Category Archives: 2016 presidential election

Tonight’s the kind of night where everything may change

We're there.  Finally.  One of the most controversial and divisive presidential elections in American history is drawing to a close, and tomorrow could be the apocalypse, or just business as usual.

Admittedly, everything looks good for Hillary, but predictions in this year of all years are fragile things, to be blasted away by iconoclastic forces.  Who's to say whether or not the utterly devoted Trump supporters don't turn out in such numbers as to give him Florida and the rust belt states?  Maybe Hillary is a far greater turn off than her supporters and admirers would concede.  We could know how far into the lunatic fringe America is heading, or how much she intends to stay in the realm of normality, in about seven hours.

I have made no secret in the last few blog posts of how much I think Trump is a monstrous, appalling abomination of a candidate, or how I think Hillary's poor standing significantly under-sells her formidable strengths as a potential president.  But all of that is naught, especially for this non-American with no vote.  And yet, before the votes start rolling in, there is one final thing to note.

There has been much comment throughout this campaign, notably its latter stages, of how it is a terrible advert for democracy and a turn-off for younger voters.  We should quash this nonsense.  It is what all democratic procedures are.  Messy, reflective of the humans who involve themselves in it, frustrating and sometimes outrageous.  But it is still the way in which humans with free spirits and independent minds can demand changes in the personnel who rule them and challenge the institutions of government and legislature.  It is still the best way of regularly moving power from one leader to the next.  Messy, loud and aggressive as it is, it shines as a beacon when compared with the amoral, brutal authoritarianism of a Vladimir Putin in Russia, or the murderous actions of a President Assad in Syria, or the carefully pre-determined "elections" in the theocracy of Iran.  In too many nations the transfer of power is at the behest of those with the greatest force.  In too many nations the time when leadership changes hands is simply a time to keep your head down and hope you can avoid the fallout.

Democracy isn't meant to be smooth, but it is meant to be liberating, and like it or not this year's election in the US has been no different in that regard from its predecessors.  Long may it continue.

We are going to try and live-blog the election.  The estimable members of the SGS U6th politics set are gathering together to watch the election through the night, and if their wits are up to it they will be sharing some views on this blog.  That's the idea at any rate.  Feel free to check back in every so often to see if its working!

This election belonged to Trump and his supporters, whoever wins

This has been an extraordinary presidential election.  In its outsize anger, ugliness and insurgent appeal it has beaten every modern presidential election into a grey shadow of virtual irrelevance.  For some presidential historians you have to go back to 1828, the culmination of a four-year long populist campaign by General Andrew Jackson against the Washington establishment led by President John Quincy Adams, to find a similar one.  Even then Jackson did at least have some concrete public achievement behind him. 

The reason it has been so outsize, and so ugly, is of course entirely down to just one of its candidates – Donald J Trump.  Everything one says about this election, one is really saying about Donald Trump himself.  He has dictated the discourse of the campaign.  He has consistently dominated the media coverage.  He is the outlier, the leader of an angry, often ugly movement of alienated citizens who just needed someone to take their irrational hatred onto a higher platform.  Donald Trump is their man.  For all of his differences from his supporters – he is wealthy, well-connected, insulated from problems, benefits from rather than suffers from deals with foreign powers – he has become their messiah.   Hillary may be his nominal opponent, may even be the victor on Tuesday, but he has been by far the crucial figure in this campaign.

There is much that appals about Donald Trump, but the most appalling thing is the utterly fanatical, eyes-closed-shut loyalty of his band of supporters.  Democracy, after all, isn’t just about the leaders.  It is about the people who make them leaders.  Democracy is the only system of governance that puts the people front and centre.  And if the image they project, through the leaders they choose, is an unpleasant one, well that is the whole point of the system.  Media pundits may be trying to find ways of describing the wilful ignorance and strongly held bigotries of Trump supporters in more anodyne terms, but you can’t ignore the fact that he could not possibly have got where he is unless a significant number of ordinary Americans hadn’t bought in to his incendiary, falsehood laden rhetoric.  He has never disguised what he stands for, and the excuse that “we didn’t really know what he was like” will never be one that can be used by Trump supporters.  But then they will never want to use such an excuse, because they will never need to claw back from their support for Trump.  He is why they are with him.  His rhetoric reflects their thoughts.  His attitudes – or at any rate the ones he chooses to project – are their attitudes. 
Isolated, angry, alienated, frozen out from the modern political firmament?  Trump supporters are nothing of the kind.  They are wilful players in a toxic campaign and their views, their positions, are front and centre in this campaign.  It is Hillary Clinton, a woman who has tried to pursue her aims of civic improvement through decades of grinding involvement in the establishment process, who seems to be the alienated, isolated individual at times.

It doesn’t how many emails you destroy if you are a private businessman (Trump has deleted many thousands); it doesn’t matter how many lawsuits you face (Trump has some 75 pending against him covering everything from fraud, political subversion and sexual harassment); it doesn’t matter that you can never willingly tell the truth, that you manufacture evidence and make up issues as you go along.  If you are not a “politician”, not part of the “establishment” then for Trump supporters, that’s fine.  Do anything.  You deserve to. 

Even this weekend, the classic Donald Trump post-truth machine has been both evident and rapturously received and supported and re-tweeted by his followers and acolytes.  When President Obama – a man whose moral authority and dignity seem so far removed from the grubby Trumpian realities as to make him seem altogether elevated on another plane of existence – seeks to calm his own crowd, and defend the right of a protestor to make his pro-Trump stand at one of his rallies, Donald Trump himself manages to tell this as an example of the president “screaming” at a protestor.  Trump says he wants to punch protestors in the face; Obama tells his audience to calm down and allow the right of protest.  But in Donald’s world – endorsed  by his supporters – he is the virtuous one and Obama the unhinged fascist. 

Then when another opponent at a Trump rally holds his anti-Trump sign, the paranoia that engulfs the whole Trump campaign sees him being rushed off the stage, his mad audience shout “gun” and then precipitate a mass pile in on the protestor before he is led away with full military escort.  In Trumpland, this becomes brave Donald’s escape from near assassination.  They were tweeting this nonsense long after it was evident that it was nothing of the sort, because truth is subservient to their image of themselves as brave, isolated freedom fighters, rather than violent, intolerant thugs.

This campaign has been ugly because Trump’s supporters are ugly and they need their candidate to be so too.  This campaign has barely touched the surface of any policy discussions because that involves a rationality that has fled the Trump supporters, because it would mean engaging with the world of truth not the world of make-believe which they have constructed.   This campaign reinvents events because that’s the way they fit into a make-believe narrative.  This campaign has seen unprecedented bigotry towards Hispanics, women and blacks, because that is what Trump supporters want to see.

Democracy allows the people to come centre stage.  It is no good simply moving the unpleasantness of this campaign onto the shoulders of one man, since he represents the active desires and beliefs of his supporters.  Donald Trump is successful not because of his own innate brilliance, but because of his native cunning in understanding and encapsulating the vision of his supporters.  This is really the only way to understand how such a man can have come so close to the White House – may even be its resident for four years.  If this democracy looks ugly today, it isn’t because just one man has made it so.  It is because democracy is simply doing its job – reflecting the will of the people.  Tuesday will show us just how many people.  

Trump’s "rigging" claim would have more validity if made by Democrats

Part of Donald Trump's slash and burn electoral strategy is to claim that the election is rigged.  The only way to prove, in Trumpland, that it isn't rigged is for him to win.  Trump's claims of rigging are ludicrous, but they are taken seriously by the nearly 40% of voters who are firmly in his column.

Politico notes that the Trump strategy could have serious repercussions for American democracy after the election, especially if Republican leaders keep the same silence on the result that they've been keeping about the campaign itself.  Trump cites media coverage as his main "evidence", but let's just consider for a moment the other case - that the election is rigged against Hillary Clinton.

If you were Hillary, and you had the same political nihilism as Trump, you could cite the following:

1.  The consistent hacking of Democrat emails by Wikileaks and possible (though only alleged) Russian agencies.  Wikileaks has emerged firmly in the Trump camp, and hasn't undertaken any leaks against Trump and his associates at all.  The leaks, no matter how innocuous or explainable, consistently hurt Hillary.

2.  The mainstream media insistence on "equivalence" between Hillary and Trump.  Trump is arguably the worst candidate in American history, lies consistently, has failed to pay income tax or declare his tax returns, is a four-time bankrupt, has sexually assaulted women, uses dangerous rhetoric against minority groups, has run businesses that have destroyed the livelihoods of small workers, cosies up to one of America's biggest foreign foes.  Hillary's record doesn't even begin to touch all of this, yet is portrayed in the media as being somehow equivalent.  This campaign is indeed destroying American democracy, but the destructive impetus comes from one side only.

3.  The Republicans have history in rigged elections, as witness the "Gore v Bush" 2000 one.  Al Gore won the popular vote, and a predominantly Republican appointed Supreme Court decided in favour of the Republican nominee in the highly disputed Florida count.  The Democratic nominee, Gore, conceded as soon as the decision was made.

4.  Election machinery in each state is in the hands of state governance.  31 states have Republican governors, only 18 have Democratic governors.  It was a Republican governor's administration in Florida in 2000 which determined the Republican outcome of that state's vote.

5.  Mainstream media may lean towards Clinton (but see point 2 above), but much other media leans heavily towards Trump, including Talk Radio and the still much watched Fox News, who present Trump's outlandish and palpably false claims uncritically.

6.  The Trump campaign is the culmination of more than two decades of well-funded, committed and consistent denigration of the Clintons by Republican right-wingers.  From the millions poured in by Richard Mellon Scaife to things such as the Arkansas Project in the 90s, through the special prosecution of Bill Clinton by Republican activist judge Kenneth Starr, to the present day, the Clintons in particular have been the target of unrelenting abuse.  There is a whole Republican industry dedicated simply to destroying the Clintons and reversing their and President Obama's liberal agenda.  Nothing similar exists on the Democratic side.

7.  The last boundary changes for the House of Representatives saw one of the most audacious gerrymanders in modern representative politics (detailed in a book by Salon's David Daley).  While the Senate could change hands, there is virtually no possibility of the House doing so - it will stay Republican.

Donald Trump is the Republican Party's Frankenstein, and his claims of election rigging would have more resonance if they were spouted by a Democrat.  At the moment, though, Democrats still believe in the American system and refuse to denigrate it.  When media outlets talk of a "dirty election" and how it threaten American democracy, it's worth remembering that their false attempts at equivalence hide the fact that only one party, and its atrocious nominee, are engaged in that work.

The 2nd Round Draw

A few quick takeaways from tonight's Trump v Clinton debate.

1.  Hillary Clinton is not great at being able to take down a great hulking target standing right next to her.  Perhaps she's wary because of the various scandals attached to her own person, but such scandals are in no way equivalent to the host of issues suggesting Trump is unfit for high office.

2. Trump really has no use for his vice-presidential running mate.  Rarely has a No 2 been so publicly humiliated as Mike Pence was tonight when Trump dismissed his views with the words "He and I haven't spoken and I disagree".  If Pence had any dignity left he would leave the ticket.  He hasn't and he won't.

3.  Trump could have been a nightclub bouncer; his body language was tense and uneasy throughout and he wouldn't sit down, preferring to loom ominously over the set.

4.  Trump got off lightly over the video of his sexist comments - or virtual endorsement of sexual harassment - and shoudn't have done.

5.  Trump wants to put in place criminal proceedings against his opponent if he wins, with the intention of seeing her jailed.  He would do well in an authoritarian banana republic.

6.  Hillary is far more comfortable talking policy than debating, and it showed.  She allowed Trump to lead the debate several times.  She's not an instinctive politician in the way her husband or Obama are.

7.  This debate will have changed few minds, but it may well have entrenched their respective supporters behind the two candidates.

8.  Trump is awful.  He is grotesque, lies congenitally, has few ideas about the policies he name-checks, is brutalistic and should never have been a contender.  But you get the democracy you vote for.

Is it better for the Democrats if Hillary loses?

I doubt there are many Democrats who would want to entertain the thought of Donald Trump winning on November 8th.  That's traditional, long-time registered Democrat voters rather than the more recent, brash, Sanders insurgency supporting youth who so nearly upset the convention.  And yet there may be a case - which some hard-core Sandersites have long endorsed - for suggesting that a Trump win would be the better option for the long-term future of liberalism in America.

If Hillary Clinton wins the presidency then her very tenure will reinvigorate the Republicans in Congress, united in their bid to frustrate her at every turn.  It will likely give Paul Ryan, the House Speaker, an even higher profile and a leading role in not only refurbishing the Republican image - something he is desperate to do - but also in running for the presidency in four years time.  A Clinton presidency will also leave the substantial army of Trump supporters wholly unsatisfied, and ready to back either Trump or similarly iconoclastic right-wingers next time round, when they can point to four more years of "Democrat misrule" and establishment alienation.

A Clinton presidency might even engender a constitutional crisis.  While Trump said he would support Clinton as president if she won the election on November 8th., he has made enough noises previously to suggest that he and his supporters consider the whole electoral system rigged against them, and would use that as justification to dispute another Democratic victory.  Edward Foley on Politico has shown how such a challenge might work given the partisan nature of America's state operated electoral decision machines.

Should Trump actually win, a whole new scenario emerges (I know, I know....a contender for statements of the blinding obvious).  Given Trump's maverick approach to politics, and the division he has already inflicted on the Republican party, the Democrats can look forward to four years of ever increasing Republican turmoil as House and Senate Republicans try and deal with an unpredictable, and essentially non-party, president.  Four years of President Trump also provides even his hardest core supporters with the irrefutable evidence of not just how damaging such a presidency might be, but more importantly show them just how little he is able to change.  When no wall goes up - or at best a small symbolic one - and immigration doesn't cease; when terrorist attacks continue; when Trump's pally approach with a politically superior Vladimir Putin fails to bring gains to America and merely makes her look like an international patsy; when Trump's economic decision making fails to match the promise he has given of work for all those disenchanted, unemployed voters; when race relations hit a nadir and riots envelop the cities on a scale not seen since the 60s; when the economy tanks under the weight of an illiterate economic stategy; when all this and more happens do we really think the Trump brand will retain its potency in the re-election battle of 2020?

In such circumstances, the Democrats could nominate a new, fresh face, reinvigorate their liberal appeal, shore up their popular support across a variety of groups - the young, the black, the female, the Hispanic - and storm to victory not just in the race for the White House but also in the House and the Senate, probably for a generation at least.

The only question is - would four years of Trump be an acceptable price to pay for such future largesse?