Yes, government’s increasing involvement in the economic and moral lives of citizens have made political stakes high. It’s true that 2016 features the two suckiest candidates probably ever. It’s also true that our collective vision of the American project has frayed, perhaps beyond repair. With the intense scrutiny of contemporary political coverage, more people are invested in the daily grind of elections, which intensifies the sting of losing. This anger compounds every cycle (although winning brings its own disappointment with its unfulfilled promises).
That’s not to say our constitutional republic isn’t slowly dying. It probably is. This condition isn’t contingent on an election’s outcome, but on widespread problems with our institutions, politics, and voters. Whatever you believe the future of governance should look like, one election is not going make or break it.
In fact, when it comes to policy, it’s far more likely that very little will change over the next four years. Perhaps even less than did with the election of Barack Obama, who had two years of one-party rule before Republicans took back Congress. Last year, Businessweek ran a column headlined “Why 2016 May Be the Most Important Election of Our Lifetime.” It, like many other similar pieces, argues that as our politics become more polarized our elections become correspondingly more significant. But our growing divide might be exactly why 2016 turns out to be one of the least important election in our lifetimes.