American presidential elections are perhaps the only ones that are followed all over the world, as the outcome affects the world as well. But this time, the elections appear to be different in many ways, as far as the candidates are concerned, and that has changed the whole tenor of this campaign.
The two candidates could be seen as each other’s nemesis. It is not just Democratic Hillary Clinton vs Republican Donald Trump. Trump’s blunt talk comes in sharp contrast with Hillary’s sharp interpersonal skills. It is the background and credentials of the two candidates, and how they have run the campaign that makes it nasty, bizarre and exciting at the same time.
Clinton has made history as the first woman nominated for the highest office (Geraldine Ferraro was a vice-presidential nominee in the 80s). She has widely travelled, and knows how Washington works and is an insider. But her emails scandal will not leave her; a possible FBI probe follows her in the last crucial days before the elections.
Trump has been an unlikely candidate, and has earned a reputation and built an empire as real-estate mogul, and much more. He is a political outsider, and has almost gate-crashed into politics. During the campaign, he cultivated and got media attention by his blunt remarks on immigrants, particularly Muslims; interestingly, there are Muslim leaders with him, defending his stance. And his remarks on Russia were sore points for the administration.
Trump’s campaign got a jolt by his crude remarks about women, followed by a string of women accusing him of harassment. The low point of Trump’s campaign has been many Republican leaders disowning his remarks.
Trump has managed to fight his way to the nomination, and has led a very forceful campaign, of course backed by his fabulous fortune. This answers the question: why Trump? Thus, Trump has been able to fight Hillary across the great ideological, ethnic and social divide, often bridging the gaps /numbers by which she is leading. Many also feel that while Hillary has same answers for old issues, Trump offers different, new answers.
This is what makes the current presidential campaign the most exciting in American history, offering the American people a rather odd choice – a choice, for many, between two evils. If Hillary ‘reeks of Washington’, Trump ‘smells of money’. Trump says Washington does not work, and Hillary has been part of that system. Both are evasive on many issues, and have slightly shifted positions during the campaign. Hillary on Wall Street, and about her position on middle class/privilege; Trump on taxes and immigration. This time, both parties ended up picking candidates that they might have bypassed if they had a better, younger choice.
Democratic politics and elections are about a candidate’s past performance, and image-building during the campaign; in this context, besides ‘experience’, questions on Hillary’s performance in office balance Trump’s lack of it. Both have suffered some upsets during the campaign. It is debatable how much the debates have helped Hillary or hurt Trump. This election campaign is unlike any other in recent times, and has divided the country across many lines.
As Election Day draws near, Hillary is irked by the FBI coming in for investigating the email issue; and Trump might have a few more people coming forward with accusations. But this won’t make any big difference in the campaign now. Oddly, Trump talks about elections being ‘rigged’. That seems an odd cry coming from the land of democratic traditions. Is electoral politics changing in the US?
As Americans go to vote for their new president, most will be doing so with some misgivings. The whole world will be watching anxiously as Americans pick their new commander-in-chief, who will be facing a very turbulent world that might require an active American role. The election of Hillary Rodham Clinton would indeed be history making. But the election of Donald John Trump would be no less so, considering his worldview. Whoever the victor is on November 8, Americans should be prepared to witness a big change, and a new style of presidency.
The writer teaches at the Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.