America’s political circus
With the recent conclusion of the Republican and Democratic conventions, there are now only about 100 days left before America’s presidential election. The diversity and unity of the Democratic convention in Philadelphia was in marked contrast to the lily-white and divisive Republican gathering in Cleveland, which was boycotted by many of the Grand Old Party’s (GOP) political establishment. The nadir of the convention saw the Republican rabble being roused with cries of “Lock her up!” in reference to Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.
The Republican candidate, Donald Trump, a narcissistic billionaire real estate magnate and reality TV star with no political experience, has defied all predictions to become his party’s nominee amidst continuing dissent within its leadership. He has spewed more vituperative bigotry and misogyny than any candidate in living memory. Trump called for Muslims to be banned from the United States (U.S.); promised to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants; backed torture for terrorist suspects and punishment for their families; termed Mexican immigrants “criminals”; described women as “fat pigs” and “dogs”; and advocated the building of a giant wall on the Mexican border. Unsurprisingly 87% of Latinos, 86% of blacks, and 70% of women, disapprove of him.
Trump’s campaign has been a divisively populist one, enthusiastically championed by non-college-educated white males in an era of stagnating wages and changing demographics in which non-whites will become a majority by 2050. On the hustings, he has been devoid of substance and full of pithy phrases about “making America great again” by using his business skills to negotiate better trade deals. He has called for American jobs to be brought back home; combined isolationism with suggestions of seizing Iraq’s oilfields; questioned security guarantees to America’s allies; and threatened trade war with China. Trump has proved a grand alchemist and sadistic sorcerer, selling unachievable dreams to insecure Americans. His crass nativism is the culmination of the Frankenstein experiment of Republicans who have whipped up a toxic brew of Obamaphobia over the last eight years.
The Republicans had previously been known as the party of optimism since former President Ronald Reagan’s famous “Morning in America”. Trump has, however, painted a vision of “Midnight in America”. Seeking to feed off polls suggesting that 82% of Americans believe the country is on the wrong path, he has hyperbolically described America as a “hellhole” and “third-world country.” Led by President Barack Obama, the Democrats have insisted on America’s continuing greatness and portrayed Trump as a dangerous, divisive demagogue and proto-fascist, unfit to have his finger on the nuclear button. But even the Democrats have not been able to respond effectively to America’s growing racial divisions in which white police officers fatally use innocent black civilians for target practice; often go unpunished by largely white juries, even as a complacent white middle class condones this grisly horror by supporting draconian crime-fighting measures.
Hillary Clinton – a notoriously wooden campaigner – has struggled to shake off the perception of being an establishment figure with a sense of entitlement, having served as a Senator and Obama’s secretary of state. Her close ties to Wall Street donors continue to raise eyebrows. She has already made history by becoming the first woman to win a presidential nomination. But Clinton is distrusted by over half of America’s voters, and her evasive and legalistic responses to the use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state have exacerbated already widespread concerns. She also appears to lack empathy, as a recent patronising exchange with “Black Lives Matter” campaigners shockingly revealed. Criticisms that her husband’s policies as president – which she supported – led to the incarceration of millions of black and Latino youths and the immiseration of millions of vulnerable Americans – through welfare reform – have been hard to shake off. Clinton is also accused of being a warmonger for having supported the disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq; threatening to “nuke” Iran in 2008 presidential primaries; and backing the ill-planned 2011 intervention in Libya.
This election is a grand political circus complete with a populist clown and a political contortionist. True to character, Trump has already called Hillary Clinton “the devil” and accused her husband of rape. This will be an ugly slugfest between two power-hungry egomaniacs. It will be a blood-sport, an extravagant, profligate political show that only America – the home of Hollywood – is capable of staging. May the best woman win.
• Dr. Adebajo is Executive Director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution, Cape Town, South Africa, and Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.