This summer Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton accepted their respective parties’ nominations: Trump amid a scandal over his wife’s plagiarized speech, and Clinton amid a scandal over DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz playing favorites during the election. The bumper sticker wars have already begun: features include “Make America Racist Again” and “Hillary for Prison 2016.” It appears the candidates are set for mutually assured destruction. Can our political system ever recover?
I’m more immediately concerned, however, about losing my twenty dollars, something that in this case I would gladly welcome. In late May when it became clear that Trump and Clinton would go head-to-head with their respective arsenals of lies and scandals, I decided to try to make the best of what I saw as a complete catastrophe by making a bet. I called my dad and arranged the terms: if Trump won the general election in November, my dad would have to put twenty dollars into our family coin jar, but if Clinton won, I would have to do so.
The terms of the bet laid out, I watched as Trump plummeted in the polls, thinking to myself, “Thank goodness I’m going to lose.” It must be clear by now that I prefer Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump, even if I would prefer the contest be between an eggplant and a rotten peach.
The next month brought further shame to America: Trump’s self-congratulatory reaction to the Orlando massacre, the FBI’s decision not to indict Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders’ half-hearted endorsement of Clinton at their joint rally in New Hampshire, Trump’s illegal use of Queen’s “We Are the Champions” at the Republican Convention, and so much more. The American political sandstorm seemed to sting the eyes and very being of everyone looking on, and a simple bet had turned into a Doomsday Bet.
By July, I was confident that I would lose the bet. Soon, however, Trump’s numbers rebounded, and a joint CNN and Opinion Research Center poll (July 25th) showed him pulling ahead of Clinton for the first time by 3 percentage points. A CBS poll from the same date showed Trump with a 1 percent lead. The lead in both polls, thankfully, was still within the margin of error, 3.5 and 4 percent respectively. Even with that consolation, though, the possibility of a Trump presidency seemed like it might actually become (frightening) reality.
With the resignation of DNC Chair Schultz, American perceptions of the Democratic Party became more unfavorable, though cross-demographic support still favored Democrats more heavily than Republicans, who, by this point, had almost completely lost the Hispanic vote and were not doing well at all with Black voters. The tailspin of our democracy continued. Toward the ocean? No, toward a volcano.
So we plunge downward, into the very, very fickle unknown, where one day the electorate will declare en masse against one candidate– rather than voting for one. Will we have a reckless demagogue next January, or a selfish criminal? The warheads are mid-flight, and the fate of our democracy will soon be decided. When it is I sure hope I’ve lost twenty dollars.