No matter which candidate wins tonight’s presidential election, the American people have already lost. This isn’t because both Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump are poor choices; as I have written before, I think Secretary Clinton would make an excellent president. Rather, the American people are losing because we’ve lost the ability to communicate with each other
It is easier than ever today to entomb oneself in an echo chamber. Schools today are more homogeneous than ever, social media allows for the selective consumption of news, and political gerrymandering has created an environment in which likeminded individuals are lumped together in the same congressional district. In our society, there are now far fewer places in which dialogue between differently minded groups can occur and our dysfunctional schools, bottom-line-focused media, and politically drawn legislative districts exacerbate this trend. Trump supporters and Clinton supporters no longer have access to fora in which they can communicate with each other; instead Trump supporters instinctively distrust all things Clinton and Clinton supporters condescend to all things Trump, including his supporters. Have you recently had a respectful conversation with someone who supports a candidate other than your own? American politics has always been rancorous, but this death of dialogue has created a new level of polarization.
Polarization has also gridlocked our legislature—the most recently completed 113th Congress was the second-least productive in history, second only to the 112th Congress. And as our legislative branch has been crippled, the presidency has been endowed with unprecedented levels of power. The president can now effectively unilaterally declare war thanks to the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), can effectively enact treaties with a simple majority vote in the Senate rather than having to cobble together a supermajority thanks to the rise and acceptance of so-called congressional-executive agreements, and can wantonly choose which laws to enforce due to lax applications of the Constitution’s Take Care Clause.
This inflation of presidential powers has only served to further exacerbate the polarization in the country. Suddenly, a President Trump could by himself decide to send troops into Syria thanks to the AUMF or withdraw from NAFTA without congressional approval since it’s a congressional-executive agreement and not a treaty. A President Clinton could decide to cease all deportation immediately now that the Constitution’s Take Care Clause is no longer enforced. With so much power endowed to one individual, voters can no longer risk listening to and electing someone who doesn’t share their party line.
So how can this polarization be overcome? The only way forward is to repair basic American institutions so that they promote dialogue between those of differing views. First, colleges should try to enroll politically diverse student bodies and actively promote civic discussion among them, not focus all of their attention onto the proliferation of safe spaces. As a liberal college student myself, I was drawn to write for this publication because of the diversity of political and social views that are professed in its articles and the dialogue it fosters on campus, despite the fact that said dialogue can get rather heated at times. The drawing of electoral districts should be delegated to independent committees. Social media should change their algorithms so that users aren’t just fed articles with which they already agree. And people should reflect on the tone of this election and think about how they could have made it just a little less nasty through proactive engagement. Once this occurs, polarization will return to previous levels, the legislature will once again become vibrant and again become a check on the executive office, which will in turn serve to further decrease polarization as presidential elections become less important and thus less nasty. We didn’t accomplish this in time for this election cycle, but hopefully the sheer vitriol of this race will serve as a wakeup call before the next one.