Election 2016

The 2016 Election Was a Holiday from History

Why focus on real issues when there are so many entertaining distractions?



With luck, the results of the 2016 presidential election will be clear within 48 hours. The election cycle could be extended for a number of reasons—a close result could trigger a mandatory recount in some states, both major party candidates could fail to get to 270 votes, a candidate could decline to concede. These and other scenarios would provide the American media, political class, and public to continue ignoring serious issues at home and abroad. Ignoring the issues, however, is not making them go away nor even doing anything to delay them. Like an undiagnosed (or a diagnosed but untreated) case of cancer, America's problems can get even worse.

Election campaigns often seem like fact free things. In 2012, President Obama was re-elected in part by insisting he had ended the Iraq war (he didn't), while ignoring the lack of progress in Afghanistan as well as the expansion of the war on terror into new battlespaces like Yemen, Syria, and even Libya. The most remembered lines of the 2012 election remind us of how shallow it was—binders full of women, Big Bird, you didn't build that. Democrats mocked GOP nominee Mitt Romney for his concern about Russia instead of explaining why they weren't relevant. Today, Democrats and Republicans have basically flip-flopped with each other on the issue of Russia—keeping partisan rhetoric vague and untethered to reality makes this easy to do when politically convenient.

And while Russia got a lot of play this election cycle, little of it was substantive. The Donald Trump campaign helped keep a bellicose plank calling for sending arms to Ukraine out of the Republican platform. Many Democrats seized on this as evidence that Russia was "influencing" the Republican nominee's campaign and the Republican Party. Yet the Democratic party platform did not call for the U.S. to arm Ukraine either. Such a position would be ridiculous to take. There are no identifiable U.S. national security interests in Ukraine. Insofar as there are national security interests for Europe, they ought to be hndled by the Europeans. The Republicans should be applauded for rejecting an unnecessarily antagonistic stance.

The Ukraine hubbub should've been a warning sign. By the time of the presidential debates, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was openly calling for a policy in Syria that would challenge Russia. She wanted a no-fly zone in Syria, she explained at the first debate, in order to build leverage to force Russia to the negotiating table. Here the U.S. has also failed to identify a clear national security interest in its insistence that Syria President Bashar Assad be removed from power as a precondition to a political solution to the Syrian civil war. Russia is likely prepared to join negotiations today—it is unwilling to sever its relationship with the Assad regime as part of those negotiations. Why would they? Russia has an interest in continuity in Syria in large part because of the naval base it operates there that provides Russia its only access to the Mediterranean. Far less clear are the motives for Clinton's interest in taking an oppositional stance to Russia outside of an outdated Cold War mentality, one Clinton allies accused Romney of in 2012.

At least Russia was mentioned. Yemen wasn't mentioned a single time at any of the presidential debates and has received virtually no attention from the candidates, major or minor, despite a year and a half long civil war in which US ally Saudi Arabia is involved that was a direct result of the U.S. counter-terrorism strategy in Yemen. The U.S. war in Afghanistan, which has lasted longer than both world wars and the American civil war combined and where the U.S. is fighting the Taliban and ISIS, has also received little attention from the candidates. The U.S. has no pathway to an end of the war—the Obama administration has consistently delayed a withdrawal date, which now lies in 2017, when the U.S. will have a new president, one that has almost never mentioned the war or their views on its prosecution during the course of the campaign.

The threats to national security being produced and amplified by a reckless (bipartisan) U.S. foreign policy are complimented by out of control government spending and a ballooning national debt at home, something then Joint Chair of the Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen called the greatest threat to U.S. national security back in 2010, when the national debt as a paltry $14 trillion (it is now $19.5 trillion). At one debate, Clinton insisted her plans would not a "penny to the debt." Donald Trump did not bat an eye to the outlandish claim. After all, the Republican nominee has criticized Clinton's infrastructure plan for not spending enough money. In September, the Republican-controlled Congress once again kicked the can down the road, allowing government spending to continue to grow. Speaker Paul Ryan's greatest legacy so far is taking the debt ceiling off the negotiation table and further normalizing an unsustainable pattern of growing government spending and national debt.

These threats did not go away just because the 2016 election offered enough entertaining distractions for the political class to largely ignore them. After 9/11, George Will wrote that the 1990s represented a "holiday from history" for the U.S., that the period between the end of the Cold War and the September 11 attacks saw the U.S. stumbling forward and looking inward at silly political distractions. I don't agree. The U.S. spent the post-Cold War era ramping up its involvement overseas, from Haiti to Kosovo to Somalia to Iraq, carving out a place for itself in the international order as a kind of indispensable nation, offering to guarantee global security and stability.

Unsurprisingly, these machinations helped pave the way for 9/11. When Osama bin Laden declared war on the U.S., two of the three reasons he listed involved U.S. military operations in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, operations that were welcomed by regional governments looking for a powerful ally who could subsidize their own ambitions, but not the populations many of those governments were themselves expressing. It wasn't a lack of U.S. involvement, but a lack of engagement of the underlying assumptions of a Cold War foreign policy in a post-Cold War world, that could best be characterized as a holiday from history, or even a holiday in history. Organizations like NATO were created in the aftermath of World War II, and were largely not revisited after the end of the Cold War. Policy makers largely remained staked in history, content to keep U.S. foreign policy on interventionist auto-pilot despite a rapidly decentralizing world that did not need a unipolar super power to hold it together.

The 2016 election, with its deeply flawed but highly entertaining candidates, may have offered the average American a respite from world affairs. But the consequences of a reckless U.S. foreign policy have continued to bear poisonous fruit, and the American political class' unwillingness to rethink U.S. foreign policy aims, to critically engage them, or even to attempt to define them, will continue to produce awful and often unpredictable results.

NEXT: Will 'America's Toughest Sheriff' Become America's Most Unemployed Sheriff?

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  1. With luck God willing, the results of the 2016 presidential election will be clear within 48 hours.

    1. Inshallah, so to speak.

    2. I take great comfort from the fact that almost all of the candidates will lose.

      1. Vox populi, Vox Dei.

    3. Start the 2020 campaign!

      1. Maybe this time we can all turn our backs on Rand Paul again and clear the way for Steven Segall or Mel Gibson to make a run?

        1. If I’m not mistaking, Rand Paul turned his back on US, not the other way around. He was more worried about protecting and preserving the Republican moniker than joining the like minded constituency that would have supported his candidacy.

          1. I can’t believe the guy tried to be popular while he was trying to win a popularity contest. For shame.

            1. How did that work out for him?

          2. you know he was running for the GOP nomination, right? That alone would ensure that Rand would fail the Libertarian purity test.

      2. Screw that, start the 2028 campaign.

    4. Booooo! Where’s the fun in that? Do we really want a few Trump campaign postmortems and then have him fade from (or into?) the annals of history like so many Lou Reeds or Ground Zero Mosques? HELL NO.

      Re! Count! Re! Count! Re! Count!

      1. Please God no. The past two months have been like a fever dream. WAKE ME UP.

      2. Impeach the bitch if she wins.

        1. Treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors!

          They need 2/3 Senators to vote for conviction. Art. I, Sec. 3.

        2. Another reason Hillary will not win- she cannot even get through the presidential oath of office without violating it.
          “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

  2. Interesting results of a Bloomberg poll out today. It had Clinton +3 against Trump, but it also included hypothetical Obama-Trump and Romney-Clinton matchups. Obama was +12 and Romney was +10.


    1. People like Romney because they don’t hear from him anymore. And, the shift in perspective from him as a possible president to the garbage fire that is Donald Trump is jarring.

      1. Yeah, that’s true. I still think Romney could have soundly beaten Clinton. Even more so for a generic Republican without Romney’s 2012 baggage.

        1. Looking at the stable of candidates at the beginning of election season, I would be hard pressed to find any of them that wouldn’t be beating Clinton, sans Trump.

          1. Ben Carson wouldn’t. Nor would any of the second-tier candidates like Huckabee or Santorum.

            1. And I have to believe that, despite everything, no one would have given the third Bush a try.
              Also, Christie, or is he second tier?

          2. I don’t think Carson would. Cruz might not either. He’s susceptible to attacks of extremism, and I don’t know if he has the charisma to overcome them. He doesn’t come off as very likable. I think the most of the others definitely would. Clinton’s campaign’s leaked emails revealed that Trump, Cruz, and Carson were the three candidates they wanted to face. I think Paul, Rubio, and Bush were the three they least wanted to face. I think Kasich would have also had a pretty good shot, as he’s similar ideologically to Bush but without the baggage of his name.

            1. Carson is a gaffe machine with some kooky-ass beliefs and the charisma of a limb shed by leprosy.

              Cruz is an unlikeable prig, the teacher’s kid who always got picked to be a hall monitor. He would have been much better in the debates and certainly would have shot himself in the constantly, but he had little fire and lacked a way to motivate the base and the average below-average Trump voter.

        2. Romney’s probably got a whole binder on Hillary.

          1. I saw a great Halloween costume in 2012 of four hot young ladies surrounded by a large binder. It was pretty hilarious, but I’ll bet it was hard for them to dance at the party.

  3. “…a candidate could decline to concede…”

    I’m not seeing this as dragging anything out. One candidate gets at least 271EC votes; that candidate wins. If the other says “I don’t concede”, who cares and why should they?
    Look at the scoreboard, pal; you lost.

    1. That’s what I don’t get about all the hand wringing over Trump’s threat to not concede. Who cares if he does or not? You either get 270+ EC votes or you don’t. Refusing to make a phone call to congratulate the winner is of no more importance than a team not shaking the winning team’s hands after a football game. It’s poor sportsmanship and shows a lack of class and civility, but it doesn’t change the score. Also, we kind of already know Trump’s a dickhead, so who cares if he concedes or not?

  4. So I think Ed’s about half right. While I agree that all of the feckless “nation-building” we did in the 90s was pretty stupid, it didn’t pave the way to 9/11. At the end of 1990 and beginning of 1991, Iraq

    So we have troops in Saudi Arabia. They were there partly as a result of Iraq’s aggression into Kuwait.

    1. You accidentally about half of your comment.

    2. Sorry, comment got cut off. Iraq started the first Gulf war by invading Kuwait. So we sent a shitload of troops to kick Iraq out of Kuwait. And in the process left a bunch of troops in Saudi Arabia. Of which they have literally NO influence on the govt of Saudi Arabia. So remind me again, did bin Laden hate us because we were against Hussein in the Gulf war, or because we didn’t fight him hard enough and kick him out of power?
      Or maybe he came up with bullshit excuses. And it wasn’t like 9/11 was the start of Islamists fighting us. Hezbollah killed over 200 Marines in Lebanon in 1983. The first WTC bombing: 1993. The Khobar Towers, the USS Cole, etc. And all throughout the 90s, exactly which Muslim country were we guilty of bombing?

      No, there is NO FUCKING JUSTIFICATION for what bin Laden did (and the Taliban in Afghanistan helped).

      1. And all throughout the 90s, exactly which Muslim country were we guilty of bombing?

        Iraq, Bosnia, Afghanistan

        1. Jesus fuck, you were bombing Bosnia on behalf of Muslims. Why not say Sudan instead?

          1. For the record, I wasn’t bombing anyone. But if I saw a foreign power dropping bombs on my neighbors I’m not sure I would really care about their motivations for doing so.

            1. Ok, that’s some fine trolling.

              Bosnian Muslims were demanding that bombing as they were fighting civil war against Serbs. In fact, US not bombing for three years prior was cause of much Muslim anger world-wide.
              I could also ask why a country in which less than 40% of population is Muslim is considered a Muslim country, too, but the answer will probably be “Tulpa”.

        2. Bosnia – That war was to save the Muslims from alleged genocide. Don’t know why that would make Muslims want to attack us.
          Afghanistan – We were bombing Afghanistan in the 90s? Alert the media, they missed one.
          Iraq – Covered pretty well by BearOdinson| above

            1. You mean the cruise missiles fired against Afghanistan in retaliation for the attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania? Which Al Qaeda claimed credit for? I will grant you, the one missile Clinton threw at Sudan was a major fuck up. But it was Bin Laden’s organization which started the ball rolling.

        3. Afghanistan

          We fired (2? 3?) cruise missiles at Afghanistan. And it was because people living within their borders claimed responsibility for terror attacks.

          Basically, you’ve got Iraq… and the rest of your list is bullshit that only some junior-college Intifada-supporter would find compelling.

          1. the rest of your list is bullshit that only some junior-college Intifada-supporter would find compelling

            So why would you doubt that it would be a compelling motivation for Bin Laden and his followers? Or do you think their justifications for attacking the US are well reasoned and insightful?

            1. Why would you doubt that it would be a compelling motivation for Bin Laden and his followers?

              When did i do that?

              My point was that Hugh’s list of grievances went from reasonable to ridiculous in the same sentence.

              You seem to be trying to erase the distinction between “whatever some batshit jihahdi wants to complain about” and “what are actually legitimate policy disagreements”.

              The point re: the junior-college-Intifada types is that their complaints are entirely contrived out of thin air, and will *claim* anything and everything is a ‘provocation’ of the West….

              …when their actual grievance is not that someone lobbed a cruise missile into some remote area of Afghanistan (*which the afghans would probably had never have noticed if we hadn’t told them about it in advance)…. but rather, the mere existence of Israel is their actual beef.

              the same point would hold re: Bin Laden and his ilk. Those who are so naive as to think that we could have made some micro-changes to US policy in the middle east and somehow avoided ever attracting the ire of the Jihadi-class… are fooling themselves. Even had we never left troops in the Kingdom after the gulf war, there would still be the 5th fleet in the gulf or other causes for complaint.

              1. OK, I may have misinterpreted a bit.

                And I think you are certainly right that the real beef is with support for Israel and no other tweaks for foreign policy would have changed much.

        4. So we have pretty much shot the Bosnia and Afghanistan bs.

          But Iraq? So was Bin Laden angry that we defeated Hussein in the first Gulf war? Was Bin Laden a supporter of Hussein? But Bin Laden wanted a theocracy, and Hussein was a secular dictator.

          Or was he mad that we didn’t defeat him strongly enough and he was still in power? If that is the case, why were the sanctions our fault? Hussein could have ended the sanctions at any time by cooperating.

          You seem a little confused about that. Maybe you could clarify exactly what about Iraq Bin Laden was talking about as a justification?

      2. Why limit it to bombing? There is a lot of anger over our propping up and assisting repressive regimes like the Saudis, Iraq sanctions, etc.

        1. There is a lot of anger over our propping up and assisting repressive regimes like the Saudis, Iraq sanctions, etc.

          It was the main complaint of Bin Laden et al, at least.

          acting as though that represents the widely-shared popular will of the Arab people is a stretch

          If there was a lot of righteous wrath directed at Americans, it was often because these same dictators which the US “propped up”* pumped anti-american sentiment as a means to give themselves the appearance of credibility and to direct political anger outward at people like Israel.

          (*re: “propping up” = understand that you can’t prop-up what isn’t already trying to run a country in the first place. The US supplied arms and funds to people like the saudis and egyptian regimes because they were the ‘best house in a bad neighborhood’. If we hadn’t have supplied/armed them, would they have been over-thrown by something *better*? Look at the history of the ME in the post-war era and you’ll quickly realize the choices that most govts made was “dealing with whom is there” – not who we wish was there,.

          There are certainly shameful moments in this history of US involvement in the ME. However, the idea that the US was some grand-puppetmaster which created the status quo, without whom it would have somehow naturally evolved into Sunshine and Rainbows of Arab Democracy….? is a fantasy)

      3. Of course there is no (valid) justification. But there are reasons. I’m not sure why Bin Laden would have lied about his motivations.

        1. I’ll take “Shit wannabe dictators and religious fanatics say to get power” for 800 Alex.

  5. The biggest crime of the Trump candidacy is it makes me nostalgic for the Mitt Romney era.

    1. That fucker has an era now? Jesus.

      1. If only… 😉

      2. In the sense that Thomas Dewey or Adlai Stevenson have eras.

  6. The 2016 election, with its deeply flawed but highly entertaining candidates, may have offered the average American a respite from world affairs.

    WTF, Ed?

    1. He must mean As the World Turns.

      1. Or, as SCTV used to have, “As the Stomach Turns.”

  7. Mulligan! Do-over! Reset!

    Help, Mister Wizaaaaard! HAAAAAALP!

  8. There’s a lot of people bashing the lack of issues and even candidates/direction of the two major parties this cycle. It should be noted that people are just getting what they voted for, by and large. This campaign cycle is nothing more than a reflection of American culture and the majority of voters. It was imbecilic and devoid of substance because most people are imbecilic and scared of substantive issues.

    1. So much this. Politics is a reflection of culture. If you hate the state of politics, spend some time looking at yourself in the mirror.

      Though, most people will surely engage in the, “I’m fine but my neighbors…yeesh,” version of denial.

      1. I mostly agree but there are feedback loops, i.e. culture largely drives politics, but the political climate does have an effect on culture.

    2. This. Trump and Clinton are both the president this country deserves.

  9. Kinda early to be hitting the sauce, init, Ed?

  10. Even though Sanders is wrong on most things, at least he talked about issues. All Hillary and Trump do is bash each other

    1. If ‘inequality’ is an issue and not just a way of segwaying into promising people free shit, then sure.

      1. segueing.

    2. Your point is correct. To be fair, though, have you ever seen two people in such need of being bashed?

  11. Kinda early to be hitting the sauce, init, Ed?

    “My advice to you, is to start drinking heavily.”

    1. I thought you were Pre-Med?

  12. Let the Trumpalogia begin.

  13. By the way, Nate Silver, the smartest man on planet Earth who is never ever wrong about anything according to his fellow Weigelian members of the JournoList, now says the republicans have a 54.3% chance of maintaining control of the Senate.

    My guess is this is because it’s looking more and more like the democrat golden boy Evan Bayh is going to lose.

    1. Divided government seems like the best possible outcome. If that means Clinton in the WH then I hope the R’s do keep hold of the Senate. If Trump pulls out a victory I’ll be hoping for the D’s to take the Senate.

      Hmm, maybe hope isn’t the right word to use for these scenarios, though….

      1. Yay, a Republican (or Democratic) Senate “responsibly” rolling over to confirm Hillary’s Supreme Court appointments!

  14. “With luck, the results of the 2016 presidential election will be clear within 48 hours.”

    With luck = with *bad* luck.

    Ideally the election should go into the House. Republicans IIRC dominate a majority of Congressional delegations and the vote will be by delegation, so that means Hillary loses.

  15. Overheard in break room:
    If trump paid his taxes we could have free college.

    1. Sounds like someone was telling a joke, perhaps?

    2. why should someone else pay for your college?

      1. Because rich people exist. Duh.

    3. Must be the same geniuses who figured that the Powerball jackpot was big enough to give everyone a million dollars.

      And I’m pretty sure Trump has paid all the taxes he legally owes.

      1. “No, no, I’ve worked it all out, you see! There’s about 330 million Americans, and the jackpot is 500 million, so we can give all Americans a million and have some left over!!!”

    4. Wait, I thought Democrats were saying he wasn’t as rich as he claimed. Now they’re saying if it weren’t for his tax avoidance we could afford more free stuff?

      1. Yeah, it’s getting a bit twisted.

        I he had been a netter businessman and hadn’t lost $900 million in the 90s, he could have saved the world by paying for all our free stuff.

        1. I get it now! Bill and Hillary enrich themselves with foreign money, then demand higher taxes on themselves then voila! foreign sheikhs are funding free college! Fucking brilliant

    5. Sounds to me like you need to find a new job, preferable somewhere where your co-workers aren’t blithering idiots.

      1. *preferably*

        EDIT BUTTON!

  16. “Why focus on real issues when there are so many entertaining distractions?”

    Disregard for the rule of law isn’t a distraction.

    1. No kidding. What Trump said on some video tape in 2005 is a distraction. Hillary Clinton committing multiple felonies while DOS and the FBI letting her walk is not a distraction.

      Ed brings the false equivalence for the win.

      And for the record, it is pretty rich of Reason to now claim “the election wasn’t about the issues” after it spent so much time focusing on the various irrelevant bullshit around Trump.

      1. ^ This.

    2. The MSM doesn’t report on real issues anymore. They have agendas you know. Issues are boring and it might make one candidate or another look good. They can’t have that.

  17. Maybe we can stretch out the recounts for 4 years? Maybe it’s good enough to stretch the recounts out till the impeachments begin…

  18. Thank you for that alt-text, Ed. Hear, hear.

  19. “The 2016 election, with its deeply flawed but highly entertaining candidates, may have offered the average American a respite from world affairs.”

    Highly entertaining? Only if your caliber of entertainment covers domestic squabbles between illiterates on the Jerry Springer Show, or watching a show about botched plastic surgery. But even those programs might provide more insights or at least more laughs than the presidential campaign.

    I fear an actual libertarian moment can’t possibly happen as long as 95% of the public doesn’t even want to think about anything substantive. That’s why pussy-grabbing, or clown sightins, or wall-building are “issues” and subjects like the debt, forever wars, the surveillance state, and labor participation rates don’t get any discussion in the mainstream.

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