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The resentment election

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Some presidential elections are fueled by fear. Ronald Reagan won in 1980 because the country was afraid of developments at home and abroad.

Some contests run on gratitude and hope, including Reagan’s re-election and President Obama’s first win. Some, as with the election of George H.W. Bush and President Clinton’s re-election, are simply safe bets.

And throughout American history some elections have been driven by resentment and revenge. 2016 seems to me to be one of those, ranking with the 1968 vote after a year of tears, misery and war, as well as the “Bloody Shirt” elections following the Civil War.

Only a relatively few voters are marching door to door this year inspired by Hillary Clinton’s or Donald Trump’s personal stories of triumph over long odds or their promises of a new morning in America.

Quite a few are campaigning because they are very, very ticked off at one thing or another — or many things.

Whatever the source of the resentments, the degree of vitriol all around has reached levels not seen since Nixon’s era.

Both sides have, er, interesting casts of characters. For every Steve Bannon and, there’s a David Brock and For every Ann Coulter on the right there’s a Michael Moore on the left. For every Milo there’s a Maher.

This is the NSFW campaign. The real question is what comes after it?

There’s a reason for the relative invisibility of Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. Chuck Schumer from the headlines. You haven’t seen a lot of Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi on the Sunday shows or in the news clips. The old pros (in the case of Ryan, a young “old pro”) are spending a lot of time on the bench, like veterans in the NFL pre-season. And for much the same reason: too much risk of long-term injury in this melee.

Come January 2017, the Hill has some pretty heavy lifting to do, beginning with a depleted Defense Department and the long-time-coming-but-suddenly-arriving Obamacare death spiral. Staying clear of the resentment election is going to empower some of the veteran legislators to try to tackle some of the deep seated problems. Neither of the presidential candidates is going to arrive at 1600 with a mandate. But either is going to have one hell of a headache and not much if any of honeymoon. Hangovers after binges are like that.

It’s a very good thing that at least a few folks skilled at governing will be waiting to get back to serious business come the new year. If this election only accomplishes a much needed venting, well, that’s not so bad either if after all the shouting, biting and kicking, the pressing problems are tackled.


This column was originally posted on


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