As I write this, it’s a couple days after Labor Day, the traditional start of the “home stretch” of the US Presidential campaign. A year ago, it was a different ball game with the outcome for nomination still up in the air. Of my observation about the political race then, I had strong doubts about Trump: too new, too brash. But so many conservative voters were so fed up with the “Old Guard,” that they voted for him in the primaries, some eagerly, some reluctantly. “Neoconservativism” had been discredited in the eyes of many Republican voters, between the working class seemingly. more and more left behind in the global economy that’s moved a number of jobs overseas, and the seeming reluctance of Republican leaders to combat Obama. While a few embraced his unfiltered rhetoric as a refreshing change from the carefully sanitized statements of professional politicians, other supporters of his ignored or tolerated it, seeing him as the one standing up for them. So it ended up more or less a contest between Trump and pugnacious newcomer Senator Cruz, with Trump always ahead of him, and eventually we had the first time either major political party has picked someone not a general, governor, or Senator, in well over a century.
For the Dems, their own rebellion gave Hillary Clinton a challenge. She dominated at the beginning. But Bernie Sanders, a Socialist whom recently joined the Democratic party, rose to challenger. Like the “Trumpers,” a number of Democrats also felt left behind by the global economy. But to a number, they were unhappy with “neoliberalism” being comfortable with big business, and mixed feelings with America’s role as the dominant military power. But unlike with the Republicans, their rebellion did not succeed. Sanders never really caught on with certain factions of Democrats, some detractors of his noted the small number of minority supporters. Unlike Trump, Sanders was reserved in his criticism of his opponent. But many of his supporters, whom were more passionate about their candidate, were not. Clinton was accused of cheating in a few of the primaries, Sanders’ supporters saying with his much larger crowds at his speeches he should have won. Hillary’s supporters countered larger crowds at speeches do not always translate into votes. Clinton went on to become the first female Presidential nominee in American history.
The result of the primary races have been a Presidential election with two of the most unpopular nominees in modern US political History. Trump has long had a reputation for having a big ego, and him being a real estate baron means to many Progressives he represents what they see as their enemy. His pugnacious unvarnished style has turned off many Republicans, Neoconservative and moderate alike, and many are very reluctant to vote for him. His often unpolished remarks about Hispanics and blacks some charge will cost the Republicans what little chance they have of appealing to those voting blocks. And to those who still support the ideals of neoconservatism, support of free trade while showing a strong and steady presence overseas, Trump represents the opposite, throwing up barriers to both talented immigrants and trade while having an erratic foreign policy, reserving the right not to honor commitments, and a willingness to deal ruthless blows regardless of the consequences.
Despite her husband being somewhat popular among neoliberal and moderate Democrats, Hillary Clinton has become more controversial and disliked as ever. With a long record of being accused of questionable deeds, recent allegations including bribery and being investigated by the FBI have made her look quite shady and untrustworthy. While Trump comes off as unpolished, Clinton has been rather awkward in public. At times she seems aloof, at others oddly behaving, her laugh seen as irritating by some. Despite her being more experienced in government than Trump, Clinton’s supporters are hard pressed to name an accomplishment, at least other than opposing the Republicans, with whom she has emerged as a demonic figure among some. Many Progressives have a strong dislike of her as well, still smarting over the loss of the candidate they favored and seeing neoliberal policies as part of the country’s problems. Conspiracy theorists have a more damming charge, pointing out a series of deaths they claim are linked to her. While the majority of her detractors do not believe them, they help paint an image of her as an extremely ruthless politician considering herself accountable to no one.
With two such highly unpopular candidates, third parties have gotten more attention than usual. The Libertarians have had the fortune of having an ex-Republican governor, Gary Johnson, whom can claim both moderation and experience. The Green Party has Jill Stein. So far, Johnson has emerged the stronger of the two, him appearing on the ballot in all fifty states and consistently showing higher then Stein in the polls. But up against the major political parties, he greatly lags behind even as controversial as they are. While some voters disgusted with both Trump and Clinton see Johnson as a welcome protest vote, others feel as revolting as their own party’s candidate is, the opposition’s is so bad they can’t take the chance.
As of right now, the two recent polls show a statistical tie, one showing Clinton slightly ahead, the other Trump in the lead by a few points. Clinton had been ahead for much of the summer, which encourages some of her supporters who feel she should soon bounce back. But historically, seldom has either the Democrats or Republicans won the White House more than twice in a row, the Republicans last doing so in 1988 following the highly popular Ronald Reagan, and the Democrats in 1940 with FDR reelected with the country coming out of the Depression he was elected to stop and World War Two raging overseas.
A number of things could affect the race. Trump’s unpredictable mouth could potentially get him in trouble. But so far, his controversial remarks have seemingly had a fleeting impact on his level in the polls, so a gaffe by him would have to have be made in the last few days to have an impact. Another possibility is a terrorist attack causing Trump’s “get tough” rhetoric to look more attractive to the voters, much like Bin-Laden’s speech in late October 2004 is thought to have encouraged a few voters to swing to President Bush.
Partisans have been predicting disaster if the opponent of their political party wins, Dems saying Trump could likely get the country into a war, Republicans saying Clinton would ignore the law unless it suited her purposes, stacking the court with biased judges and putting in partisan supporters that would unbalance the country. Both accuse one another of being a threat to working class Americans. What is certain is that no matter who wins, the winner will face a sharply divided country with almost half considering him or her illegitimate, with their own political party only offering lukewarm support and the opposition galvanized in opposing him or her constantly, looking for any opportunity to cripple his/her Presidency if not outright impeach. He or she will not be able to accomplish much domestically aside from combating political enemies. Barring another crisis on the scale of 9/11 or Pearl Harbor, the next President will likely be a one-term one, ending in a bitter defeat and leaving the White House back to a country that has discredited him or her as a politician.
For most Americans, politics will seem more bitter and divisive than ever, with little if anything being done about issues such as health care, energy, the environment, or crime. For partisans, the next four years promise neverending struggle and increasing difficulty for moderates who urge occasional cooperation with the other side in order to deal with the country’s problems. If the period is especially bitter, it may lead to the next election offering candidates even more opposed to the other political party, thus ensuring the country’s continuing slide to drifting apart.
Murray M. Lee