Half the Puzzle

Polls have shown that 6 out of 10 voters dislike both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  Their paradoxical position as standard bearers of their respective party tickets is not because they represent a clear choice of political alternatives, but because of the perceived absence of them.  Neither is a candidate in the traditional political sense.  Anis Shivani at Salon puts it this way: "Hillary Clinton can’t defeat what Trump represents" which is a rebellion against "neoliberal globalization" that is looking for a leader.

Americans, like people everywhere rising up against neoliberal globalization (in Britain, for example, this takes the form of Brexit, or exit from the European Union), want a return of social relations, or embeddedness, to the economy.

His idea is that the election is really a referendum.  The voters want their country and jobs back.  They understand the status quo elites, left to themselves, are never going to give it back. Therefore they are turning to Trump not in the function of a leader but as a wrecking ball for what they don't want.

James Taranto makes a very similar argument to Shivani's.  He writes citing an article by Walter Russell Mead that "Trump is the purest expression of the politics of “NO!” that I personally can recall. He’s the candidate for people who think the conventional wisdom of the American establishment is hopelessly out of touch with the real world. He’s the little boy saying that the emperor, or in this case, the aspiring empress, has no clothes. What energizes the Trump phenomenon is the very power of rejection: people who think the train is about to head off a cliff want to pull the emergency cord that stops the train even if they don’t know what happens next."

The election of 2016 makes no sense unless it is judged from outside the system, because the system itself is on trial.  From that external vantage this negation is not nearly as pointless as its critics make out.  While it's true that nothing Trump (or Hillary) has proposed will likely solve the major contemporary problems or repair the chaos Obama unleashed upon the world that is beside the point.