The 2016 presidential race will go down in history as one of the strangest, most offensive and angriest elections we have ever experienced.
If Republicans and Democrats leave this election season simply licking their wounds or their chops, they will be making a serious mistake. The winning message of 1992 that led to Bill Clinton’s election as president was, “It’s the economy, stupid.”
This year’s theme was clearly: “It’s the establishment, stupid.”
If both major parties are to survive, there are five key lessons that they must learn from both the conduct and outcome of this election:
1. Occupy Wall Street was not a passing phase.
The movement that first brought public the grievances of “the 99 percent” found its national voice in the 2016 election, first with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and then, for many, with now President-elect Donald Trump. This isn’t going away and simply growing the U.S. economy will not quell the frustration, anger and disappointment of too many Americans. We either address income inequality and the restructuring of the U.S. job market that has displaced so many American workers or we will pay a heavy price either in elections to come or, worse, on the streets.
2. Voters REALLY don’t like either major party.
The Democratic and Republican parties are viewed by many voters as institutions interested in obtaining or retaining power rather than promoting the common good. Talk about conflict of interest? Lobbyists, powerful interest groups and the influence of big money are toxic to confidence in and support of both parties. The key word in this election season was “rigged.” Trust wasn’t just a problem for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. She became the poster child for an entire establishment that Americans don’t trust. Many lost faith in the system and took it out on her. When people lose faith in our institutions, those who represent them can never regain their trust. Unless we restore confidence in the way government works, elected leaders will be unable to meet our current challenges and we will be giving birth to even greater ones.
3. Authenticity trumps the truth.
For many voters, it made no difference that most of what Donald said during the campaign just wasn’t true — such as that he didn’t support the war in Iraq and that climate change is a hoax. The truth didn’t matter. People would rather swallow a lie delivered authentically around a cause they believe in than search for the truth in messages they feel come too scripted. An information shift away from conventional media sources to social media complicates any search for the truth.
4. The parties either work together or perish together.
Americans are tired of gridlock, and no party can expect to gain electoral advantage by pointing the finger at the other. When Washington fails to solve clear and pressing problems, there are no winners. In 2016, both parties benefited from the weakness of the third-party alternatives. That is not something we should count on in the years ahead.
5. Less is more.
Don’t say every dumb thing that comes into your head, and certainly don’t write it in an email. Morse code had its advantages.
British statesman Winston Churchill was correct when he said, “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing — after they have exhausted all other possibilities.” In the end, as bad as our national condition, or some leaders, may be, Americans are inherently good — and they DO ultimately, do the right thing.
In rejecting the exceedingly qualified candidate, they chose the unprepared, even distasteful, populist who promised to “drain the swamp.” Hopefully, Trump will rise to the challenge of our time and give the system and the establishment the shake-up that Americans clearly believe it needs. For our country’s sake, as painful as it is for so many Democrats, let’s hope that Churchill was right and that Americans, once again, did “the right thing.”
Jay Jacobs, chairman of the Nassau County Democratic Committee, is an at-large member of the Democratic National Committee.