The views from Princeton of Donald Trump and his election are interesting, but most of them generally repeat the sorts of observations we’ve been getting in the press and other media for some time. As a historian (not of the United States) and certainly no student of American politics, I wish that someone better schooled than I would try to answer the broader question: How do we explain the massive failure of the American political system that led to the election of 2016?
Here we had a long, painful, and expensive campaign lasting at least two years, yet which ultimately gave birth to a couple of candidates who, rightly or wrongly, many saw as among the most disliked and distrusted people on the political scene. What explains this extraordinary breakdown of our much-vaunted political system? Party structures and party leaderships? Citizens United? Inside the Beltway politics? Identity politics, Democratic and Republican both? Something else?
Perhaps others have engaged the question, and I’m just reading the wrong stuff. Or perhaps the nasty little secret is that the current occupant of the White House (when he can get away from Fifth Avenue and Palm Beach) has been a windfall for our analysts and opinion-makers in the media and elsewhere. A twittering mass of insecurities, he’s become the gift that keeps on giving, and our pundits are perhaps loath to interfere. (At my age, my first vote was cast for Adlai Stevenson ’22, and sometimes it seems that it’s all been downhill from there!)