By Steven R. Maher
The 2016 Presidential election has been one of the most nerve wracking in American history. Partisans on both sides are terrified of the consequences of the other side winning the election, predicting apocalyptic consequences.
If Hillary Clinton wins, Donald J. Trump supporters foresee an America flooded by hordes of job seeking illegal immigrants jamming our communities, the country bankrupted by massive new spending on health insurance, free college education, and illegal immigrants. If Trump is elected, Clinton supporters envision an America bankrupted by massive new tax cuts for the wealthy, large increases in military spending, new wars in the Middle East, the destruction of subsidized health, and a President who is “loose with nukes.”
“I do feel sometimes like this campaign has entered into an alternative universe,” commented Clinton recently on a late night show. It’s a sentiment many Americans share, as both candidates ratchet up the rhetoric in an attempt to find the other’s jugular vein.
On social issues, both parties are equally scared of whom the other will appoint to the Supreme Court. Three hot button issues are particularly important: campaign finance, abortion and guns.
The pro-life community is petrified that President Clinton’s America would seek abortion on demand at taxpayer expense. Likewise many Clinton backers, while professing to support the 2nd Amendment, urge a tightening of access to guns to prevent some of the horrible gun massacres that have taken place. Clinton has called for the repeal of Citizens United, the disastrous Supreme Court decision that is polluting American politics with billionaire money. Republicans see Citizen United as leveling the playing field, giving wealthy donors the right to compete with Union campaign financing of Democrats.
Pro-choice voters are terrified that a President Trump would deprive a woman of her right to choose. This writer believes Trump, who was adamantly pro-choice until he ran for President, will do absolutely nothing to stop abortion. Changing abortion laws will be at the bottom of Trump’s to do list as President. Trump is right that law abiding Americans should be able to buy firearms, but like abortion, will do little to change existing laws to stop the mass gun killings. Trump rather brilliantly defused the Citizens United issue by funding his own campaign, something which played a big part in Trump securing the Republican nomination.
Demonizing each other
But the worst thing about this campaign is the extent to which each Presidential candidate has demonized the other. Clinton, who has never been convicted or been charged with a crime using her public offices, does not warrant being called “Crooked Hillary”. However, Clinton has opened herself up to ethical questions by setting up a private email server in her home and then eviscerating 33,000 private emails. If Nixon had done this to his White House tapes, he never would have faced impeachment. In this regard, Clinton, unlike Nixon, carefully covered her own tracks. It’s harder to tell which was the greater misjudgment by Clinton: setting up the private server to begin with, or her belief that the existence of the private server would not leak out, and cause her the enormous damage that it has. This plays into the Republican perception of the Clintons as unethical.
Much of Clinton’s transparency in revealing her tax returns – a must during the Democratic primaries – led to many of the questions about speaking fees, book deals, etc. Trump, seeing how the media went through Clinton’s tax returns with a fine tooth comb, has probably been wise to withhold his tax returns. They probably contain such election blowing secrets that Trump will never release them. In 1968 candidate Nixon released his tax returns even though they were being audited, the reason Trump now gives for not releasing his tax returns. Said Clinton running mate Tim Kaine: “If you can’t come up to the ethical standard of Richard Nixon, you should not be within ten time zones of being commander in chief!” Like Clinton, Trump is showing himself to be cleverer than Nixon.
Trump has been called a racist, a misogynist, and an authoritarian. Trump’s rhetorical excesses are largely to blame for this. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists… And some, I assume, are good people.” This type of statement plays into the hands of those who denounce Trump as a racist, just as his past talk of women as “fat pigs” and “dogs” has opened him up to charges of being a misogynist. It’s not difficult to see why Trump’s praise of Vladimir Putin would lead some to believe Trump has authoritarian tendencies.
In terms of experience, both Trump and Clinton would bring to the Presidency experiences beneficial to the job. America will soon be facing enormous budgetary problems; Trump has been considerably parsimonious in building up a bureaucratic campaign organization and dumping vast amounts of money into television advertising. Trump has successfully run a billion dollar, multi-national company; his administrative skills are probably of the highest order, and Trump likely has superior negotiation skills. Clinton’s experience as a Senator and Secretary of State have given her a good understanding of how to build alliances in the legislative process and international arena, skill sets that would prove invaluable in a President.
Why is Trump doing so well?
Given that he has the highest unfavorability ratings of any candidate in history, why is Trump doing so well? It appears to be because Trump has given voice to the concerns and anxieties of a significant section of the American public on three very important issues:
• American has been deindustrialized during the past decade largely due to trade deals. Large masses of Americans have seen their jobs shipped overseas. Many of the jobs not shipped overseas are now being filled by what many perceive as being lower paid illegal immigrants. Trump has given them the perfect scapegoats: Washington bureaucrats and a wave of immigrants willing to work for far lower wages than the average American.
• Trump opposed more Middle Eastern intervention. Trump’s talk of allying America with Russia to take on ISIS in Syria may outrage the political elites. But most Americans would rather see Russians dying to stop ISIS, than the United States dragged into yet another Middle Eastern quagmire by itself.
• America is going through one of the biggest demographic changes since the Irish, Italian, German, Polish, and Jewish immigrants arrived in the latter half of the 18th century. As Trump talks of bringing jobs home and keeping illegal immigrants out, it is not accidental that his message resonates particularly among white male Americans, in an America that is becoming inexorably less white.
It may well come down to whether the number of angry white males supporting Trump outnumber the male liberals, women, Hispanics, and African-Americans supporting Clinton. As the days begin to dwindle down until the election, each candidate continues to chip away at the other’s base.
Pathway to victory
Pundits have talked recently of the difficulty of Trump’s “pathway to victory”, i.e., getting 270 votes in the Electoral College. Polling in Virginia and Colorado, two states which had been solidly Republican in the past, shows Clinton with leads Trump is unlikely to overtake. This means Trump has to take Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and North Carolina to hit the magic number of 270 Electoral College votes. Right now, polls show Clinton ahead in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Clinton’s campaign apparatus to get out the vote is manifestly superior to Trump’s in these states.
Trump at any moment could make another disastrous tweet, or a TV attack that backfires the way it did with his verbal assault against the Muslim parents of an American war hero. The Russians could dump downloads of Hillary’s missing emails. Clinton’s superior ground organization could turn out the margin of victory on election day. The debates may be the decisive events in deciding the outcome. Right now, this election is anyone’s to lose.