Election 2016: The most technology-driven election in American history

After a long, acrimonious, strange election season, it's finally time to vote. David Gewirtz reflects on how technology has been at the forefront of this cycle and shares a few hopeful thoughts as America prepares to choose its leaders.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

The 1960 campaign season, when John Fitzgerald Kennedy ran against Richard Milhous Nixon, is widely regarded as marking the ascendance of television as the leading technological influencer in politics.

Fifty six years later, the internet has eclipsed television as the locus of power in the American political system.

While the web had been around for almost a decade before 2004, it wasn't really until the short-lived Howard Dean candidacy tapped into the pre-social network blogosphere that the internet really became part of campaign strategies.

It's important to note that in 2004, YouTube didn't exist. Neither did Twitter. While Facebook was founded in 2004, it was limited to student use only until about 2006.

Howard Dean's campaign imploded after the famous "Dean Scream." It went viral via television alone well before social networks existed to make "going viral" something of almost incomprehensible potency.

In 2008 and 2012, the influence of the internet continued to grow, as did social media. Although data crunchers have long existed in politics, Barack Obama's "Narwhal" data operation and Mitt Romney's similar "ORCA" system used big data to take analytics to an entirely new level in politics. These big data operations competed almost as hard for votes as the candidates themselves.

All of that brings us to this election and this day. Two technologies have loomed so large in this election that without them, we would almost undoubtedly have had an entirely different campaign season.

Without Twitter, Donald Trump would not be the Republican candidate. Without email, Hillary Clinton might be able to sleep tonight.

We often forget that the ability to record candidates is itself a technology. Whether it's Obama's clinging to guns and religion, Clinton's basket of deplorables, Romney's 47 percent, or Trump's grab them by the p-word, semi-private recordings have leaked into the public arena, angering and polarizing the populace.

Even texting has influenced this election. Former United States Congressman and, apparently, full-time pervert Anthony Weiner texted sexually charged messages to an underage girl.

As we all now know, just a week before the election, a laptop seized by the FBI during that investigation was found to have emails possibly related to the Hillary Clinton investigation. Prior to their divorce, Weiner had been married to Clinton's longtime aide, Huma Abedin and, apparently, the laptop was shared by the couple.

That's before we even discuss the worldwide echo chamber that we've all built together: YouTube videos, blog posts, tweets, and Facebook rants we've filmed, written, posted, tweeted, retweeted, and shared.

Like him or not, Donald Trump has demonstrated both the power of democracy and disintermediation. While television has great influence, and certainly can magnify messages, it's the constant drumbeat of social media that has been used to rally supporters and inflame the emotions of the entire citizenry.

Hillary Clinton's use, misuse, and "carelessness" about email technology has raised the nation's consciousness about email, and the importance of careful management of email messaging, to something of a frenzy.

So here we are in 2016, one day before the election. It's an election season that has been filled with technology discussions about emails, servers, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, texting, laptops, Wikileaks, and even Russian hackers.

This is, without a doubt, the most technology-driven election we've ever had.

Beyond the technology

So much for technology's role in the 2016 elections. I'd like to discuss the nature of this election cycle.

It has been the best of times. It has been the worst of times. Let's talk about the worst of times first.

This has been an almost insanely negative election cycle. Everyone I've spoken to has expressed a level of fatigue with everything related to it. The constant barrage of disturbing news about both candidates has worn us all down.

In previous elections, we've chosen which of two candidates would be the best leader for our country. In this election, we're forced to choose which candidate has the least-troubling weaknesses.

On the day before our election, I'd like to also discuss the better angels that manifested in this cycle. Many of us have long wondered if our votes count. This time, we know they do. Mr. Trump (as problematic as he is, and whether you side with him or not), has proven the value of citizen voting. Every traditional political force was arrayed against him, yet he managed to prevail this far, taking leadership of a party, essentially against its will.

There is a silver lining in that. The people are supposed to have an influence. Mr. Trump tapped into a worry and anger that exists among many of our fellow citizens, and gave them voice. His nomination proves that.

Hillary Clinton, despite her flaws and admitted mistakes, has also accomplished something no other woman has. Long, long after it should have happened, a woman has finally achieved the nomination of a major party. Whether she wins or loses, that fact will remain.

Even the constant, sexually disturbing elements of this election -- whether it's Mr. Trump's grabbiness, Mr. Clinton's dalliances, or Mr. Weiner's weiner -- have brought women's issues to the forefront. It's clear that we, as a nation, need to show more respect to women, facilitate their empowerment, and treat them as the equals they are.

It's hard to see good in the racial and nationalistic acrimony, but good there is. Issues that have long raged in semi-darkness have become visible on a national level. While nothing in this area will be easy to resolve, having a national discussion is a step on the way to understanding and progress.

It is a tiring time. No matter which candidate wins, there will undoubtedly be unrest going forward. While there's been a lot of griping about how neither candidate is an example of the best of America, there are presidents and there is The Presidency. All presidents operate with a vast array of well-trained career advisors and assistants.

New presidents have been known to walk into the White House unprepared and unsuited for the office, but grow into the job, showing an inner strength and character not apparent until they've served their time behind the Resolute desk. We can only hope.

To those reading this from outside America's borders, you've had a chance to watch us air our dirty laundry. Many of you, I'm sure, don't understand how we can have such seemingly awful family squabbles.

This is how a democratic republic works. We have more than 300 million citizens, which means more than 300 million opinions. Every few years we get together, and loudly, messily, angrily, and wonderfully argue out everything that's bothering us, everything we need to improve. Then, somehow, on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, we choose.

To my fellow Americans, I want you to be hopeful. But first, we must vote. Remember, all of us, in this great nation, are in this together. Let's be kind to each other.

I invite you to see this as a uniquely American opportunity. We have an opportunity for the disenfranchised to be heard, an opportunity for women's issues to be brought to the forefront, an opportunity to come to terms with racial and immigration issues, an opportunity to rethink our mistakes, and an opportunity to confront and overcome our troubling weaknesses.

Once again, as we have done year-after-year, decade-after-decade, century-after-century, we can rise above ourselves and our squabbles to be one nation, stronger together, great again, and maybe, if we really do our best, great forever.

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