Historian Arthur Schlesinger described a phenomenon where a general dissatisfaction causes a shift in the national mood. This occurs when our country feels a change is necessary and mindsets switch from liberalism to conservatism or vice-versa during a transition period, according to Schlesinger. These periods of liberalism or conservatism are usually bookended by presidential elections. As disapproval for a president grows, the public looks for a candidate from the other party to fix the perceived mistakes or shortcomings. In the runup to the election next month, it has become clear that many voters are seeking to transition away from the liberal period that began with the 2008 presidential election. The national liberal mentality that accompanied most of Barack Obama’s term was marked by one major successful unifying social movement and three extremely divisive policies. The successful part should be fairly obvious: the LGBTQ rights movement. This cultural shift, which 10 years ago seemed unlikely, is now seemingly accepted by both parties. Gay marriage is now legal in all 50 states, and the Obama administration deserves some credit for this change. However, any sort of victory that has come out of the past eight years will most likely be overshadowed by three policies that split our government in two. The first, in the eyes of the idealist, was an attempt to make a dream happen, but to the realist it was a poorly executed nightmare of unbearable cost. The Affordable Care Act radically changed the our country’s health care system for the first time in 40 years. The idea was to offer affordable health insurance to all people, just as dozens of other countries have. However, since its introduction as a bill, the policy has been considered by many nothing more than a wild maze of red tape. Several bouts in the Supreme Court, and a 16-day government shutdown later, this painfully controversial law continues to be a dividing force between the two parties. Now, in the eyes of many, Barack Obama is a socialist. Another controversy of the Obama administration has been the Iranian Nuclear Deal of 2015. Following its announcement, it was immediately condemned by numerous Republicans. Republican presidential candidates slammed the deal, insisting that they could have done better. They cited a need for more protection for our country and the safety of the people of Israel, according to an article in The Atlantic. Obama was seen as far too soft in far too serious a situation. For many, the idea of an unfriendly country like Iran having any sort of nuclear program sounded like a death wish. All of these may be reasons for a shift in our national mood and leadership. After all, it would be pretty hard to deny that the blunders of Republican president George W. Bush made it easier for Democrat Barack Obama to take his place. Have the divisive, “socialist” policies of Obama made it easier for Donald Trump, a Republican capitalist candidate, to gain traction in this election? We can find a correlation by looking at how each new president may be a national reaction to the last. For that reason, it is important to analyze and understand where Bush went wrong, and where the public turned on him. The national shift toward liberalism stems from three major failures of George W. Bush’s presidency following its first turning point, 9/11. President Bush’s response to the worst terrorist attack on American soil was the announcement of a global war on terror. As a direct result, the U.S. went to war with the Taliban in Afghanistan and with Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. Bush used the term “preemptive strike” as an excuse to start wars over perceived threats. This concept would be the basis for what was deemed the Bush Doctrine, the justification for invading countries that had nothing to do with the September 11 terrorist attacks. Shortly after 9/11, public approval of President Bush skyrocketed, peaking at 90 percent approval. But as the wars waged on, public opinion dropped. He would leave office at an all-time low of 22 percent, according to CBS News. The second failure of the Bush administration was the inability to prepare for and manage recovery after one of the deadliest natural disasters in American history, Hurricane Katrina. Many grew frustrated when people continued to die of thirst and exhaustion several days after the storm’s landfall, according to U.S. News. Images of Louisiana residents yelling for help from the roofs of their homes prompted public outcry. Bush was slammed by many as helpless, clueless, and racist. Bush’s third failure, and perhaps his biggest, was his very evident contribution to the worst economic crisis our nation had experienced since the Great Depression. Early in the Bush presidency, he returned to deficit spending in addition to tax cuts, which ballooned our national debt. In addition, the cost of the Iraq War ultimately totaled between $1 trillion and $3 trillion, according to Fox. Meanwhile, the Bush administration had fired economic advisers for warning about the cost of the war and the dangers of deficit spending when it was not needed. For all these reasons, people will always relate their dissatisfaction and frustration from 2000 to 2008 with the Bush administration. In this time of frustration and disapproval, it is quite obvious why the public elected a young, charismatic, liberal, black senator who ran on the idea of “hope” for the future. So now, in the final year of President Obama’s second term, will we see a migration toward more conservative policies? Or will the need for more social progress and reforms cause the pendulum to swing toward the left for another four years? Perhaps something new is emerging: a general frustration with the entire system rather than one side or the other. The idea that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans hold our best interest. This has been born out in this presidential race by a candidate on each side. The first was Senator Bernie Sanders, a socialist from Vermont who caucuses with the democrats. The second, Donald Trump, a billionaire reality television star who, if elected, would be by far the least politically experienced person to ever be our president. Both these candidates ran on the platform that the whole system is flawed. At this point, Sanders has left the race and endorsed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. What will be the next shift in U.S. politics? We must only wait until next month to find out.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.