Last Thursday, Donald Trump officially accepted the nomination to be the Republican nominee for President of the United States of America. This week, barring some unforeseen event, Hillary Clinton will do the same for the Democrats.
America is not short on opinions right now when it comes to these candidates, and I can’t remember an election when the sides seemed more resigned than excited about who their party is nominating.
On one hand, you have Trump. His supporters say he’s Washington outsider that has been a royal pain in the ass to the GOP establishment. He’s brash, arrogant, and unafraid. His detractors call him a bully who manipulates the fears and underlying resentment of whites in an increasingly diverse America.
On the other side of the aisle, you have Clinton who supporters will tell you is experienced, smart, and knows how to get things done in Washington. Her opponents will quickly point out that she’s everything wrong with American politics–a professional liar whose political career has been filled with scandal, whispers, and political maneuvering. A career that, along with her husband, has drawn comparisons to the rise to power of Frank and Claire Underwood from the popular Netflix series House of Cards.
On both sides, we are faced with a decision that has caused many to ask, “What are we doing wrong in our primary process,” when faced with the prospect of choosing one or the other. But whichever way you vote, I think there are some very interesting things that we can take away from these two candidates and our reactions to them.
If they’re really so bad, how did they get here? How did this happen, and what does it say about how we make decisions?”
Here are 3 things this election cycle has reminded me about how we as human beings make decisions whether it’s an election, where we buy a new car, or which doctor we choose.
1. There is no such thing as bad press if you know how to use it.
One of the things both of these candidates have done extremely well is to spin bad press to their advantage.
Trump seems to have actually used the media to his advantage and Clinton is going to need to learn an effective way to deal with it. Going back to the primaries, anytime another candidate would begin to get coverage, Trump would say something over-the-top to bring the media attention and limelight back onto his campaign. The difference was that these comments were only incendiary to those who he knew would oppose him regardless.
I’ve never seen a candidate who knows his power base like Trump. It’s probably what has made him such a shrewd business man. Is he going to unite America again? I don’t know. But he certainly knows how to solidify his supporters behind a message, tone, and persona that moves them to action.
On the other hand, Hillary has somehow weathered a federal investigation into her emailing habits throughout her campaign. And while her primary was not as arduous as Trump’s in the number of challengers, she did face off against the most dangerous challenger in Bernie Sanders whose supporters were vocal and aggressive in their support for Sanders as well as their hatred of Clinton.
Hillary, however, never seemed more than slightly ruffled. Her approach seems to anchor on being seen as being “above the nonsense.” She dismissed the investigation early on as not being a big deal. She continually positioned Sanders as not important, and she, from the get-go, acted as if the primaries were just a formality–and maybe they were.
And even though the Clintons are considered one of the stalwart political families in the United States, she found a way to position herself as an outsider by leveraging her gender. In other words, “People want to talk about Trump being an outsider, but look over here at me. I’m a woman and I’m being unfairly scrutinized for something that wasn’t really a big deal.”
And that’s it. When it comes to making a decision, it’s not what is true but what we can convince ourselves is true that really matters–or in this case, what we can be convinced of. That brings me to my next point.
2. Once loyalty is established, it’s very hard to change someone’s position.
For many Americans, once the primaries were set, there was no real decision to be made. It doesn’t matter if Donald Trump is outlandish and narcissistic. It doesn’t matter if Hillary Clinton changes her position and stories to fit whatever goal she is trying to achieve and is buried under scandal after scandal. At the end of the day, many people are simply Democrats or Republicans. We’ve decided that, and what matters is that our party wins no matter who is on the ticket.
American culture is grounded in a sense of individualism. We don’t want to believe that we are easily caught up in a collective, sheep-like mindset, but at the end of the day, I hear over-and-over the same idea that, “Well, I don’t really like [my party’s candidate], but they’re better than [the other party’s candidate] because [insert the negatives about the other candidate].
We’re being lied to on both sides of the aisle, but we don’t care as long as we’re on the winning team. Our election cycle is a competition that we hold every four years. It’s not about making our country better, it’s about winning–pure and simple, and once we’ve decided which team we’re on, it’s very difficult to convince us that we should change.
3. It’s not about substance, it’s about knowing your audience.
In advertising and selling, there is the age-old saying, “You’re not selling the steak, you’re selling the sizzle.”
It seems to be the same when we pick our leaders. Only, in the case of elections, you’re selling a position. Trump is the candidate for the pissed off conservatives with an independent spirit. Clinton is the pragmatic intellectual who does what needs to be done.
Candidates are quick to make promises and spin messages that unite their bases, but they are slow to tell you how they are going to get there. Why is that? It is because they have figured out that we largely don’t care. That’s boring. What we want is a chance to hope. That’s so true that Barack Obama won two elections on that one word alone.
Conservatives want to dream about a country with less regulation and lower taxes. In the past 25 years they have also positioned themselves as the champions of family values and stamping out illegal immigration. What Trump did better than any other candidate was figure out what they didn’t care about–political correctness. His genius is knowing the deeper he dives into the strategy of how he’s going to do it, the more arguments he’ll get and people he could upset. Instead, he focuses on the message his audience can connect with. “We want to make America great again.” “We’re going to be winners again on the world stage.” “Washington is broken, and the only way to fix it is to get someone in there that doesn’t care what they think.”
Progressives dream about a country where the government serves as the driving force behind the changes it will take to build a better society. They want leaders that will move us to a more “fair” and “equal” society that is sustainable. They sound downright utopian at times. Hillary is where she is because she realized that the fear of a Republican winning the presidency was far more terrifying to her support base than her past indiscretions. She’s also tapped into the Democratic value that change is a sign of growth, so instead of seeing her as a liar, she’s simply positioned her waffling as her own personal growth. And for the changes in stories and positions that she can’t explain away, she simply acts like they’re not that big of a deal, knowing that will be enough for the majority of her supporters.
We pick brands, candidates, and products for a variety of reasons. We’d like to think they are based on logic, research, and our own principles, but every four years, we prove otherwise. We are children of the gut. We want to be believe in something or someone. We want to be a part of a group. We want our candidate to be elected because in some way it says that we were right all along, and we are willing to take the fastest route to that conclusion with very little convincing and in the face of a mountain of evidence that speaks the opposite.
Our country is sick right now, and we are looking for a healer, not realizing that the healing will come from all of us instead of the leadership of one. We are all Americans, but more than that, we are all human beings. At the end of the day, we may gather under one party or the other, but we’re all in the same boat. As this election continues forward, and we are faced with such a divided country, I hope we can all take a hard look at ourselves and our neighbors and realize that we’re not all so different. That’s a party we should all gather around and all get behind. Go out and love people, my friends, and may your choices be based on principles and beliefs.