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 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 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.