Global Watch

US presidential election offers a global no-win choice

What a choice!
What a choice.jpg

If William Shakespeare was writing his play, Hamlet, today against the backdrop of next month’s American presidential election he easily could have coined the phrase: “Something is rotten in the state of the United States.”

Much more than who will be the next president of the US is at stake. In fact, the future of democracy is in the balance.  

How is it possible that in the world’s largest democracy voters have to choose between two candidates of the calibre of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to lead them, and by extension, the “free world,” for the next four years?

Donald Trump is an obnoxious individual not fit to occupy the White House and Hillary Clinton is not far behind. 

An awful choice

One cannot but concur with Ivo Vegter writing in Daily Maverick, “Relief that Donald Trump’s campaign is stumbling towards a probable defeat in the American elections next month is tempered by remembering how truly awful the only realistic alternative is”.

“Hillary Clinton does represent the status quo, she stands for everything that is wrong with it: cronyism, elitism, corruption, dishonesty and secrecy. I’m not convinced she is the lesser of two evils, but even if she is, that still makes her evil”.

More tempered but equally scathing, the Archbishop of Philadelphia lamented that in his 50 years of voting in US elections he has never seen the two major parties in the US offer “two such deeply flawed” nominees “at the same time”.

With less than one month to go, it is a frightening thought – not only for Americans – that one of the two “deeply flawed” candidates will be sworn in as the leader of the only superpower on the planet in January 2017.

Democracy in trouble

If these are the best presidential candidates the US has to offer, America faces political bankruptcy and their democracy is in serious trouble.

But, democracy is globally in trouble and not only in the US. It becomes challenging to identify a current political leader with grace, integrity and gravitas to equal the giants of the past.

Germany’s Angela Merkel is arguably the only exception, but the intractable immigrant problem is also pulling her image apart.

Her African visit last week was particularly aimed at seeking solutions to the unrelenting tide of immigrants streaming into Germany and to boost her falling popularity at home.

On Friday last week President Obama in a stirring speech in support of Clinton’s candidacy warned that “democracy is on the ballot' in the election.

"Civility is on the ballot. Tolerance is on the ballot. Courtesy is on the ballot. Honesty is on the ballot. Equality is on the ballot. Kindness is on the ballot - democracy itself is on the ballot right now."

President Obama had the candidate of the RP in his sights but it could also be argued that the same holds true for the candidate of his own party.

During the past weekend reports also surfaced that indicate to what extent the loss of faith in the American democratic system has sunk to an all-time low, with Trump feeding into it by claiming the election results are being rigged.

How dangerous this development is, is illustrated by the following paragraph from a report by CNN: “In this heated atmosphere, the Federal Bureau of Investigation foiled an alleged plot by three members of a pro- "sovereign citizen and anti-government" group to blow up a Muslim-inhabited apartment complex in Kansas. Meant as a message of protest to Americans, the terror attack was scheduled for November 9.”  

Trump

Donald Trump is not a career politician and largely immune to the “capture” by big business and lobby groups. His nomination as the Republican Party (RP) presidential candidate came as a surprise and a shock, particularly the margin with which he defeated career politician rivals. It is interpreted by many as proof that the average American is fed up with empty promises left undelivered by the Washington political establishment in and a denunciation of influence big business, the military/industrial complex, and interest groups - something against which President Eisenhower warned way back in 1960.

Ironically, any other Republican candidate probably would have cleaned the floor with Clinton.

Trump’s chances, however haven been torpedoed by his gaffes, outrageous statements and threats, which even had UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein warning: "If Donald Trump is elected, on the basis of what he has said already, and unless that changes, I think that it is without any doubt that he would be dangerous from an international point of view." 

Trump’s brazenness and unconventionality has ruptured RP unity and the rift between him and many of the senior and leading members of the RP has become irreparable.

Many Republicans are worried that the chaotic Trump campaign could see the party loose its majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate in next month’s election, inflicting long-term damage on the party.

For Republicans fearing the worst, the message is simple: the RP can have Donald Trump or it can have a future, but not both.

Clinton

At the time of writing most polls indicated Hillary Clinton as favourite to win and become the first female president in American history.

Notwithstanding the historical significance, it is not a comforting thought. She will become president by default as result of the glaring shortcomings of her opponent.

According to the think tank ISA’s (International Strategic Analysis) assessment of the election campaign, “Trump's scandals have taken this campaign to depths never seen before in a US presidential election... The scandals had little impact on the level of support from Trump's hard line backers, they are likely to make it even harder for him to win over the more moderate voters that he will need in order to close the gap with his Democratic rival.”

However, the fact that Clinton is not running away with it, illustrates her own shortcomings and unpopularity outside her base of passionate loyalists.

Just how unpopular is clear from the fact that Clinton needs a strong turnout among minorities, particularly African Americans, if she is to defeat Trump.

African Americans comprise 12% of the US electorate, and about nine in 10 support Clinton, but many remain lukewarm about her while just the thought of Trump in the White House should remove any doubt.

President Obama was compelled to lecture the congressional black caucus, telling them in no uncertain tone, “After we have achieved historic turnout in 2008 and 2012, especially in the African American community, I will consider it a personal insult, an insult to my legacy, if this community lets down its guard and fails to activate itself in this election."

Clinton represents the old order, the powerful and the rich, the fat cats in the Democratic Party (DP), and the Wall Streeters who think having her in the Oval Office means the gravy train gets back on track.

 Her rhetoric, of course, would deny this, much like billionaire tycoon Donald Trump claims to represent the working class. But her record speaks volumes.

She’s a consummate politician, with all that species’ worst characteristics: mendacity, hypocrisy, corruption, dishonesty, and a skin of Teflon to which no scandal appears to stick.

“Hillary would enter a general election with enough political baggage to open a Samsonite outlet” was the judgement of another commentator.

Democracy on trial

After all is said and done, Hilary Clinton is probably the better choice of arguably two of the worst candidates ever to contest the American presidency.     

It seems that with some exceptions, politics the world over, presently attract people of questionable calibre – a perception politicians do little to change. They rather it seems to do their best to strengthen the perception – where is there a better example than in South Africa?

In 1968, Spain operated without an elected government for almost a year and the Spaniards approved.  Félix Pastor, a teacher at the time, expressed the general sentiment about official corruption, arrogance and disdain for the country’s citizens as, "no government, no thieves" – a sentiment many Americans and South Africans relate to.

Whoever, come January, enters the White House, all of us should be concerned.

The ISA is spot on in its conclusion: “Moreover, the entire world appears to be transfixed by the recent developments in the US, and many people outside of the US are worried about the future of democracy in the very country that has led efforts to promote democracy around the world.”

by Garth Cilliers

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