So it actually happened. Despite the polls and the predictions from all the experts, and even despite the fact that Hillary Clinton received more votes, Donald Trump won the election, and on Jan. 20, 2017, he will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States.
Over the past several days, and certainly over the next several weeks and months, numerous articles and opinions have been given trying to determine exactly what happened. Certainly there are numerous reasons. Clinton’s supposed huge advantage on the ground and in get-out-the-vote efforts never materialized. Trump’s supporters may not like to acknowledge it, but his appeal along racial lines played a role as well.
And of course, Clinton’s issues with her use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state damaged her chances. But there is an overarching reason that has not been discussed much in the media, but one that may be more important than anything else:
Americans do not like to elect presidents who have experience in Washington.
Trump certainly has the least experience of anyone who has assumed the office, having never held any job in government prior to his election, but this is nothing new. In fact, five of the last six men who’ve won the presidency have had little or no experience in the nation’s capital.
Of these five, Barack Obama actually had the most, with a grand total of four years in the U.S. Senate. George W. Bush’s entire political experience was five years as Governor of Texas. Ronald Reagan served as governor of California for two terms, but that was his only government experience, and at the time of his election as president, he had been out of office for five years.
Jimmy Carter had served a single term as governor of Georgia and was so little known at the start of his presidential campaign that a headline in the Atlanta Constitution exclaimed “Jimmy Who is Running for What?!?”
So, how did we get here? How did we reach a point where, with the most important job in the country, a deep and impressive resume serves as a liability rather than an asset? For that, we have to look back to 1968.
When he ran for president, despite his personal foibles and publicly awkward personality, no one had a more impressive background then Richard Nixon. Having served as a member of the House of Representatives, the Senate, and then as vice president under Dwight Eisenhower, Nixon brought a wealth of knowledge to the White House that seemed to bode well for his administration. And, during his first term, this seemed to be the case. Foreign policy successes in improving relations with China and the Soviet Union, coupled with a strong and improving economy, led to his re-election by a landslide over George McGovern in 1972.
But we all know what happened next: Watergate. The break-in, cover up, and scandal that followed eroded public trust, not just in Richard Nixon, but in the very institutions of the federal government, leading to Nixon’s resignation in 1974 and ultimately to the election of Washington outsider Jimmy Carter in 1976.
America’s next experiment with an experienced president was in 1988, with the election of George H.W. Bush. Having served as a congressman, director of the CIA, and then vice president, it seemed that once again the country was willing to give experience a chance. And once again, it seemed to be a winning proposition at first. American victory in the Persian Gulf War boosted Bush’s approval rating to over 90 percent, an unprecedented number.
But then, the economy went into recession, and Bush was saddled with claims that he was “out of touch” and “didn’t care about average Americans.” In a three-way race against Bill Clinton and Ross Perot in 1992, he received only 37 percent of the popular vote, the lowest total by an incumbent president seeking re-election in 80 years.
All of this then leads back to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Not even the most ardent Trump supporter can claim that he has more experience than Clinton. But of course, in this continuing era of distrust of government, her experience acted as a detriment to her candidacy. This begs the questions: Is this a good thing? Does the American fascination with Washington outsiders serve us well when we’re deciding upon the most important job in the country, if not the world?
This is not something that should be decided by looking at individual policy decisions or campaign promises. Many Trump supporters will point to current issues that demand attention, such as immigration policy, trade agreements with foreign nations, healthcare, and combatting ISIS, and say that they liked Trump’s proposed solutions to those issues much more than Clinton’s, and that’s fair for them to say. It’s the same thing that supporters of Barack Obama said in 2008, that supporters of George W. Bush said in 2000, and that supporters of Bill Clinton said in 1992.
But this goes deeper than that. For 40 years, we have been sending inexperienced “outsiders” to Washington to run the government. As we embark upon the presidency of Donald J. Trump — and whatever that may lead to — as a nation we should take time to step back and ask ourselves if our deep distrust of government is clouding our judgment and leading us to poor decisions about what we want in a president.