The chaotic 2016 US presidential election has highlighted the defects of the US election system and the dysfunction of democracy. The new email-gate uncovered by the release of the Democratic National Committee emails stunned the world, and showed that the so called fair election is nothing more than a lie. Meanwhile, whether the outspoken and reckless real-estate mogul Donald Trump wins the race or not, he has irreversibly damaged the US democracy already.
First, if the new version of email-gate accurately revealed the black box of how party elites manipulated the presidential election, the game of US democracy should be questioned. Even if their plots were not carried out, it astonished and alerted people outside the political circle. On the one hand, the party establishment and the Democratic National Committee violated the neutrality principle by working with the Hillary Clinton campaign team to help Clinton clinch the nomination. For this purpose, they attempted to attack her rival Bernie Sanders’ ethnic identity as a Jew as well as his religion. They went so far as to plan cyber attacks on the supporters of Sanders. When the scandal was uncovered, the supporters of Sanders were furious but the candidate himself was calm, as if unsurprised by the shenanigans against him.
Meanwhile, the Democratic camp made great efforts to defame Trump by highlighting his discriminatory words against women, the disabled, the minority groups, his past bankruptcies, edgy temperament that Democrats said made him unfit to be the president. It is very interesting that this is actually the image the mainstream news media conveyed to the audience and readers. Such negative campaign strategy obviously has tarnished the so called fair and transparent election system in which Americans take pride. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton was never treated this way by the news media, although she also had numerous scandals that were difficult to shake off. What’s more, when the email-gate was uncovered, the Obama administration and Clinton campaign team wasted no time condemning Russia as the black hand behind the scandal, which made people suspect they were trying to put the issue behind them by making Russia a scapegoat.
Second, the inherent defects of the US election system cannot prevent a radical candidate like Trump to win the primary election. The de facto two-party system and the winner-takes-all delegates counting system make the radical candidates more popular in the primary. Therefore, the moderate and rational candidates could not stand out without support from the more extreme voters in the early races. In the primary elections, the two party’s national conventions can actually function as the goal-keeper. Together with the electoral college, the party’s national conventions are designed to work as the cooling system, which was created by the founding fathers of the US to prevent a demagog from hijacking the public and winning the race. In fact, the Republican National Committee could easily have adjusted the rules and prevented controversial Trump from being nominated. However, the RNC chose not because the anti-establishment sentiment was so strong that the traditional candidates like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio would have less chance to win, and the GOP could not find any capable alternative to replace Trump in such a short time. So they had to accept the hard reality and stand behind Trump to fight against Hillary Clinton.
Third, democracy had to yield to populism when the party was hijacked by the radical politician. The nomination of Trump clearly showed that GOP was not able to control the process of election. Nor could GOP abandon the radical candidate, but rather had to flow with the populist trend. Thus, democracy had been distorted and did not reflect the people’s will, and they would not benefit from the result either. In the post-Cold War era, globalization has hastened the economic inequality. The financial crisis just made the middle class shrink and the lower classes more discontent. Politically, ever since Clinton administration, party politics has widen the gap between the elites and the grassroots. Politicians made irresponsible promises for sake of election, but broke their word after being elected. It resulted in the overwhelming anti-establishment sentiment in this election year. Trump is very smart in making good use of the sentiment and succeeded in a hostile takeover of the Republican party.
Finally, no matter whether Trump wins the election or not, we are seeing the failure of US democracy. Even if he failed, which seems to be quite possible considering his drifting polls, he has irreversibly damaged the US democracy with his radical rhetoric. Meanwhile, Trump has forced Americans to face the inconvenient truth of their democracy and the dark side of US society. The discrimination against the minority groups, the disparity between the rich and the poor and the money politics would not disappear just because the mainstream chooses to ignore them. Because there is big donors’ manipulation of the election, both party candidates called for reform of the campaign finance rules; and because there is the unchecked influence of interest groups upon the government’s policy making, both candidates promised to restrain the lobbyists’ role in the government. In the 2016 presidential election, the right wing and the left wing have reached one important consensus: That is, the special interest groups have “hijacked” the government and the US needs political reform.