The rocky road to the White House

2016-10-23 06:00
Republican US presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic US presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Picture: Reuters.

Republican US presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic US presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Picture: Reuters.

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Does the world remember there is more than one candidate in the US presidential election?

That the crazy orange-faced guy with the funny hair is not just running against himself and that he does in fact have a rival?

If it weren’t for the three presidential debates and the overhyped scandal about Hillary Clinton’s emails and the WikiLeaks internet dumps, you would swear that Donald Trump was shadow-boxing in this election.

This is of course a gross exaggeration.

But such is the overwhelming attention on Crazy D that Clinton has become a sideshow in the race to become the 45th president of the US.

For better or for worse.

For better because the Republican standard bearer’s madness has given Clinton space to be herself and to sell her message without having to go toe-to-toe with someone of similar intellect.

A different Republican candidate would have made the campaign a lot more sober.

Having Trump as an opponent has allowed her to be her policy-wonk self – the awkward politician who wasn’t really cut out for the screaming and yelling that is standard in this game.

She has allowed him to go wild and has stuck to her core messages.

Even though many ascribe Clinton’s success to her hanging on to her husband Bill’s coat-tails, she is in fact the more accomplished of the two careerwise.

While her husband ditched law early for a life in politics, Hillary soared in the legal world. Snaking queues of high-paying clients sought her services.

What distinguished her from her husband was that beyond the fee-paying work, she immersed herself in issues that she cared about and went beyond the call of duty – particularly on issues of social justice.

By many accounts she is not bag of fun.

She is a focused and driven individual who makes things happen. In the world of politics this has not stood her in good stead.

When she arrived at the White House in January 1993, she was determined not to be a sweet, ribbon-cutting and charity-fundraising first lady. She delved into policy matters and spearheading the reform of the country’s health system.

This break from the traditional role of (male) presidents’ wives earned her more than a few enemies in tetesterone-pumped Washington. But that’s who she was.

When she went to the Senate she was exactly that person and collected a few more dislikers along the way. She continued to step on the wrong toes during her time as secretary of state.

By then, she – a powerful woman – had also became collateral damage for the hatred that the conservative segment of the US was spewing at the nation’s first black president.

Clinton walked into the 2016 race carrying the double disadvantage of being a Washington insider and at the same time being an outsider, as she was not a real politician. Her match-up with long-time senator Bernie Sanders in the race for the Democratic nomination revealed her limitations as a politician.

Whereas Sanders felt natural on stage as he rallied supporters with his booming voice, looking like the genuine item, Clinton always appeared a manufactured candidate.

But even as Sanders threatened to upset the apple cart by remaining neck and neck with her almost to the end, she stuck to her genuine self and style.

And so the race ended up with the spectacle of the ultimate brainy policy wonk, whose sales pitch is her record as a doer and carer, and a performance monkey whose appeal is the ability to say and do what he likes because nobody takes him seriously anyway.

That Clinton and Trump are so close at the polls is a mystery that the gurus of history and political science are having a field day trying to unravel.

The overwhelming, but only partially accurate, explanation that they have provided is that Trump represents the raw bigotry and misogyny that still prevails in Middle America.

He speaks the language of a world that many in middle America – including some who are too young to remember – nostalgically long for.

This is a world where Negroes were Negroes and didn’t venture into the master’s inner sanctum of power; where Latinos were a nuisance to be made fun of and who were consigned to their ghettoes; and where women were obedient and notions of gender equality were as alien as giraffes in Alaska.

In that world, white was right and white males were the natural custodians of power and privilege.

Since the late 1950s, white Americans – in middle to small towns and rural districts – watched that lovely world being taken away from them and reluctantly accepted that they were unable to halt the march of progress.

Until 2008. The election of Barack Obama as president was a step too far.

It unleashed the most visceral racism, manifested most blatantly by the outright personal hatred of him from the high echelons of the Republican Party to the guy sipping Budweiser in a Colorado pub.

For eight years, Obama was the president who could do nothing right in their eyes.

That he successfully presided over the post-2008 stabilisation and recovery programme, ended George W Bush’s money-draining wars, ran an effective onslaught against Al-Qaeda and stood tall among world leaders meant nothing to his detractors.

Everything was his fault. The mobilisation against him in the past eight years has been extraordinary.

There are others that have played into the Trump agenda.

The deindustrialisation of America – a factor of globalisation that was under way long before Obama – the post-2008 low-growth phase that was brought about by Bush-era policies and a historic disdain for Washington and politicians in general combined to give the maverick businessman the perfect opportunity to con the electorate.

Trump has deftly capitalised on this and fuelled the fire.

His Make America Great Again election slogan plays into this mood.

Enthusiastically assisted by Fox News, conservative radio jocks and right wing websites he has preyed on the ignorance of a segment of the population that only pays attention to news that reinforces its well-held prejudices.

These are people who genuinely believe that they are under siege from Mexicans, Muslims, black people, communists, Wall Street, abortionists, the anti-gun lobby, the Chinese and Martians.

The hungrier this audience has been for doomsday prophecies, the more he has been willing to feed it – with the addendum that only he can avert it.

This is a crowd that Clinton will never get her message to. Unfortunately, the levels of antipathy and distrust that she engenders have not helped.

Many thinking people who are averse to a Trump presidency are willing to risk this prospect by staying away from the polls rather than to vote for her.

Clinton is, however, likely to win comfortably. Not because she ran an incredible campaign.

It will be because her opponent is like that child who – when told not to put his hand in the socket, touch a heater or climb on to an unsteady chair – will do so anyway just to see what it is like.

After she is elected she will face massive new challenges that no other president, not even Obama, has faced.

Firstly, she will have to win the full confidence of those of her voters – a large chunk, it must be said – who view backing her as a grudge purchase.

She will then need to deal with a political atmosphere that has been so terribly poisoned by the most hateful election campaign in the country’s history.

There will be major proportion that will believe that she is an illegitimate president – a mass of people who have been told she is “corrupt” and “crooked”.

Some have vowed to take up arms and mount a civil war if she wins. She would dismiss this at her peril, considering the random massacres that bedevil the gun-crazed nation.

And that is even before she looks at governing the country and dealing with foreign crises.

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Read more on:    hillary clinton  |  donal trump  |  us  |  us 2016 elections

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