The lesser of two evils

There’s no wonder there’s so much clamour and angst about the upcoming US election. On the one hand there’s likely the most despicable candidate the system has ever thrown up, and opposing him is one of the least trusted. By virtue of being the lesser of two evils most of the intelligent world is hoping Clinton gets the nod, but it hardly fills you with cheer.

In all likelihood Hillary Clinton will be the next – and first woman – president of the United States. She leads marginally in the polls, and more importantly has her nose ahead across the key states. It’s amazing that it can be so close. From the outside looking in you would think a candidate like Donald Trump would be utterly unelectable. I’m convinced much of it is theatre, but regardless, he’s a pretty ordinary human being with nothing to offer a civilised world. That it’s so close is testament perhaps to the enduring mistrust of Clinton, and the system she represents. Any decent candidate would be streets ahead.

It’s water under the bridge now, but I think American Democrats missed an opportunity when they nominated Clinton over Sanders. Sanders is the mongoose to Trump’s cobra. For a start he’s a cleanskin, with none of the baggage that Clinton carries, and a much smaller target. In a way also he’s an outlier in the same way Trump is, but in the other direction. Mainstream politics is on the nose in the states, which is the main reason that Trump endures. Sanders is not part of that, and you would expect in an alternate universe that he would be drawing many disgruntled voters to his side who currently support Trump (such is the perversity of American politics). Ultimately Sanders is an idealist, looking to govern for the people rather than vested interests. The political system is broken in America, and he was the last best hope of fixing it.

Therein lies the deeper problem. Even if Clinton gets up next week it won’t put a stop to the drama, innuendo and vitriol. The body politic is tainted, and will remain noxious until someone does something about it. There are vast swathes of America who despise Clinton who have been given voice by Trump. As much as anything their support for Trump is a (ill-considered) shout of protest. Electing Clinton won’t make that go away. The genie is out of the bottle, and expect massive disruption and protest, and from that, who knows what? It won’t be peaceful or easy, and it won’t go away – the divide will become greater.

Though my politics are different I understand some of their frustration, and for all his borderline fascist and nonsensical claims, think that Trump has struck a nerve that resonates widely because there is some – some – truth to it.

It was interesting to read last week how a bunch of notable Americans had banded together to publish a plea to their fellow countrymen to vote for Clinton ahead of Trump. It was desperate gambit, but I would think more likely to do harm than good. Somehow this seems to have escaped many commentators. They concentrate on supposed facts, supported by their convictions, and fail to see the plain truth. This election is not about facts or even good policy; it’s about the man in the street too long ignored and overlooked finding his voice. It’s about outrage and bitterness and frustration long harboured and spilling forth. It’s about the kind of people who will react with outrage to a bunch of ‘elites’ telling them how to vote – and they’re just as likely to do the opposite to prove the point.

Trump has done so well because he has campaigned asymmetrically. It hardly matters what he says, and the more outrageous he is the greater the response becomes. To those of us who observe and listen it seems incredible that a man with such toxic (and often ridiculous) views and of such poor character could be a viable candidate. We shake our heads in bewilderment. That’s why so many of us are afraid – how could a man like that ever be in power? What then? Yet much of his support is because he is toxic – he says what he likes and delights in provoking the establishment and his followers delight in it too. They believe in him with fawning hope, a billionaire who dares to stick it up the despised ‘system’. That’s his strength, and if he wins, that’s why.

This is a symptom, not a cause. Small town Americans are sick of being dictated to by big city sophisticates. They feel poorly served by a system that has failed them in so many ways. The fact is there is corruption – though much of it is systemised (read this). The media, as in Australia and in many other places, has fallen into disrepute – sensation over facts, partisan and selective over impartial and objective (the story I found most disturbing in the Wikileaks dump was an American journalist sending his piece to the Clinton camp to be vetted before publication). They feel victims of a system they have no say in, and Clinton, more than any other, epitomises that.

Clinton is an imperfect candidate. If I was American I’d probably vote for Jill Stein, just to feel good about myself (my views on Hillary Clinton mirror Susan Sarandon’s). But if it’s a race in two – which it is – then Clinton is the only option.

Sure, Clinton is opportunistic and two-faced, supremely talented, but duplicitous. She was stupid beyond words choosing to use her own email server, and much of what is revealed confirms a grubby politic. But Trump is publicly racist, bigoted, nasty, not to mention sexist and seemingly a sleazy serial molester; a liar, a fraud, a huckster. Regardless of her character Clinton has a history of distinguished service; Trump has a history of unconscionable behaviour. He’s a deplorable human being whose publicly uttered policies would be ruinous to America, and the world in general (though I think Trump is full of sound(bites) and fury and would likely moderate if he got in power. It’s not conviction, but convenience, which makes him the perfect modern-day politician).

I think Clinton will get up, but the closeness of the result should serve as warning. The result won’t be the end of it, but the beginning of a perilous path forward in which the supreme goal must be to reconcile the warring factions of the United States. That will be hard, and maybe impossible. The Republican side of politics is likely to fracture further, and go further to the right, and I see no will in Clinton to go beyond the politically expedient. I may be wrong. Clinton is by far the lesser of two evils. Survive this, and hope for something better to come.

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