Thomas Cronin speaks about presidential leadership, 2016 election

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Colorado College professor Tom Cronin speaks at the Tower Scholar’s Presidential Leadership & the 2016 Election event. Photo credit: SMU Tower Center Website

“What an election year,” announced Thomas Cronin, professor of American Institutions and Leadership at Colorado College, prefacing his lecture “Presidential Leadership and the 2016 Election” at SMU’s Prothro Hall Feb. 4.

Every election is characterized by its own features, and the 2016 election proves no different.

From the unexpected rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, to the lack of an incumbent, this election, much like the presidential leadership, is marked by paradoxes.

“We’re tough on presidents,” Cronin said. “We’ve never had a perfect president and it’s unlikely we will have one.”

Cronin said despite this, Americans still attempt to find a candidate to exemplify this idea. However, it is made more difficult when the public does not trust the government.

“Trusting government and trusting parties is at an all time low,” Cronin said, with Congress’ approval rating at 18 percent.

Cronin said what unifies Americans in this loss of sentiment are issues: anger and resolve after 9/11, economic recovery and growth, among others. Yet candidates seem to represent nothing but divides.

“Debates and divides within parties are sometimes greater than those between parties,” said Cronin, exemplifying the enigma surrounding elections and political standards today.

Cronin added that debates and individualism prevail the elections.

“Americans yearn for presidential greatness and for presidents who can somehow transcend politics,” said Cronin, linking this explanation to Trump’s unexpected prevail in the polls.

Trump’s success in this election rides on his characterization as a bull in a China shop, Cronin said.

“American people are fascinated with rogue-ish characteristics,” he said. “Some Americans are tired with politics. They want someone who can shake things up.”

This frustration with politics translates to the substantial rise in self-identified independents: now 40 percent of the voting population.

With these new sentiments from Americans — frustration with government, a new rise in independent voters, no incumbent candidate and increased polarization of the country — one wonders how fundamental aspects of the American experience weigh, specifically the “American Dream.”

“Americans want a president to bring us together and help unify the country,” Cronin said. “Yet they believe in competing, and sometimes contradictory American Dreams.”

This desire also teeters under the pressure of the fact that there is no one American dream.

“There is no equation to fulfill the American Dream for everyone,” Cronin said.

Even in the midst of this ideal, only 36 percent of Americans still believe the American Dream is alive, according to an NBC News/Esquire National Survey from December 2015.

Are Americans losing hope in the presidency, or, even more broadly, America?

“The purpose of politics is to reconcile and balance these values and the tensions that come with them,” Cronin said.

Cronin said that the paradoxes of politics and American expectations, in the host of the contemporary world, make politics no easy endeavor.

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