The president showed just this tendency again on Thursday, when he tweeted this:
The tweet seems to be a response to stories about Cambridge Analytica. The company is accused of misusing personal data, bribing officials, and possibly violating U.S. campaign-finance laws, and Trump’s response is to boast that his campaign’s decision to hire it shows they were not as low-tech as previously accused. Anything to score a point on Clinton, it appears.
Perhaps Nate Silver is closer to the truth when he notes that everyone seems willing to relitigate 2016. And for good reason: The 2016 election deserves to be litigated, over and over and over again. As Conor Friedersdorf has rightly argued, claims that any given election is the most important one in any given time period are often bogus, but 2016 has a reasonable claim to be the most important presidential election since … well, who knows: certainly the most influential one in many cycles. It hasn’t even been two years since the balloting, hardly an extravagant amount of time to reconsider such a pivotal event. Moreover, the issues that any relitigation of 2016 requires considering are the central ones in the political life of this country today and will be for years to come.
Consider the other infamous example of relitigation in recent American history: the Vietnam War. A classic example of Boomer self-absorption, the obsession with Vietnam dragged on for years, producing acrimonious fights over candidates’ service (or lack thereof) in 1992 and 2000 and 2004. By 2008, Barack Obama felt compelled to object to relitigating a war that had ended 33 years prior, when he was 14 years old.
It isn’t that Vietnam didn’t have dire lessons to teach, some of which were too easily forgotten by the start of the Iraq War. In many ways, however, the war was over as a matter of debate as soon as the U.S. left. Whether or not the war was winnable at some point, it was a cataclysm by the time it ended, and its unique circumstances limited the relevance of its example.
By contrast, the issues that were central to the 2016 campaign remain among the most important issues facing the country and its political system. Take the bizarre feud between Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden that broke out this week, with Biden saying that if he’d heard Trump bragging about sexual assault in high school, he’d “take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him.” This weird, supercharged machismo is obviously gross, and it’s also a direct outgrowth of Trump’s language during the 2016 race, during which Marco Rubio baited Trump on the size of his hands and Trump boasted about the size of his penis during a primary debate. (That doesn’t even touch the old video released several months later in which Trump boasted about sexually assaulting women, the one to which Biden referred.) Also still relevant are questions about acceptance of female candidates, the extent to which that hurt Hillary Clinton’s chances, and what that means for women in politics going forward.