Never has America been quite so divided. Never has the Republican National Convention just finished or the Democrat National Convention just about to start (Wednesday N.Z. time)been the subject of such intense, blatant hostility towards the presumptive nominee. Both Donald John Trump and Hillary Rodham Clinton carry immense personal baggage that colours their past and means that they come into the race on anything but a blank political canvass.
Like a bunch of people on a crumbling cliff face, arguing over who is responsible for the cliff crumbling, whilst others watch on in a mix of fascination and disgust U.S. politicians have made an art form out of conquer and divide politics. Exploiting a shot electoral system, amassing huge funds and systemically shutting out third party candidates are all in a days work. I cannot help but wonder what people like Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight David Eisenhower would think of the United States now if they could see the current candidates and the political environment that they are operating in.
Mr Trump, a billionaire celebrity businessman whose empire and assets include the Trump Tower in New York, and “Trump University” has courted controversy from day one. Few initially believed he was serious about being nominated for the President of the United States. His firebrand politics of deriding Muslims, disabled people and women alike has caught the imagination of a core group of Republicans and (shockingly)a few Democrats.
Perhaps it is saying something that there were still former candidates such as Ted Cruz who refused to endorse Mr Trump, suggesting deep bitterness in the Republican Party. This party, which once gave the world relatively sane Presidents like General Eisenhower, Messrs Ford and Nixon must now look completely anathema to moderate Republicans – which I do sincerely believe still exist, but perhaps too embarrassed to say so.
Mrs Clinton’s baggage is well documented. Whilst First Lady of the United States, she stood by her husband Bill Clinton as the Republicans launched impeachment proceedings over his sexual dalliances with Monica Lewinsky. She then watched as he lied under oath. When President Barak Obama took office in 2009 she was Secretary of State, during which time Osama bin Laden was assassinated. The following year an attack on Benghazi saw several U.S. civilians get killed, and she was widely ridiculed for her handling of the case. More recently allegations that she deliberately misused her personal e-mail to conduct affairs of the State have come forth, though an F.B.I. investigation found no criminal wrongdoing.
In a couple of days time she will appear before the Democrat National Convention in an environment as highly charged as the R.N.C. was. Her appearance comes as Wikileaks drops another 20,000 e-mails showing how Mrs Clinton’s campaign and the D.N.C. were plotting to destroy her challenger Bernie Sanders. In a campaign already marred by scandals what would another allegation of cheating be?
But whilst the world watches with a barely disguised cocktail of fascination and utter revulsion the coming scrap between Mr Trump and Mrs Clinton on that crumbling cliff face, it is worthwhile noting the third party candidates. Despite their best efforts, never have American third party politicians been more excluded, more systematically shut out of the Presidential race than those who have attempted to race in 2016. The primary third/fourth party candidates for 2016 are the Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson who was Governor of New Mexico in the 1990’s, and Jill Stein for the Green Party of America. In 2012 their parties collected a paltry 1.35% of the vote.
From halfway around the world, I definitely identify with the morbidly fascinated – but utterly revulsed – spectators wondering how much dirtier an already colourfully dirty race can get. In this sad spectacle unfolding against a social backdrop of willful scare/hate mongering the schisms and the dodgy candidates fighting on the edge of the precipice I doubt a Hollywood script writer could come up with anything realistically better.