Sunday, 16 October 2016

Don't Fear -- The Center Should Hold

Anyone outside the United States looking at the presidential election campaign has every right wonder just what the hell is going on. How can a country as indispensable as the United States seem to go so far off the rails with an election like this? How can anyone as manifestly unprepared as Donald Trump seriously contend for the top job in the world? Is Hillary Clinton really the She-Devil that Trump and his dwindling number of supporters claim? Good questions. But I would suggest that the fears are a bit over-hyped. The Center will hold.

The core of Trump supporters, those angry white men who feel left out of the rapidly changing world and who subscribe to just about every conspiracy theory you can think of (the world is run by a Global Establishment out to screw ordinary people), is indeed loud and very angry. They have seen just about every other ethnic group in the U.S. pull ahead of them, and they are mad as hell. They make great TV with their inflammatory, end-of-the-world rhetoric, and their posturing as the modern version of Dirty Harry cleansing the world of low-life blacks, Hispanics, Asians, liberals, any and all immigrants, and – perhaps worst of all – college educated women.

I hate to admit it, but the United States has always had groups like this. Usually their rantings are left to the more remote parts of the country and the darker corners of the Web, but until now they have never had a megaphone quite like Donald Trump – perhaps the most unlikely champion of the down-trodden one could ever imagine. Trump is very good at Reality TV and whipping up crowds of already dissatisfied people, but that’s as far as it goes. Anyone listening for serious policy proposals will be very disappointed. Why bother with details, when you can drive the crowd into a self-righteous frenzy of hatred?

And he has the answers?? Does he even know the questions?

The only consolation I can offer is that the hard political, vote-getting influence of these groups is easily over-stated. Yes, they make good TV – much better than the usual boring stump speeches by most candidates -- but they have never been very good at translating all their rantings into votes on the national level. Unless the history of more than 200 years of electoral politics in the United States is about to be upended we will wake up on November 9 and find that the vast Center of collective common sense has held. We have had some very strange presidential candidates over the years -- hard core segregationists, hopelessly na├»ve socialists, or other attention seekers – who appeal to relatively narrow, but vocal groups. In the final count, however, they had no appeal to the broad mass of voters who are much smarter than anyone gives them credit for.

And what about Hillary Clinton? Is she Evil Incarnate portrayed by the more rabid Republicans? Or will she prove to be one of the more effective presidents? One thing is for sure. Just about everyone in the world has an opinion about her -- as you would expect of someone who has been in public life for more than 30 years.  That experience is both her strength and weakness. From the strength point of view, the United States government is a very intricate piece of equipment and at least she knows how it works without lengthy on-the-job training. The political weakness of that experience is that it identifies her closely with the status-quo that many people feel is failing to deal effectively with the nation’s challenges. The much-ballyhooed WikiLeaks releases have so far only shown a shrewd, intelligent, practical politician. Hardly the stuff of nightmares that the far-right crowd was hoping for.

Can she bridge the wide partisan gap?

I have never met the woman, but I respect the opinions of friends and acquaintances who have worked with her in the Senate and the State Department. One career State Department official told me he has never been in meetings with anyone as smart or well prepared as Hillary Clinton. “She’s unbelievable,” he said slightly awed. “She reads everything. And she expects you to have read everything as well.” Then he paused and added. “But she’s also the nicest boss I have ever had. She doesn’t suffer fools, but she wants to help you rather than demean you. She’s not on an ego trip at your expense.”

Perhaps her biggest challenge will be working with Republicans in Congress to address the real problems facing the country. Can she find a way to break down the thick partisan walls that make it so hard to find solutions? Will she be able to find a common ground with all the Republicans who fled from Donald Trump and voted for her? For example, the thousands who have lost their jobs due to factory relocations overseas deserve to have their problems addressed in a true bipartisan effort rather than see all solutions crushed under the weight of political ideology. If she can accomplish this she will go down as one of the great presidents. If she fails, that strong Center of common sense may start to erode.


betty lagogianes said...

Mr. Edgerly, It's nice to see you back writing here again.

How do you see the surprise Brexit vote having happened when so many also thought that the centre (and so-called common sense) would prevail? What differences do you think were/are at play?

David Edgerly said...

I apologize for the interruption caused by travel and various medical issues including a torn Achilles tendon from which I am now recovering. There is a superficial similarity between the Brexit vote and American politics. In the case of Brexit the anti-establishment vote was joined by many of the so-called Establishment who wanted to leave the EU. While Trump is the darling of the anti-establishment crowd in the US. I am not sure how much of the Establishment, i.e. educated and employed, vote he will get. If the polls are to be believed he will not get much of that vote.

Mark and Jolee said...

David, The main problem is that Americans are faced with a very distasteful choice between two very disliked candidates who are conducting a sordid campaign which takes up none of the most crucial issues facing us today. The number one question to me is war. Do Americans want war with Russia which Hillary's campaign so aggressively and relentlessly attacks? Is it in America's interests to encircle China with offensive weapons, as Hillary has proposed? Why would we want to do that? As far as Wikileaks is concerned, the latest dump reflects in a memo from August, 2014 that Hillary was fully conscious of the fact that ISIL was being funded by U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar, a fact that was never made a public issue. What about the complete destruction of Libya, carried out on her watch? The overthrow of the elected Ukrainian government by her neo-con buddy Victoria Nuland? To me, it is unacceptable that we are being forced to feel as though we have to choose one of these completely unacceptable candidates. And every time we've been forced to choose a lesser evil - e.g., Johnson over Goldwater, Obama over Romney - we end up with far more evil than we ever could have dreamed of. The Trump and Sanders campaigns both reflect the distaste felt by millions for our electoral system, so that's positive. But we desperately need new alternatives, ideas, political parties with the courage to take on these questions.

David Edgerly said...

Ideological purity is a luxury in the very complex American political system where any leader has to try to reconcile multiple, legitimate, often conflicting interests. Lyndon Johnson is a perfect example. Best known for prolonging the Vietnam war, he should also be remembered for passing several major pieces of social legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Medicaid and Medicare acts the following year. The Civil Rights act required great political courage, because it cost the Democratic party its once solid foothold in the south. I voted for Johnson and not just against Goldwater. And I will do the same for Hillary Clinton. The alternative is a system of proportional representation that yields a collection of small, single issue parties that often find it difficult to make the compromises required in a modern democracy.