This Presidential Election: Historical or Repetitive

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Justin Schneider, Assistant News Editor

While it is quite common to claim that any given election is “the most important one since George Washington’s”, most of the time it isn’t all that different from prior elections. The 2016 election has proved an exception to this rule, with no ready historical comparisons to draw on, with not only the Presidency, but also the Supreme Court hanging in the balance. In this article, I attempt a comparison of this election to prior elections, both US and foreign, in an effort to surmise something about the character of the race.

The first ready comparison that can be drawn is with the elections of 1824 and 1828. In both of these, Andrew Jackson ran against John Quincy Adams, harnessing popular anger at the political order. The first race had nobody with a majority of the vote, after two other candidates also ran, and the House chose Adams as President. Jackson and his supporters saw this as stealing the election from the rightful winner. Adams didn’t do much of note during his time in office, and four years later he was again running against Jackson. This campaign was marked by mudslinging and insults, Jackson claimed Adams was controlled by special interests and had sold out to the Czar of Russia, while Adams attacked Jackson’s wife as a “bigamist”, and Jackson as a slave trader and duelist. The election also precipitated the use of a donkey as a symbol of Democrats, after Jackson was called one. Jackson went on to win two terms of office, in which he forcibly removed thousands of natives from their land and started an economic crisis. The elections demonstrated the spoiler effect of third parties and the power of populist rhetoric, furthermore Trump has drawn comparison to Jackson, both claiming a rigged system was to blame for loss while harnessing popular anger.

The more modern comparison would be that of the election of Rodrigo Duterte, who also rose to power with populist rhetoric and triumphed against a divided field, similarly to Trump. Duterte arguably has said and is saying worse things than Trump’s worst statements, previously commenting on the gang-rape of an Australian missionary that he wished he could have also raped her. Specifically he said “ But she really was beautiful. The mayor should have been first”, “the mayor” refers to Duterte, who was previously mayor of Davo City, where the incident took place. Additionally he has stated that he will pardon any soldier or policeman accused of violation of human rights, giving them a license to kill anybody they suspect of being a drug dealer or criminal without punishment. Similarly Trump has advocated for tough policing, especially stop and frisk, which is often used to discriminate against minorities, and threatens to lock his political opponents in jail. Duterte even attacked one of his opponents in the race by claiming she should be disqualified, claiming she was not a citizen, similarly to how Trump previously attacked President Obama over his birth certificate. Both candidates have also shown a willingness to cozy up to authoritarian regimes like Russia in lieu of traditional allies, such as Russia, with Duterte regularly insulting the US, its ambassadors, and President. However imperfect these comparisons may be, they paint a rather sordid image of what happens when a populace decides to “stick it” to the world and elects a populist with fiery rhetoric.