Commentary: Even in bad times, Americans avoid angry candidates

Are Americans ready to elect an angry man to be president?

Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks as Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton listens during their first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. September 26, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is angry. He’s angry about the way things are going in the country (“a disaster”). He’s angry about President Barack Obama. He’s angry about the media and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton (“the best person in her campaign is the mainstream media”). Angry about trade. Angry about other countries taking advantage of the United States. Angry about the Iran deal. Angry about everything.

Trump is every woman’s nightmare: the angry husband. Clinton’s response? Weary resignation: “I have a feeling that, by the end of this evening, I am going to be blamed for everything that’s ever happened.”

When CNN asked  “Who did the best job in the debate?” women declared Clinton the winner by a resounding 40-point margin (65 to 25 percent). Men did not disagree.  They declared Clinton the winner by 30 points (59 to 29 percent).

A lot of Americans are angry. That’s why Trump won the Republican nomination. Conservatives are infuriated that Obama, the most liberal president America has ever had, got elected twice. Many working people are enraged that their jobs are disappearing in a globalized economy. A lot of white men feel that they have lost power with the rise of political correctness.


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A New America is emerging -- a coalition of working women, single mothers, African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Jewish and Muslim voters, young people, gays and educated professionals -- and the Old America has become an angry resistance movement. Trump is its leader.

Elections are always a choice between change and continuity. If you are happy with the status quo, you vote for the president’s party. The candidate of the opposition party is supposed to sell change.

Change is not a bad product for Trump to be selling this year. There's a lot of discontent about the economy and terrorism and racial polarization. That's why Trump is competitive, though most Americans say he is not qualified to be president.

But even in bad times, Americans don’t usually elect angry candidates. Americans typically go for candidates who offer hope and optimism.

Things were much worse in 1932 when Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president. He promised better days ahead and a “New Deal” for the American people. In 1968, the country was gripped by an unpopular war, racial violence and student protest. Richard M. Nixon said he would ``bring us together.’’ In 1980, when we had an energy crisis, hyperinflation and hostages in Iran, Ronald Reagan talked about “a shining city on a hill.” In 1992, when Americans were devastated by recession, Bill Clinton ran as “the man from Hope.” In 2008, when the country seemed to be teetering into another Great Depression, Obama offered “hope” and “change” -- not anger.


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Hillary Clinton tried to remind voters of how far they had come since the financial crash of 2008: “We have come back from that abyss. And it has not been easy.” Trump’s angry retort: “Our country is suffering because people like Secretary Clinton have made such bad decisions. . . . We are in a big, fat, ugly bubble.” Bubbles burst.

At one point, Trump argued, “We have a situation [where] African-Americans, Hispanics, are living in hell because it’s so dangerous. You walk down the street, you get shot.”

While urban violence is a real problem, a lot of African-Americans and Latinos are likely to feel insulted by that characterization of their lives.

Clinton’s performance was not exactly sunny and cheerful. It was cautious and controlled. What she radiated was not hope but competence. She got the sound bite of the evening when she said, “I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And yes, I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president.’’

Trump boasted, “I think my strongest asset, maybe by far, is my temperament. I have a winning temperament.”

What he really has is an angry temperament.

When it comes to electing a president, one thing voters may not want to worry about is anger management.

About the Author

Bill Schneider is a visiting professor in the Communication Studies Department at the University of California -- Los Angeles

The views expressed in this article are not those of Reuters News.