of American checks and balances to fully function. Yet, as polls look increasingly strong for Hillary Clinton, there is already talk of continuing this refusal, which has already gone on for the better part of a year. The GOP legislature is essentially holding the judiciary hostage by refusing to allow the Democratic executive, in the form of President Obama and likely soon Clinton, to perform the executive duty of keeping the Supreme Court at its constitutionally mandated bench of nine. This is unprecedented in history, but the GOP knows that the court will very likely swing toward the liberal side for the first time in a generation.

And so it seems that doubt, uncertainty, and disbelief will not disperse on November 9th, but will become as entrenched as the swamps upon which Washington D.C. was built.



While some Trump supporters doubt the power of their own votes, they will—or have—cast them for him, feeling they have nowhere else to turn. Was the GOP’s complete rejection of compromise and grace in governance, coupled with its unscrupulous embrace of conjecture, fear and conspiracy-based media the harnessed lightning that animated the Trump monster? Perhaps, but even Dr. Frankenstein had his Igor.

Have the choices and policies of the Democratic platform played a role in creating Trump? If Democrats are so certain of their ability to empower and help the lower classes, why have they been unable to communicate or enact it in such a way as to move states like Ohio?

Do the Democrats need to recognize something in the ‘Build a Wall’ movement in order to enact immigration reform? Is there something to recognize?

And what of Hillary the hated candidate versus Hillary the respected office holder? Does Clinton’s being well regarded by her former GOP senate colleagues represent a space for accomplishing something?

Donald Trump faces a fraud trial in November, a civil hearing on allegations of child rape in December and over 70 other pending lawsuits, and yet the national discourse is once again focusing on emails Hillary Clinton did not send. Does that mean misogyny is itself on trial? Is that a sign that misogyny is winning?

The exhausted electorate of the United States looks to November 8th with the hope that its 56th presidential election will end, as it must, in the peaceful transition of power. We may not be the oldest, largest or purest democracy in the world, but we are one of the loudest and most diverse—self-proclaimed sentinels of Western ideals and conceptions of liberty. Has the vitriolic, divisive political rhetoric of 21st century America shaken us to our core? Are we facing an existential crisis of fundamental practice and belief? Will the election of the first female president in American history—still the most likely outcome of this contest—arrive without guild or pomp, attended instead by anger and discord?

The energetic, optimistic and open Red, White and Blue has become pallid with cynicism, and it makes one wonder what this fraught election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump has really done to us, as lines of division shatter outward from it as from a bullet through glass.


Shay V. Carlstrom


Born in Walden, North Park, Colorado, Shay V. Carlstrom is an educator and writer living in Denver.




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Featured photo: Donald Trump by Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons