What We’ll Learn About Ourselves on Election Day

Are we striving for a more perfect union or a new national construct?

In choosing between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, voters will hopefully strive for a more perfect union rather than a new national construct, writes Jonathan Allen. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
In choosing between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, voters will hopefully strive for a more perfect union rather than a new national construct, writes Jonathan Allen. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted November 7, 2016 at 9:24pm

Throughout this presidential campaign, more than any other in memory, the concept of America has been the subject of our political debate.

Is our system so paralyzed that it needs radical transformation? Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump offered that in ways that should remind us our politics are well within the boundaries of the global political spectrum.

Sanders promised to tear down our power structure and remake it in a more socialist image, pledging to put a restrictor plate on our great capitalist engine and sharing more evenly in the spoils it produces. He favored economic fairness over growth.

Though Trump has appealed to many white working- and middle-class voters who feel that they have lost economic, social and political power, particularly to minorities, his approach of purging minorities speaks much more to social anxiety and prejudice than any real promise of economic empowerment for his voters. His tax plans, more than anything, would redistribute money up the economic chain.

But he promises, in the subtext of his platform, to remake America in the image of a more authoritarian and homogeneous nationalist state. For lack of a more precise term, his appeal is in the idea of a neo-fascist America, which explains why white supremacists have felt so comfortable waving their flags in his honor.

Voters are rightly angry about the establishment’s inability to act in the expressed interests of the people. And yet, on the political right and the political left, they are angry about different things.

Tuesday night (hopefully), we will find out if Trump’s brand of change — of an America remade by a man who promises he “alone” can fix the country — is stronger than Hillary Clinton’s promise to include everyone in making more incremental alterations to our unique and adaptable capitalist republic.

I suspect Americans will choose again to strive for a more perfect union rather than a new national construct.

Roll Call columnist Jonathan Allen is co-author of the New York Times-bestselling Clinton biography “HRC” and has covered Congress, the White House and elections over the past 15 years.