The long election is over. Our country has selected a new President who will lead the Executive Branch of government for the next four years (and maybe more, with some luck). It is now a useful time to assess the status of our country, the country that the next President will guide.
This process has played out over many months and years. Who would have thought two years ago that Republican voters would choose Donald Trump as their nominee, defeating over a dozen very qualified candidates? And who would have expected that Hillary Clinton would struggle so much to fend off an insurgent campaign from Bernie Sanders and the progressive wing of her party?
However, the unexpected election process is the result of underlying economic and political forces that are changing politics in the United States.
Demographic Changes are Altering the Typical American Voter
The Baby Boom generation is aging and Gen Xers are assuming more control over the country. However, those in the Millennial generation are entering their working and voting ages and are fundamentally altering the nature of the country. They are less likely to be defined by traditional notions what it means to be an American. They are more fluid in their political attitudes and they don’t adhere to the black and white definitions of previous generations. They are more multicultural and they want flexibility in work, politics, and life.
The changing US society is creating clashes between the older Boomers and those generations who are taking control.
Economic Changes Have Created Greater Uncertainty
The US economy has endured many difficulties over the past decade. During the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009, more than 8.7 million Americans lost their jobs. At the height of the recession, our economy was losing over 700,000 jobs per month. Although the recession ended in 2010, and although 14 million jobs have been created since then, to many people it feels like the tough times never really ended.
Many of the jobs that were lost during the recession never came back. Technological changes eliminated many jobs and the jobs created in the new economy are fundamentally different than those that were lost. To many people, it is too difficult and too costly to make the changes necessary to stay competitive in the new workforce and they have chosen to instead stay on the sidelines. As a result the US labor force participation rate remains at levels not seen since the 1970s.
These Changes are Creating Political Upheaval
After the 2012 election cycle, the Republican Party went through an extensive process of assessing what it would take to reach out to this new generation. This assessment recommended the party to become more nimble, inclusive, and multi-cultural. However, this year Republican voters elected Donald Trump, who voiced the sentiment that America needs to be more protectionist, isolationist and put “America First” in international relations.
On the Democratic side, few imagined the kind of impact Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont could have. It is amazing that a 75 year-old man could create such enormous excitement from the youngest voters in the country. However, his populist message of promoting the working class and fighting against a “rigged economy” resonated with progressives and has had a large impact on the entire Democratic party. While Hillary Clinton was able to prevent an upset in the Democrat nomination process, it was a difficult and costly exercise.
Leading in Times of Uncertainty
While this election season has been defined by strife and struggle, America will survive, and it will thrive. Our next president must rise to the challenge of leading a country that is facing uncertainty. The President must do more to unite the country and bring people together. The President must reach out to the disaffected and to those who have been left behind by a changing economy and a changing society. Our country has the ability to accomplish great things - with the right leadership.