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Civics and Civility

Why the 2016 race for the White House has all the restraint of a demolition derby.

Dr. Robert Alexander has never seen anything like this. He’s never seen anything even close to this. The professor of political science and chair of the Department of History, Politics and Justice, Alexander does more than follow political elections; he’s a leading authority on presidential elections and the Electoral College. So, if the race for the White House 2016 has you shaking your head, don’t worry. Even the pros can’t believe what they’re seeing.

For Alexander, there are two aspects to the 2016 presidential election that he finds fascinatingly bizarre. The first: the primary campaigns for the democratic and republican presidential nominees. The second: the candidates who emerged.

According to Alexander, this year’s presidential race features the two most unlikeable candidates in polling history: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

“There are people asking ‘Is this the best we can do? Is this really the best America has to offer?’” he says.

Alexander published the book Presidential Electors and the Electoral College: An Examination of Lobbying, Wavering Electors, and Campaigns for Faithless Votes in 2012, and he has written op-eds for CNN.com, The Hill, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer, and Toledo’s The Blade. He has appeared on C-SPAN, MSNBC and NPR and is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post. Last October, as the primary campaigns on both sides of the aisle started to come into clearer focus, Alexander began writing about what he saw for The Huffington Post, and he hasn’t stopped since.

He has enjoyed being part of the national conversation around the 2016 campaign. “I’ve written a dozen pieces ranging from Donald Trump being seen as the next Ronald Reagan, to Hillary Clinton’s knack for uniting republicans, to why anger and frustration seem to be the modern emotions of politics,” he says.  He even penned one article with an alumnus from the Department of History, Politics and Justice, Adam Gallagher, BA ’07.

“With all of these op-eds, my daughter says I’ve finally found a hobby, and the primaries certainly gave me lots of material.”

Before the primaries ramped up to the fever pitch that we saw over the first half of 2016, Alexander penned his first article about the state of our political system by questioning if, indeed, Washington has too many principled politicians to govern. As a political scientist and a scholar, Alexander knows that finding common ground is essential to governing, but he laments how “compromise and negotiation seem like relics of a bygone era.” Making matters worse is that our government ceases to function when politicians stop reaching across the aisle in good faith.

“If you know your civics, you understand that there is supposed to be some level of gridlock. It’s called ‘the division of powers,’ and it ensures checks and balances. The Founding Fathers never intended any one person or political party to have the means to get everything they want,” he says. “While you can blame Obama, Trump, Clinton, or anyone else, we really should thank James Madison for this. If you understand our constitutional design, you’ll say ‘Yeah, that makes sense.’”

If there is a simple answer to how we ended up with a choice between bad and worse, Alexander will tell you that it’s what he posits in his previous quote.

If you know your civics… Sadly, it seems like we don’t.