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For US, Electing A President Means Choosing Between Two Evils

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By Apoorv Pathak:

With nine days to go for the US Presidential election, the race was rocked by the announcement of FBI director James Comey’s communication to the leaders of Congress that FBI was reviewing new evidence in the Clinton email probe.

The bombshell has resurrected, what seemed like an increasingly doomed, presidential run of Republican nominee Donald Trump. Trump has latched on to the revelations by terming Clinton’s FBI review bigger than Watergate.” While how profoundly the revelation affects the presidential race will depend on the nature of the new evidences, when they are made public; the two campaigns success in driving the narrative on the issue and possibility of skeletons dropping from Trump closets too, the revelation will no doubt reinforce the trust deficit with candidates, that has plagued this Presidential race.

As such, the two main rivals, have unusually low approval ratings. Their candidature has been a source of disillusionment for many. But with the frontrunner Hillary Clinton, who after having long struggled to sooth doubts about her genuineness and integrity, had just begun to climb up on perceived trustworthiness, especially on heels of her unconditional and brilliant defense of abortion, again coming under clouds of suspicion, the vote in this election is more likely to be a vote against the candidate the voter dislikes more.

So here is quick look at the traits and events surrounding the two candidates that have turned one of the most anticipated elections into one of the most disappointing ones:

Hillary Clinton’s Biggest Strengths – Experience And Moderation – Are Also Her Biggest Weaknesses

Hillary Clinton has been the First Lady of Arkansas, First Lady of the U.S., two-term U.S Senator from New York and Secretary of State under President Obama, thus being a candidate with a long record of being in public office. While this assures those craving for a experienced hand at the top, her experience is also the biggest ammunition for her opponent. Her long public career has made her deeply intertwined in the establishment at a time when the distrust and dissatisfaction with the establishment has rocketed. It also constrained her from running on the potent theme of change, even though if elected, she will be the first woman in the office. Her long public career has also meant she has had her share of failures, which her opponents have left no stone unturned in exploiting.

Clinton politics has often been about adopting moderate positions and shunning the extreme positions, which would not have been such an albatross around her neck if the politics in U.S. was not as extremely partisan as it is now.

In terms of specific concerns, the below three have undermined her campaign prominently:

1. The Clinton Foundation: The foundation has found it difficult to clear doubts about the conflict of interest in its dealings with foreign dignitaries when Clinton ran the State Department.

2. Classified emails from private server:

Clinton’s use of a private server for confidential official communication during her time as Secretary of State has stymied her campaign for long. It raised issue of risks to national security thereby putting question marks over Clinton’s judgment and competence, possibility of cover up, violation of record keeping rules and the constantly changing position of Clinton about the server being used for classified communication. The unease of Clinton to transparently deal with the issue has also created more suspicion and in the unlikely incident of Trump winning, could prove to be the issue that doomed Clinton’s campaign.

3. Paid Speeches to Wall Street corporations:

Hillary Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street companies have hurt her in multiple ways. It has fed into the accusation of her being symbolic of the establishment colluding with the corporations against the interest of common Americans. Also what she said in those speeches, like her support for free trade, has also come back to haunt her and raised doubts about her commitment to the positions she has adopted in her presidential run.

Besides these three controversies, her campaign’s credibility has also suffered from the regular release of her campaign’s internal communication by WikiLeaks. Also, fairly or otherwise, many Republicans blame her for standing by her husband, when his sexual transgressions were revealed.

Donald Trump – An Outsider Who Has Risen Through Unbridled Embrace Of Majoritarian Politics

Donald Trump improbable rise has stumped many across the political spectrum. The business tycoon , with no previous record of public service, has tapped into the simmering discontent with the political establishment and unleashed a new politics of crass resentment. He has broken away from many of the long-held Republican positions – including on support for free trade, supporting NATO, aversion to Russia and an active role for U.S. in affairs outside its boundaries. Some of his positions (like openness to deal with Russia), driven purely by narrow pragmatic consideration without inhibited by long held conviction, can actually help address complaints about U.S. role as the big brother.

In his mastery in grasping and exploiting the popular sentiment, Trump has taken demagoguery to a new height. His politics has provided a new template for practitioners of majoritarian politics. No more is the majoritarian agenda shrouded in dog whistles; the prolonged flirtation of Republicans with bigotry, reached its logical culmination in the genuine and unfiltered bigotry being centre-staged in Trump’s campaign. While most worry about the lasting effect such mainstreaming of hate and fear may have, there are others who feel that by his open embrace of bigotry, Trump is actually laying ground for its demise, by forcing upon USA a recognition of the deep rot that has set in.

Besides the general problem with Trump’s politics, their are some important concerns regarding his personality, each of which in itself would have been reason enough to discount any other presidential candidate:

1. Intolerant, Insecure And Vile

Trump shoots right, left and centre at anyone who disagrees with him. Such attacks usually are personal and without any regard to decency. The intolerance of Trump to self criticism has meant no one – judges, journalists, party colleagues (ask poor Ryan) or rivals – is spared the vile abuse that Trump has in store for those opposed to him. Such intolerance is ill-suited to a fragmented democracy like U.S. The president needs to be a person who can heal the many divisions riling U.S., not someone who makes the divide still more wide.

The intolerance also reflects a deep seated insecurity that Trump has so often revealed. Trump has shown a marked incapacity to acknowledge mistakes and shortcomings. This seriously dents his suitability for the office, as it often requires owning up to and correcting mistakes.

2. Misogynist with a history of assaulting women

Trump has boasted on record about sexually assaulting women and 14 women have come forward with claims that Trump sexually exploited and harassed them. Besides, Trump routinely targets women for their appearances and exhibits a misogynist mindset that see women nothing more than as objects whose worth is defined by their physical appearance.

3. Shady dealings at Trump’s foundation and University

Trump’s faced questions about his foundation shelling thousands of dollars for buying a portrait of himself. His foundation is also accused of using charity money for Trump’s legal cases. Also, Trump University is accused of fraud by its students. All these are serious integrity issues, that are equally if not more serious than those surrounding Hillary which have got far more attention.

Thus, it is difficult to argue that both candidates are not in some or the other way reflective of what is rotten about U.S society and polity. In fact, it is a reflection of how many liabilities they come with, that both the candidates have been rocked by serious bombshells in the last 5 weeks of the US presidential race. The choice before a voter, therefore, is increasingly about choosing the lesser of the two evils. This choice is, also, often influenced by the thinking that if one has to choose between two evil, it better be an agreeable partisan evil.

The closing of the race in the past two weeks and the latest announcement about Clinton’s email probe means the struggle of U.S. voters to choose the lesser evil is going to extend till the very moment they cast their votes.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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