The ugly Americans

It’s about to get rough and with all still to play for, in the first of his US election ‘Battle Dispatches’, George Blecher challenges Hillary to come out fighting.

Pity the poor American voters. They have to choose between two Presidential candidates they don’t really like.

Illustration: Andrew Comings. Source:Flickr

No doubt there are still plenty of Trump supporters who can shut their ears to his comments about Muslims, women, and anyone else he cares to pick a fight with; to the absurd rumours about his opponent’s failing health or the President’s role as a founder of ISIS; to recent glimpses into the workings of his financial empire, which is US$650 million dollars in debt – to say nothing of his refusal to give the public a look at his tax returns, a first in US political secrecy.

But not everybody. If any of the polls of the last few weeks are accurate, a large number of Trump’s supporters have actually turned against him.

Hillary’s hands aren’t clean either, though she has supporters willing to dismiss her contradictory comments about her emails – and the investigations by the FBI and the Federal Courts – as political smears. They also rationalize her chummy relationship to potentates and oligarchs who gave piles of money to the Clinton Foundation – a relationship that the Obama White House apparently felt uncomfortable about – as one of those gray areas between capitalism and democracy that even the most well-meaning of power-brokers can’t avoid.

But Bernie Saunders’s supporters haven’t come around to Clinton. And though her support has grown, it’s tepid: a case of voters choosing the lesser of two evils.

Until now the campaign has been about only one person – the Donald. How he has conducted himself, whom he’s insulted, which foot he’s put in his mouth – these are the moments that have dominated the airwaves and cyberspace.
During the primaries, the media were Trump’s best friend. The worse he behaved, the better they liked it. Though he was feared and hated, much of the public secretly found him entertaining, and even refreshing. But then they turned against him. Since his strongest suit is conflict rather than policy, the lack of sparring partners created a void that he was only able to fill with stupid remarks and posturing, routines we’re already familiar with.

During all this, Hillary watched from the sidelines. That was the way she liked it: the longer the spotlight was on Trump, the farther back he fell in the polls.

Now he finally seems to be waking up. In the past week Trump has hired a battery of media-savvy advisers whose sole purpose will be to turn the focus on Hillary. They’ll supply their boss with gossip and innuendo on everything from Bill Clinton’s sex life to Hillary’s extracurricular income.

It won’t be easy for Trump to turn the tables; he’s right when he says that the media are biased against him. But they love gossip; they feed on it. It’s been like that since the founding days of the Republic, where the public doted on rumours of Thomas Jefferson’s affairs with his slaves and Alexander Hamilton’s extra-marital dalliance.

There’s also the possibility that the polls may be wrong. People who support Trump don’t like to say they do. Persecuted, left-out, over-taxed, under-represented, they have a deep, inchoate feeling that the promise of their lives hasn’t been fulfilled. So their posture is generally tense, defensive, resentful. Poll takers may not be getting an accurate picture of how they feel.

The big question in the following weeks will be how Hillary handles herself under the pressure of Trump’s coming barrage. Will she stay aloof and dignified, and try to laugh it all off as her opponent’s ‘wacky behaviour’? Or will she roll up her sleeves and throw mud back? In the long run it may not make any difference in the final vote – one senses that the voters’ choices are already engraved in stone – but it is the only Presidential election going on at the moment, and Clinton may be forced to take a more active role in it.

Published 1 September 2016
Original in English
First published by Eurozine

© George Blecher / Eurozine

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