Matthew Dowd, chief political analyst at ABC News, believes that the 2016 election has exposed some troubling realities of our political climate and our society at large—but, he said, there is reason for optimism.
Speaking on Friday afternoon at Northeastern, Dowd noted that many Americans deeply distrust Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and have lost faith in our political and economic institutions. He worries that our inherent biases—which, he said, we exacerbate by only seeking news and information that confirms these biases—have contributed to us becoming so “tribal” that it’s become increasingly difficult for us to reach common consensus on what’s best for our country. Ironically, he said, an age that has brought unprecedented access to knowledge has contributed to a lack of wisdom.
The Democratic and Republican parties, he said, “are not meeting, in many ways, the needs, hopes and, dreams of the American public.” And the emergence of Trump as well as the progressive candidate Bernie Sanders, he added, is the result—not the cause—of what he described as the country’s “shifting tectonic plates.”
Yet Dowd is hopeful, saying the American public’s dissatisfaction with the way the country is run has the power to spur social and political entrepreneurship aimed at solving the nation’s woes. “People want a different way to solve problems,” he said, adding that the barriers to entry to solving these problems are lower than ever before. He noted that this landscape has already led to disruptions in hotels, transportation, and shopping with the creation of Airbnb, Uber, and Amazon. The way he sees it, the next frontier for disruption and innovation is politics—and he urged the audience at Blackman Auditorium to seize this opportunity.
“It’s really exciting for us. Anybody that has an entrepreneurial bone in their body, people that actually want to be part of that change or do something to solve a problem in America today, you don’t have to wait,” said Dowd, who himself launched ListenTo.Us, an online community driven by the idea that “America demands that we have leaders who put country over party.”
Dowd has worked on both sides of the aisle, and now considers himself an Independent. He’s worked for Democrats including U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and served as chief strategist to the re-election campaigns to President George W. Bush in 2004 and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006. He is also a regular contributor to This Week with George Stephanopoulos and Good Morning America.
Mike Armini, senior vice president for external affairs, introduced Dowd, calling him “a rare character in politics,” in that he’s not only worked on both sides of the aisle but also “on both sides of the street” as a senior strategist on the campaign side as well as the media side.
It’s really exciting… . Anybody that has an entrepreneurial bone in their body, people that actually want to be part of that change or do something to solve a problem in America today, you don’t have to wait.
Following his talk, Dowd engaged in a lively Q&A with moderator Jonathan Kaufman, director of Northeastern’s School of Journalism, and members of the audience. Kaufman asked Dowd to forecast what will happen after Election Day. Dowd said signs point to Clinton emerging as president on Nov. 8, but what happens on Nov. 9 is much more unpredictable. “Trumpism isn’t going away” after the election regardless of the outcome, and the next president will enter a dysfunctional environment in which the country and Congress are split, he said. To be a transformative president, Clinton would have to “put country over party and govern very differently than what many people expect from the government.”
During the Q&A, Dowd criticized Trump for remarking in the third presidential debate that he might not accept the election result and expressed disappointment that talk of climate change has been absent from the debates. As he put it, the issue “doesn’t lend itself to what some people want, which is a food fight.”
When asked to comment on the media, Dowd echoed earlier remarks that people be proactive about being informed and seeking truths. “The more we as individuals consume information that confirms our biases, the worse this is going to get,” he said. “Find information that makes you uncomfortable, wherever that is. That’s going to make you smart, more knowledgeable, and the leaders that we need.”