Clinton and Trump: How did we get here?

The world has looked on with a mix of bewildered fascination and abject horror as the US presidential campaign has meandered its way towards election day. The traditional battle between Republicans and Democrats has never been played nicely by either side but, this year, it has become an almost surreal battle between the ultimate insider, Hillary Clinton, and the ultimate outsider, Donald Trump. Clinton has been First Lady, Senator for New York and Secretary of State, and is the first woman to be the presidential candidate for a major party; Trump is a businessman, property developer, reality TV ‘star’ and a man who has never held public office. In the most powerful country on earth, the struggle for the hearts and minds (and votes) of the people has rarely been fought between two such divisive characters with such different political and personal records.

Donald and Hillary in happier times

Elections can never take place in a vacuum, of course, and the analysts ensure that every link is made, every pattern established, every mistake highlighted. Just as a game of American Football, a cycling stage or a round of golf is dissected with clinical detail by those who are obsessives, so it is with elections; each speech, each advert, each cough, each Tweet, each outfit, each celebrity endorsement is given meaning and significance. As the ‘Washington Bubble’ goes on the road every four years, it is big business and an extraordinary show costing hundreds of millions of dollars, and all played out in the eyes of the world thanks to 24-hour media coverage.

As in previous elections, the voting habits of men and women, young and old, different ethnic groups, straight and gay, rich and poor, white collar and blue collar, have all been considered. And, as always, there is little to say about the strongly ‘Red/Republican’ and ‘Blue/Democrat’ states: New York and California will go for Clinton, Tennessee and Texas will plump for Trump. The key battle grounds have once again been identified as Ohio and Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida, and the other ‘swing states’. Each side has responded to the numbers, the advice, the experts and the focus groups to come up with a nuanced mish-mash of policies aimed at winning the ‘holy grail’, the mix that will win over the key swing voters in those key swing states. It all makes sense — or, at least, it makes sense on paper and it makes sense to the experts. But something has gone wrong this time around as the people don’t seem to be behaving ‘properly’ or as they have done in the past and they ‘should’ behave now. Donald Trump and, to a lesser extent, Bernie Sanders have rocked the boat this year in a way not seen in the post-1945 era and defeat for the establishment insider, Hillary Clinton, now has to be a strong possibility.

The 2012 Electoral College

With regard to previous elections, it is fair to say that the past is increasingly irrelevant in trying to make sense of this campaign. There may parallels with Kennedy and Nixon in 1960 or Carter and Reagan in 1980 but life and attitudes has changed so dramatically for so many in the USA since the days of Reagan and, especially, since the turn of the century that politics is no longer the game it once was. 9/11 and the War on Terror, the economic collapse of 2008, the rise of international terrorism, the power of social media and the dominance of the internet, the diversification of the media and the untouchable financial power of the multi-nationals in an era of rampant globalisation are just some of the factors that have revealed the short-comings not just of politicians but the political system itself; 2016 reveals a crisis in the USA but also a crisis in the democratic process itself.

There are many issues in this complex matter but here are a few to consider in trying to understand how the US ended up with a choice between these two candidates.

1. Money: the 99%-1% issue, debt, taxes and investment

2. Politicians: What sort of people become politicians?

3. Fear: Terrorism, Refugees, Foreigners, Outsiders

4. Global corporations: Competition, control and too big to fail

5. The Freedom Issue: Guns and the Second Amendment

6. Power: The Ineffectiveness of modern states

7. Checks and Balances: divisions in Washington

8. The Media: Social media and traditional media

9. Change: The dramatic pace of change in jobs, roles and values

10.Feelings: The need to blame someone

The Rust Belt: Money and jobs, decline and blame

Thinking about this lot, it’s a bit much to do in one go so I’ll look at them later on. So many problems…and solutions are harder to find.