Here we are, a month from the general elections, and to say that the country is in turmoil is by no means an overstatement. And, for the most part, it’s been centered around one thing — can Donald Trump really win? Answer: According to Nate Silver’s blog, FiveThirtyEight, that possibility is still sizeable (albeit nowhere near 50 percent), but diminishing. So, one could say that the numbers look good enough for the anti-Trumpers (myself included) to take a deep breath: If the polls hold as they do, the republic may yet survive.
But, while Trump looks like he might be on course to lose the election in November, there has already been a loser this election cycle:
The American people, who have lost an entire election cycle that could have been used to do anything else.
Question: Why does it matter?
Answer: It really doesn’t.
The only reason the matter came up was for Hillary Clinton to use said model, Alicia Machado, to make a point about what a bad guy Donald Trump is (which is already pushing the bounds of relevancy here). Trump, in response, brought forth (at an extraordinarily ungodly hour in the morning) the allegation that Machado was in a sex tape in order to damage her character and make Clinton’s original claim less valid (I can only assume this is the logic Trump was operating under). After this, the press then went out to fact-check this claim with all the grace and tact of an overexcited puppy on a sugar high, returning with confirmation that the girl in the porn video was not Machado. And the journalist who found this, I would assume, got a kick out of 1) finding the answer and 2) once again calling out Trump for a lie — and probably thinks they did a good thing.
Newsflash: They didn’t. In fact, this whole Alicia Machado fiasco is a waste of everyone’s time. To have the two presidential candidates clash on this as if it were a real issue is patently absurd — there is literally not a single American’s life (with the exception of Ms. Machado’s, I suppose) that would be affected in any way by whether or not the woman in the video is Machado — literally nothing could be less relevant to the health of the nation or the lives of the American people. Hillary Clinton brought up the matter as a cheap political ploy, meant to make Trump seem like an atrocious person and reduce his likeability in an attempt to win over votes.
But she could have attacked Trump on any number of legitimate grounds with regards to policy — after all, the man whose greatest policy idea is the wall is a bit of a target-rich environment.
But, again and again, we inevitably circle back to the ad hominem attacks against Trump.
And that brings us to the question of: What is this election even about?
One of the things I think both Bernie and Hillary supporters can appreciate about the Democratic primary this time around is the amazing amount of substantive policy debates that the two candidates were able to have, whether they were on healthcare or lowering the cost of college.
Unfortunately, this general election has turned out to be the opposite of that.
This time around, The New York Times has revealed that Trump used a $916 million loss in 1995 to avoid paying taxes, potentially until the present day. This is a far bigger bombshell than Romney’s returns (and Romney at least released his voluntarily). Yet, the responses seem largely concentrated on either shaming Trump for not paying taxes or belittling the so-called “successful businessman” for managing to lose a billion dollars in a year.
In comparison, relatively few people, Bernie Sanders aside, are talking about the massive inequalities in the tax system that allowed this to happen in the first place like they did in 2012.
And so, as we enter the last month of the campaign, the only real theme of this election appears to be that Trump is a bad person. Yes, this is a national election at a crucial juncture for this country and for the world. And yet, the election we get is not about anything that matters — it’s not about policy, not about solutions, not about the future. Instead, it’s a circus-like referendum on the character of a single individual where, no matter who wins, American democracy has already lost another precious four years.
Contact Terence Zhao at zhaoy ‘at’ stanford.edu.