American Politics at a Crossroads

Sometime next year close to the first anniversary of the U.S. presidential election there is likely to be at least one book written by a psychologist looking into the mindset of the two 2016 candidates.

On the surface they appear to be polar opposites not just defined by their gender but also their world views. Yet here we have two people whose only hope of winning is predicated on being less disliked by voters than the other.

Unless you are a devotee of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump it is hard to feel any warmth towards either individual. But one will win and become the guardian of the free world.

Given there is so much dislike towards both candidates you would assume the key to success between now and November would be to reach out and appear nicer.

But in this campaign all the traditional rules are being either ignored or used as a template to do the opposite.

In sports, you will frequently hear about teams who espouse a “them against us” philosophy. This aims to build unity and “build a wall” against outsiders and negative influences.

Both Clinton and Trump appear to have adopted this approach where the “them” are the majority of American voters. At times it seems as if Clintonworld and Trumpland are the only societies that exist.

In the past few months as both secured their nominations the attacks on each other got nastier.

Nothing is off limits if it guarantees the right to walk through the doors of the White House.

Trump has basically taken a scorched earth approach: if you are not with me then you will be cast out into the wilderness. Facts are open to interpretation while anyone who raises concerns faces a vitriolic attack and accused of lying, cheating or being crazy. Vulgar sentiments are part of the normal discourse.

Clinton seems to be incapable of understanding how anyone can doubt her sincerity. From Whitewater onwards she has been under scrutiny. But she ploughs on with little regard to rules and laws that are counter to her viewpoint. Collecting massive cheques for speaking to Wall Street executives is the American way: if you can get the work why not take it? But Clinton refuses to release transcripts of what she said. She demands Trump be open about his tax returns but she does not see the benefit of being open with voters about a speech she made.

Likewise, her apology for using a personal Email server while she was the U.S. Secretary of State was only given after universal condemnation.

Neither candidate is covering themselves in glory; both seem to assume the other one is worse and that will be enough.

The new normal for political campaigning is emerging. In Britain this led to a high turnout for the Brexit vote. After this election we will discover if the actions and words of Clinton and Trump inspired or turned-off voters. The latest developments add to the intrigue.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign amid an Email scandal that opened festering wounds within the party. For some Bernie Sanders supporters this was proof the odds were stacked against their man. We will only know in November if Sanders’ supporters can put aside their dislike for Clinton and vote for the Democrat nominee.

Rather than talk about the substance of the Emails Clinton’s campaign manager blamed the Russians for the Email leak; claiming Russian President Vladimir Putin favours Trump.

And just hours after the resignation announcement, Hillary Clinton appointed Wasserman Schultz as the honorary chair of the Clinton campaign’s 50-state program. For critics this was another example of Clinton failing to understand the frustrations within the party.

Across in Trumpland there are suggestions the freshly-fallen head of Fox News Roger Ailes could be mobilized to run the Trump campaign. Before turning the news channel into a money-making machine Ailes was a successful political strategist. His first political success was running Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign.

Trump has redefined the Republican Party in his image. His core supporters are fully committed but he has made few attempts to grow beyond this base if it requires any signs of a compromise. Instead he remains combative and defiantly claims those who fail to support him are either losers or liars, or probably both.

These are challenging times for the next President of the United States but they are likely to be even more difficult for voters in November.