Why the 2016 presidential election does not matter

Published October 24, 2016   Posted in How to Think

It does not make a lick of difference who wins the presidential elections in 2016. The president is largely inconsequential in our lives; don’t get roped into a corrupt political process that thrives on emotional dialog and empty promises.

Pinterest: No U.S. president will improve your lifeBy the way, this is about as political as I will ever get here on the blog, but this is a topic that I’ve wrestled with discussing for quite some time. This post is not about one political candidate vs. another. It is about putting politics in perspective and retaining focus on what makes the most difference in our lives.

For as long as I can remember, Dooms Day scenarios have flooded the political discourse each election cycle. If Candidate X is elected, then Effect Y will occur. From year to year, these scenarios are almost always the same, but they rarely, if ever, occur.

If they did, we’d all be dead by now.

Politics is a distraction that disorients the population into believing that an elected body of [largely career] politicians will make your life better. Promises are a dime-a-dozen. Strangely, it doesn’t seem to matter whether those promises get fulfilled or not.

Election after election, the cycle continues. The same promises are promised by the same politicians. People continue to lament their “bad fortunes” and wish for better representation. Or more laws. Fewer laws. A better job. More help. Less bureaucracy…all things that politicians promise to fix.

The truth is Washington D.C. doesn’t build societies – we do. Our local governments and communities have a much greater influence over our day to day lives than national politics ever will. Our local cities are where change truly happens – change that can affect our lives.

Not D.C. Not our president. The emotionally-driven issues that our national politicians want us focused on are not the issues that make our lives better or worse.

The laws and ordinances that we live by are largely local. Research them. Get to know your local representatives. Run for local office. Get involved locally…where change can more easily happen.

Don’t look towards a corrupt political system to improve your life

For the most part, the President of the United States is a figurehead, nothing more. The things that improve or destroy your life are the decisions that YOU make in your daily life, not the president. Whoever becomes our next president, I promise that he or she does not care about you. Or your kids. Or your retirement. Not even for a second. No president ever has.

A typical politician’s primary concerns are as follows: MoneyPower and Votes.

It is not about you and me. Politicians aren’t sitting in Washington coming up with ways to make our lives easier. In fact, politicians thrive on problems. If this were a perfect world, the need for politicians would disappear. Problems are what keep politicians in office. It is in their best interest to maintain and/or create problems in which they need to “fix”.

Fixing so-called “problems” is how they keep their jobs.

Let’s screw our heads on straight and recognize the true difference-maker in our lives. Here, let’s make it easy by using the classic dating break-up philosophy: It’s not you. It’s me. Now, let’s change a pronoun or two to make it more accurate:

It’s not them. It’s you and me. 

The way that we react to the world around us makes a heck of a lot more difference in our lives than the stooge who’s sitting in the White House and playing golf every week. Don’t look to that dude or dudette to improve your life or society around you. Clearly, the system is corrupt, Lord of the Flies style. Not many would argue that point.

Nor this one: Entities that thrive on problems will never improve your life.

How to improve your life in 2016 and beyond

The only person who can improve your life is YOU. Not the president. Not any senator. The buck stops with you and me. As scary as it may sound, we are masters of our own destinies.

How about creating a set of achievable goals to fulfill over the next four years rather than focusing on who will be our next White House resident. How will WE improve our lives? What will WE do to make the next four years the best years ever?

A few suggestions on what to strive for over the next four years:

  • Double your net worth
  • Learn a new language
  • Downsize your home
  • Move to a city with a lower cost of living
  • Eliminate debt once and for all
  • Climb a “14-er”
  • Retire early!

Resist the urge to let the next president distract you from focusing on what matters the most in your life. Remain determined. Even if the election doesn’t go your way, it probably won’t matter. Your goals are still achievable. The next president will not – and cannot – prevent us from accomplishing anything that we put our minds to.

Through focus and determination, you will not fail.

We track our net worth using Personal Capital


54 responses to “Why the 2016 presidential election does not matter”

  1. I agree 100% Steve and I refuse to get sucked in to all the hype. Good luck if you depend on others to determine your future. I love this line – “the things that improve or destroy your life are the decisions that YOU make in your daily life”! If we stick together, use the synergy that comes from sharing what works and doesn’t work for us in our lives – we’ll go far. That’s one thing my parents definitely modeled for us – take care of yourself, work hard and plan ahead. Have a great week – and I hope everyone turns off the news and does something more positive for themselves!

  2. Studies have shown your 100 percent correct. Even if a presidential election were about helping you economically, the presidents role in government is enforcement of rules and vetoing the laws congress passes. This means if anyone in government can impact you at all, and I’m still not sure they care too, it’s congress. They are the ones that can add or remove a tax, increase or decrease government services, or cut government jobs. The presidents only say is a potential veto, which can be overridden by congress.

    • Steve says:

      We make a big deal about presidents in this country. Granted, they do occupy the most public political office, so I can understand that to some degree. And while they do enjoy some power, like signing and/or vetoing legislation, nominating supreme court justices, issuing executive orders and things like that, they aren’t all that important or integral to the lives of us Americans. They don’t make or break our futures. We do. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Thanks, Steve, I needed that this morning. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the 24 hour news cycle, yet the reality is we control our lives to a much greater extent than those in Washington (or London, or Brussels, or or or). I love the “4 Year Challenge”, what can I do in the next 4 years. Great reminder, at the right time. I still want my Candidate to win, but I will survive even if “The Other” wins! For those of us committed to FIRE, that’s what really matters today.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for the comment Fritz. You’re right, it is easy to get wrapped up in politics, but with the right attitude, it won’t matter who wins to the day-to-day lives of Americans (or anyone else around the world with their respective governments). I do admit there are exceptions, but at least here in the U.S., we can count on the president having very, very little effect on our overall lives.

  4. I want to partially agree and partially disagree.

    First, agree completely that local governments and communities have much greater influence over the day-to-day than national politics. As a lawyer, people will often ask me about whatever random legal question they have and most of them arise out of state law rather than federal. Also agree completely that each individual has much more control over their future than politicians. If you are not taking steps to address your own problems, a politician is not going to magically make your life better. You need to take that responsibility on and work as hard as you can towards achieving the future you want.

    That said, I want to challenge your view of politicians and government generally. Obviously there are politicians that fit your description. There are certainly politicians who are more interested in money, power, and votes, than in making life better for their citizens. But I find that most people who get into politics do so with an honest drive to help people. They honestly care about the average citizen and they care about creating a better future for the country (even if I often disagree with their vision or approach). It is sometimes hard to believe that, especially in today’s atmosphere of gridlock and vitriol towards the other side, but I still think it is there.

    As to your comment that the system “will never improve your life,” I would challenge that along similar grounds. Looking at the recent past, I was unemployed and had a pre-existing condition before the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Before that law passed I was unable to purchase health insurance on the open market (and I would be unable to retire before Medicare kicked in for the same reason). The ACA was obviously not politically popular. It didn’t get Obama any more money, power, or votes. In fact, it lost his party the 2010 midterms. But he pushed forward with it to help people. Regardless of whether you think that the ACA is good policy or bad policy, it is hard to challenge it as a power grab or a popularity move.

    All of that said, I agree entirely with the takeaway and the call to action. Thanks for a thought post.

    • Steve says:

      Hi Matt,

      I appreciate your reply. And, I do agree with you that some people get into politics with good intentions. I don’t think that there’s any question about that, in fact. I’ve wondered if it’s just a bunch of corrupt people who get into politics, or if it’s politics that winds up corrupting people. I think it’s more the latter than the former. Our government is very much a “give and take” system, and it’s tough to get anything meaningful done without promising support for other legislation, or doing favors for your fellow representatives.

      Thanks for considering my words and giving this post a read. To a productive week ahead!

  5. Mrs. PIE says:

    Thanks for a thought provoking read, at a time when its so easy to get sucked into the madness.
    While I was reading this I had two things on my mind. One, like Matt was the ACA, and the second was Brexit. ACA has changed people’s lives and has had a very personal effect on many. I’d hold that as something a politician did that genuinely had an effect. For us, it will be a great benefit, and if it went away you can be sure we would take a long hard look at our FIRE plans, but ultimately we’d make something work – as you say, it’s up to us to improve our lives and figure things out. For others it would be devastating if it went away. While that’s not entirely down to the president to make that happen, the influence to get that ball rolling comes from them.
    As for Brexit, that’s a funny case (although not in the least bit funny) because the people voted for it. It will affect millions in terms of immigration status and jobs. Here the politicians are also to blame as those who got the ball rolling. Having been an immigrant myself I know how it feels to have someone else holding the ticket to how you want your life to be.
    Now when it comes to those folks (including my family) who blame their lack of ability to retire before 70 on either government or company policy (for those in the U.K.), I have little sympathy as this is certainly an example of looking after yourself!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Mrs. PIE. Yup, the Affordable Care Act is a big one, and there are folks from all walks of life that either love it or hate it. I like your attitude about it, too – if it wasn’t there, you’d figure something out. We would too. There’s always a way – we just gotta find it. 🙂

  6. Apathy Ends says:

    Yes! Yes! Yes!

    The funny part is, people that don’t know anything about politics look at me like I am a moron when I say “I don’t care who the president is”

    • Steve says:

      Ha! Yup, that doesn’t surprise me. Presidential elections are way too easy to get emotionally drawn into. But your attitude is the right one – don’t care, doesn’t matter. If we do our best to make the very best decisions for our lives, then the person occupying the White House makes no difference at all.

    • I’m a lawyer, so I interact with a lot of other lawyers. These are people who pretty much consider it heresy to say that politics is not an issue. I often say “I don’t care who the president is,” and I run into the same response as you.

      Speaking with other lawyers, I generally follow it up with a one-sentence explanation that all I could care about politically is an Economic Bill of Rights circa Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose (a book I’d highly recommend) and a huge step back in law relating to the Takings Clause of the Constitution (book on that – Takings by Richard Epstein). Short of that, all politicians are arguing only about how to abuse the lack of those measures with minor adjustments to laws that will have little to no effect on my life. So, I ignore them. The troubles any politician might cause for me are so remote, so out of my control, and so small that I might as well direct my concern to more pressing issues like my own spending, saving, and enjoyment of life.

      If I get a blank stare or a “That’s ridiculous and has nothing to do with [abortion, Social Security, e-mails, groping, or insert other election-cycle issue here],” I drop the conversation right there at any cost.

      • Steve says:

        Well said, Mr. Vigilante! “The troubles any politician might cause for me are so remote, so out of my control, and so small that I might as well direct my concern to more pressing issues like my own spending, saving, and enjoyment of life.”

        So unbelievably true. Thanks for your comment!

  7. Wow….politics now. The internet trolls might come out from under the digital bridge for this one! 😉

    That said, great post. Well written and positive!

  8. TJ says:

    Right there with you Steve!

    Politics brings out the worst in people, I see so much on Facebook about the national political scene….where in my state, the result has been a foregone conclusion for months. I don’t see anybody posting about local issues, where you actually could make some changes.

    • Steve says:

      Hey TJ – yeah, Arizona has largely been a red state, but rumor has it that it might be more uncertain this time around. Not sure, doesn’t matter much to me. 🙂

  9. This is very true. While the president is still very important, there are checks and balances in place that prevent the president from overstepping their bounds and causing the end of the world.

    I rely on myself to make my life and the lives of those around me better. However, some improvements can only come from the government, such as rights to disenfranchised/minority groups. In this case, however, it’s more important to elect representatives to the Senate and HOR than to rely on the president to make sweeping changes.

    Even though this election’s results probably won’t yield Armageddon, I encourage everyone to get out there and vote!!!!!! I’m doing early voting this weekend and it’s always super easy. It takes 30 minutes of my time and I know my voice counts.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Picky Pincher. I agree, no armageddon this time around. And probably next time, too. Oh, and the time after that as well. The guy or girl doesn’t matter all that much. It’s Congress, like you’re saying. And for good reason.

  10. Thanks for ruining my Monday morning. 🙂
    But I hear you. I’m glad you take the view that “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is not something that the government does for you. We have to seek that ourselves. Hence, the word “pursuit” of happiness. We don’t pick up happiness at a government office (quite the opposite: think DMV, Post Office), but we have to work for it.
    But still, every 4 years, politicians come along to promise new stuff: more government-created “happiness” (just taking away some of our liberties, nothing to worry about). In the end, they only care about their own deals with lobbyists.

    • Steve says:

      Yup, lots and lots of promises. Usually, they are the *same* promises as well, just spoken by a different individual. And I do agree that politicians will certainly do whatever they can to keep their lobbyist money flowing in their direction! 🙂

  11. I think it’s easier to blame others for our problems and expect them to fix them for us, rather than look inside ourselves for the answer. While I do think casting a vote is important, I agree we need to take the responsibility for changing and improving our own lives. And I love your 4 year goal suggestions…

  12. Mr. SSC says:

    I agree in a large part with you about helping yourself more than depending on the government to do anything for you.

    “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help” – Ronald Reagan

    I too think politicians are split 50/50 between going into politics to help people and going into politics to help themselves.

    The first thing that came to mind though about President’s not helping was the CCC and WPA which provided a lot of jobs for unemployed folks in the Great Depression and got a lot of public works done for the country. In general though, I agree that the President is more a figurehead than an actual political powerhouse that “gets stuff done.”

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for your comment, Mr. SSC. Yup, largely just a figurehead, but can do relatively little without Congress. And the things that effect the people the most still, in very large part, come from their local communities and state governments – as they should.

  13. Harold says:

    Respectfully, this couldn’t be more wrong. President Obama pushed through Obamacare which allowed millions of the poor to get on Medicaid. In Florida the Republican governor rejected it and 80,000 people there don’t have health insurance because of it – a few of which will die because of lack of funding. In my opinion it is irresponsible to say both sides are the same and it doesn’t matter. I beg of you to become better informed – there is a huge difference between the candidates and who are elected officials are has a HUGE effect on your day-to-day life.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Harold, but I just don’t see it that way. The issues themselves may differ from party to party, but the general course of government is relatively unwavering, regardless of who currently occupies the White House. Both major political parties have very few *REAL* differences, unfortunately. Deficits. Wars. Spending. Bureaucracy. In fact, the reason why we Americans insist on going back and forth between Democrats and Republicans helps support the notion that neither party represents anything other than emotional rhetoric with very little, if any, substance.

      How do we improve our lives? By taking control of them, not by looking to career politicians – and THIS was my larger point. The majority of us have much more control over our lives than we care to admit. Once we realize how much control we have, whatever our political class does in Washington D.C. will continue to have very little effect on our day-to-day lives.

  14. Tawcan says:

    As a Canadian I’m amazed how long the US presidential election takes in terms of selecting a candidate to when you get to vote. Don’t people get worn out by all these presidential news toward the end?

    Well written and thought provoking article Steve.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Tawcan. People definitely get worn out, yes. But in the U.S., the presidential elections are quite literally a beauty contest. It’s so shallow and probably not all that honest. Politicians will do pretty much anything to get elected. It’s real tough to put a lot of credence in this process any more.

  15. Basil says:

    Starting armed conflicts or not, selecting secretaries who will do things, appointing SCOTUS judges, getting along with foreign heads of state…the President does matter.

    That said, I agree with the functional point of your article. Don’t expect someone else-a politician, your boss, parents- to make your life better for you. You can still be involved in the political process: make your decision and vote when the time comes, but ignore the daily political drama.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Basil. Avoiding the political drama is absolutely critical to see the forest for the trees in my opinion. If you get too far into the nonsensical discourse, then your ability to take in the figurative environment around you becomes severely compromised.

  16. Couldn’t agree more. This is why I’ve never been much of a political person. Every election, the side that loses thinks the world is going to end and the side that wins acts as if they’ve just won the lottery. The reality is, our system does not allow one person to enforce their will, and thus it is difficult for one person to have a significant impact. The President receives to much blame for when things go bad and too much praise when things are good. In the end, my choices will have a lot more impact on how my life turns out over the next 4 years than the President’s will.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for your thoughts. Honestly, I used to pay attention to politics – a lot. But these days, it just doesn’t seem to make a lot of difference who’s party is in the majority. Government continues to expand. Deficits continue to mount. Wars rage on. In the end, it’s all about the choices that WE make in our lives. Let’s focus on how we can improve our own lives.

  17. Hmm… I don’t want to get into the politics of it but I believe that President Obama really cared about the American citizens. Yes, he wanted votes, yes, he wanted support and fame. He may have done it for selfish reasons but the result was that he did a lot for Americans. It doesn’t mean we should be dependent on the president for anything but it’s nice when something good happens as a result of the president’s pushes for decisions to happen.

    It’s just like capitalism. Businesses really just want our money, which is a pretty selfish reason, but that selfish reason brings extra value to customers. Not saying anyone’s opinions are right or wrong, just thought that I should give my opinion 🙂

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Finance Solver – opinions always welcome. I do agree that not *everything* the government does is automatically “bad”. Sometimes, the government does something that actually makes sense. Sometimes. But as a whole, it’s us who will make a bigger impact in our lives than our government. And frankly, that’s the way it should be. We should be masters of our own destinies. 🙂

  18. I AM curious to see if and how the markets react. But I’ll keep nervously investing like always 😉 I’m much more concerned with my local government and local school board than anything on the national scale. But this is a great reminder that we have tons of power over our own lives and then there are plenty of things outside of our control and/or that don’t have the influence that we think.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Penny, me too. I think the markets would react pretty wildly regardless of who becomes the next president just because of the uncertainty of it all. But, I think you definitely have your focus straight. Your local government and school board is a better target for your focus than at the national level, for sure.

  19. MrSLM says:

    I think I agree with the underlying message in this post, which is that you can do more to change your life by focusing on more direct things like self improvement, habits, etc. I think that’s a good point as well, try to make the changes happen for yourself. Things move a lot more slowly the higher up the chain you go.

    The rest, the politics, I’m Canadian and I’ll step out there since I am pretty ignorant (willfully) of the US system 🙂

    • Steve says:

      Thanks MrSLM. Yup, things definitely do move quite a bit slower the higher up in the food chain you get. And…if my own experience is any guide, far less ethical.

      • MrSLM says:

        I’d be curious to hear about your experiences since you have personal experience, that might go a long way to better understanding your cynicism towards government.

        • Steve says:

          I have a long career of working with the government from both inside and outside of government agencies and various projects and initiatives. I don’t necessarily want to air dirty laundry here, but suffice it to say that I’ve *personally* witnessed enough to help fuel my overall cynicism…and the lack of actual [positive] accomplishments coming out of D.C. has helped to solidify those feelings over the years.

  20. Simple Saving says:

    When is the last time a national politician spoke to us about personal responsibility in our lives? Oh yeah… Never! It’s always “I know how you feel”, “I want to help out the middle class”, “I will help you have better this and more of that”, blah blah blah. It’s actually quite pathetic. If we all took personal responsibility over our lives and our happiness, then we’d all be better off, but politicians don’t want it that way because they wouldn’t be “needed” anymore.

    • Steve says:

      It is strange to think about, but it’s also true – if the people lead perfectly happy lives, the need for politicians would simply disappear. The political class thrives on problems…or at the very least, “perceived problems”. And fear.

  21. Mrs. BITA says:

    I disagree that D.C and the President have no effect on our lives. Depending on what judge gets nominated to the court may have an enormous impact on my body and the decisions I get to make about it. Or, if I were gay, then in the recent past, the court (and thus indirectly the President and D.C.) would have made an enormous difference to my life.

    On the other hand, you are right, there is much to be said about not getting sucked into the process and having it be the be all and end all of your focus. There is much to be said for focussing on the things you can control and all the ways in which you can improve your own life and the life of al those around you.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Mrs. BITA. I do concede that presidents can have influence over the direction of our country, but the checks and balances provided by Congress ensure that the president’s voice is only as powerful as the will of Congress (and, ultimately, the wishes of heavily-funded lobbyists). I appreciate the comment and you taking the time to read!

  22. I’m in my early twenties so a lot of the people around me talk about candidates stance on student loans and forgiveness programs. I always tell them to NOT rely on the government for assistance in eliminating your student loans. The only person who has the most power over eliminating them is you, the borrower.

    Presidents don’t have as much power as people think. It’s important to have that internal motivation within you to change. Right now I’m working to eliminate my student loans and learning a new language with Duolingo and Butterfly TV!

    • Steve says:

      Hi Colin – it’s so easy to look to our political class and expect them to *give us things*, whether that’s so-called loan forgiveness or anything else. Your advice to not rely on the government for much of anything, of course, is incredibly wise. They’ll learn that one way or another, but the earlier, the better. Definitely sounds like you have your head screwed on straight! 🙂

  23. Jenn says:

    Holy cow – you almost had me shouting “Amen!”

    Believing that an elected official or party determines our individual futures is like embracing a victim mentality. Even on a local level, if you don’t like the way things are managed, you can freely move to another location with like-minded neighbors.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Jenn! You’re exactly right, it’s the “victim mentality”, and that is unfortunately the bedrock of too many people who believe that everyone, and everything, is out to get them. To me, that’s a pretty frustrating way to live your life, that’s for sure.

  24. Beth says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with you and I wish everyone would take a step back and understand this. Maybe if everyone reads this post it will get through their heads – WE are the only ones who can make a real difference in OUR lives. So all of the arguing about what each candidate will (not) do for us and our country drives me nuts.

    The one big thing for me is at least having a leader who conveys a positive leadership style. Someone who inspires us and unites us. Someone who at least shows respect to everyone.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Beth! It drives me nuts, too. I understand that it’s fun sometimes to debate and complain about politics, but all those debates don’t really change the simple fact that the president isn’t going to destroy your life no matter how much you hate that person. The only person who can destroy your life is…well, you! 🙂

  25. Spot on piece that expresses my thoughts exactly. I would take it a step further as you seemed to hint at the end that the president is largely told what to do/say/think based on donors and such. It really is a system that is out of control. Your advice to focus on what you can control is the best way to stay positive about things and really affect a change in your own life.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Derek, appreciate the comment. I definitely agree with your thoughts about how lobbyists tend to get their way. Money not only talks at our level, but it talks at that level, too. Sad, but true!

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