The US election: 4 things that strike me which aren’t simply “The Donald is awful”

by Stephen Tall on November 7, 2016

We are just a day away from whole democratic world going to hell in a handcart. Potentially. I mean, of course, the chance (a roughly 1-in-3 chance) of Donald Trump being elected US president.

I can’t be bothered to write, and I’m sure you can’t be bothered to read, yet another post exhausting the infinite reasons he is unqualified in every possible way for this responsibility. So here are four things about this election campaign which have struck me which aren’t that:

1. ‘Is Hillary a flawed candidate?’ is a banale, flawed question. The answer, obviously, is yes, she is. She is disliked by a significant chunk of the electorate, spanning Alt-Righters to Feel-the Bern-ers. Case closed. However, the more interesting question is, ‘Is the view that Hillary’s a flawed candidate fair?’ To which I’d answer a resounding no. I’d go further: virtually every critique of Hillary I come across is either explicitly or implicitly gendered. Much of it has its roots in the intense dislike 1990s’ Republicans had for Bill and his ‘co-president’ Hillary. This vilification has sometimes resulted in a cagey over-defensiveness by Hillary (one of her biggest flaws) which further fuels that hatred. I’m not saying she’s purer than pure. But she’s no grubbier, despite having her every action scrutinised more than any other living politician. She is, though, more experienced than any other recent candidate — First Lady, senator, Secretary of State — and you can bet your bottom dollar if she were a bloke that would have been judged to outweigh the case for the prosecution.

2. Much has been made of the comparison between Brexit and Trump, in particular its appeal to ‘left behind voters’, those who we’re told haven’t benefited from globalisation. Perhaps, though this ignores two things: (1) the working population voted to Remain but were out-voted by the non-working population; and (2) Trump voters earn on average more than Clinton voters (especially those who are Hispanic or black – and isn’t it strange how we don’t hear so much from them?). The closer comparison between Brexit and Trump is discomfort with foreigners, ‘otherness’. Sometimes that racism is implicit (as with Vote Leave’s ‘Stop the Turks invading’ slogan), other times explicit (Trump labelling Mexicans as rapists). This doesn’t mean, by the way, that Leavers or Trumpkins are automatically racist — there are legitimate reasons for choosing those sides — but it does explain why they’ve assembled a mass movement those legitimate reasons alone wouldn’t have garnered.

3. One of the saddest pieces of archive film footage that’s been doing the social media rounds is a clip of the 1980 Republican primary face-off between Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush. There you have two Republicans, both of whom would go to win the presidency, discussing illegal immigration in compassionate, practical, conservative terms — the polar opposite of Trump’s demands for border walls and deportations. What has the GOP come to, that it should shrug off any wish to lead but instead pander to the basest mob instincts?

4. I remember how important the 2004 Bush-Kerry election seemed at the time. Here, after all, was a chance for America to deliver a slap-down to its neo-con president. Matthew Parris wrote a typically shrewd article arguing that a second Bush win was the best outcome, that his ideas had to be allowed to reach their logical, failed conclusion so that voters could see they’d been tested to destruction. Indeed, his victory set up Obama’s in 2008. I say that to console myself in case Trump wins. Sometimes bad things happen for a reason (or, more rationally, Good Things follow Bad Things because reversion to the mean). Besides if we think the 2016 election has been gruesome, think how much worse 2020 might be. Chances are Hillary will be a one-term president. Chances are, if she wins tomorrow, the presidency will revert to the Republicans after 12 years of Democrat incumbency. Then imagine a Trump with some self-control, a Trump capable of pivoting, a Trump who understands how to organise a campaign. And then keep your fingers crossed a Republican emerges who can put Trump’s proto-fascism back in its box.