I’ve been pondering the 2016 election and what it means, what message it carries about the state of our world. One analysis is that a growing number of Americans, especially the young, find our historical political processes irrelevant and not important in their daily lives. The cultural shifts of the past 50 or so years (post-WWII) and especially since the turn of the century have strengthened the appeal of individualism and self-selected groups.
Our ties to a national identity have been weakened by disillusionment with national ventures such as unwinnable wars (Korea, Vietnam, both Gulf wars, Eastern Europe, the mideast quagmire unleashed by our “war on terror”); a long and constant vocal dislike by large swaths of Americans with our president (be it Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush, or Obama); continuing low approvals of Congress; revelations of widespread government snooping and law-breaking; and an economy that has shown its weakness through savings and loan failures, dot-com spikes and crashes, and devastating recession caused by bank and corporate greed. The diverse and fluid nature of 21st Century America makes it hard to get behind a war effort when the people being killed and attacked come from the same religion and ethnic background as some of our dearest personal friends. And the rise of LGBT issues and same-sex marriage illustrates how we increasingly see equal rights and respect for all people as more important than tradition or legal precedent. We see issues of respect and tolerance in more personal terms in our daily lives.
Perhaps the youth of this year’s election looked around and basically decided that what happens in Washington or state legislatures has very little relevance in their daily lives. An easy conclusion given the dearth of meaningful agreement and progress by our executive leadership and legislative bodies both nationally and locally.
What is relevant to many Americans may be their circle of Facebook friends; their network of peers that has fluidly built up over fast and dramatic change; their local schools, parks, streets; their own health status and the health of their environment; their own ability to live the life they want and hoped for. The connection between those desires and pleasures has little to do with what the President and Congress do.
We live in a time of tremendous fundamental change. We see it in our economic structures that have caused the vast decline of whole industries. We see it in the increasing threat of global warming and climate disruption. We see it in the maturation and spread of robotics. We see it in our tools for communication and learning. Perhaps the 2016 U.S. election, and similar elections in other parts of the world, are simply indicators of another aspect of fundamental global change. A fundamental change in how we organize and govern ourselves as people of one world.