What the elephants and donkeys left behind in New York

By Tom Allon

I’ve always found the image of the lonely sanitation man cleaning up in the wake of the circus an apt one for presidential campaigns.

Now that the 2016 circus of elephants and donkeys has departed New York, it is time to ponder what we know, what we still need to learn, and what lessons we can glean after three months of non-stop campaigning and coverage by MSNBC, FOX, and CNN.

We know that our country is more divided than at probably any time since the Civil War. If things stay according to form, this summer’s Republican convention in Cleveland will make the Democratic Convention in 1968 in Chicago look like a tea party.

We also know that there is a sizable faction in this country (aka Republican Trump supporters) that can rationalize demonizing immigrants, Muslims and other groups as it tries to “Make America Great Again.”

When exactly are we trying to turn the clock back to?

To the 1980s, when the Reagan administration sowed the seeds of runaway income inequality?

Or was it the 1950s and ’60s, when segregation, red baiting and the Vietnam War threatened to tear our country apart?

Or was it the early 20th century, when robber barons were the oligarchs who paved the way for the monied class dominance less than a century later?

America is great today, and has been for a long time, but we still have an enormous amount of work to do to make the vast majority of our citizens feel that way. The purpose of government is to level the playing field, to make it possible for as many people as possible to take advantage of the American Dream. And for those who fall on hard times, we need to provide them with a safety net and a hand up so they can get back on their feet.

We know that a large group of Americans are so angry and fed up with establishment politics that they are willing to support populists from both ends of the political spectrum—Bernie Sanders as the Democratic Socialist who inspires millennials, and Donald Trump as the Republican disruptor who is the Great White Hope.

What we are now learning from the presidential circus that galloped through town last week is that after this topsy-turvy primary season, the two most polarizing figures in America are more than likely going to be our choices in November for the next leader of the free world.

We are learning that our opaque primary system and the broken Board of Elections in New York stifles real turnout and disenfranchises thousands of voters—more due to ineptness than malice.

We are learning that the next generation of voters—those in their late teens and early 20s—value revolutionary change and authenticity as they turn out for Bernie Sanders rallies and in voting booths and caucuses supporting the cranky senator from Vermont who sounds more like my Uncle Max than any presidential candidate in history.

What do we still need to find out in the coming months before we finally vote in November in an election that is increasingly feeling like an existential choice?

We need to know how we will start rebuilding this country. How will we deal with an emerging financial and military superpower in China and a resurgent adversary in Russia? How will we make the transition to alternative energy, keep our fuel prices low, and make revolutionary strides in curbing climate change?

We need to know how our next leader will balance the need to keep us safe from crime without overreacting and jailing low-level drug users and poor minority children. We need to know how this country will accelerate job creatione.

We need to know how we can make this generation believe that it is possible to once again pursue the American Dream, build a solid middle class life, and to climb the ladder of success.

Who in the remaining field can best answer these huge questions? I know my choice and I hope she doesn’t stumble on the way to the finish line.

Tom Allon, the president of City & State, NY, was the Liberal Party backed candidate for Mayor in 2013. Questions or comments: tallon@cityandstateny.com.

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