How did it happen?


Fred Lokken is political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College.

It’s almost over. How did it happen? No one expected an election year this bad.

I don’t know. It didn’t get started too well. Seventeen candidates on the Republican side, an unexpected battle between Hillary and Bernie on the Democratic side. … There was a real question whether the Republican Party could even stay together. It might have hijacked an entire—everything about this year, once it got started, bordered on spinning out of control. … It’s been a plague on the house for almost a year already. It’s a good question. How did it happen? Perhaps it was, in a way, the perfect storm—the wrong candidates for both parties in a broken political system that’s been broken for a while. The candidates and the circumstances certainly demonstrated how broken it was. And it coincided with a media that is out of touch about its role in a democracy and are fixated on ratings. Present company excluded.

Is there any reason to believe it won’t happen again in four years?

Not at all. In fact, it could be worse. The nastiness—the bar that’s been set, pretty low. But I have faith in the American political system that could find candidates that would be willing to go even lower, because Donald Trump’s methods worked. The media didn’t call him on it. He was able to get away with abysmal behavior and not get called for it. And so why wouldn’t anyone want to keep using that kind of tactic? If he actually wins, he did it without a ground game, so he’s kind of reinvented how we campaign in America. The Republican Party will never be the same. It may be splintered. It may be morphing. It may be dying. But it’s not going to be the same party in 2018 or 2020, I don’t think. And the Democratic Party will be nudged farther to the left because of the influence of Bernie Sanders. And if Hillary gets elected, [it’s] argued that she’s a little bit more leftist than Bill, so I think this is a very redefining year for American politics.

If what some people believed about Donald Trump is true—that he isn’t all that wedded to a democratic system—isn’t this the perfect year for him to come along?

Oh, amazingly so, yes. And, you know, we have such poor voter turnout that now we’re being driven by segments of the population. It’s significant, especially in the primary/caucus season, when nobody participates, but even now [in November], a lot of mainstream voters just won’t vote this year. Not only are they sometimes driven to the status of independent/nonpartisan, but they’ve been driven to the point of just not able to vote for other candidates. We’ve never really had that before in American politics, either.

Do you think you can really make the case that political parties are vehicles for change any more?

No, you can’t. But if the American system works, we may morph into something that’s more relevant. And I would otherwise indicate that you can’t find a democracy that’s not working with a party system because, essentially, someone has to give credibility to candidates. Even Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders both chose to work within the party system—even though neither one of them were very good members of the parties they wanted to represent—because of what that offered for immediate credibility as a candidate.