By Reuben Abati
This is really exciting time in America; watching the drama of the 2016 Presidential nomination process from a distance, I find the contests, the debates, the arguments, the hustling and jostling on both sides of the mainstream political aisle, most instructive, and intriguing.
The world’s most advanced democracy is proving once again that freedom is a golden ideal and that anyone who seeks to lead it, must undergo a rigorous test of leadership and courage. So far, the presidential primaries have proven to be a sifting process, and after last Tuesday, better known as Super Tuesday, many of the otherwise promising candidates have dropped out of the race, leaving the field to just a few survivors.
But the prospects are clear: Senator Hillary Clinton seems a sure bet on the Democratic side, with Senator Bernie Sanders still trailing behind. The Republicans too may well end up with Donald Trump. The other contenders: Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich may not succeed in displacing Trump. And this in itself is a source of anxiety, to both Americans and non-Americans alike. If the race gets down to a Hillary Clinton vs Donald Trump scenario, we all have every reason to be anxious. Suppose Trump wins and becomes America’s President?
Donald Trump is a snarling insurgent and a nativist. He has said all the worse things that should never be uttered by anyone seeking to lead a responsible and diverse nation. His campaign has been marked by insults, anger, put downs, bully tactics, rants and unapologetic immaturity. He has not been able to articulate any coherent policy, but he has proved to be very creative with populist histrionics. The list of Trumpisms is so frighteningly long and embarrassing. He recommends torture, and the killing of families of terrorists. He has been endorsed by white supremacists and he doesn’t quite seem to mind being labeled a racist. He threatens violence and on one occasion, he almost punched a protester in the face. He even got into an altercation with the Pope. He wants to barricade the American South border, and build a wall to shut out Mexico, because according to him, the Mexicans who cross the border into America are “rapists.” And when that wall is built, he insists Mexico must pick up the bill.
He doesn’t want Muslims inside America either, and he has dismissed Africans as unwanted and Nigerians as a problem. He says:
“We need to get the Africans out. Not the blacks, the Africans. Especially the Nigerians. They’re everywhere. I went for a rally in Alaska and met just one African in the entire state. Where was he from? Nigeria! He’s in Alaska taking our jobs. They’re in Houston taking our jobs. Why can’t they stay in their own country? Why? I’ll tell you why. Because they are corrupt. Their Governments are so corrupt, they rob the people blind and bring it all here to spend. And their people run away and come down here and take our jobs! We can’t have that! If I become president, we’ll send them all home. We’ll build a wall at the Atlantic Shore. Then maybe we’ll re-colonize them because obviously they did not learn a damn thing from the British!”
This certainly cannot be the temperament of a man who wants to be President. Indeed, one of the most amazing things that has happened in the on-going process is how a real estate and reality television celebrity, whose best achievement is inheriting wealth, and turning around a family business, more by instinct rather than any special technocratic ability, has ended up, getting close to winning the Presidential nomination of the Republican Party, with the frightening prospect of becoming President of the United States on January 20, 2017.
The irony is that everyone underestimated him. The media loved the headlines that he offered with his many offensive remarks. He was regarded in many quarters as a comical distraction, and a bubble that may soon burst. There were pictures of his current wife, looking like a siren, with her drop-dead gorgeous figure, and skimpy dressing that belongs more to Hollywood rather than the White House. When Ted Cruz upstaged him in the Iowa caucuses, there were sighs of relief, but since then The Donald has won every other primary, and on March 1, he won in seven of the 11 states. He is also likely to do better than his closest rivals in the coming caucuses. Except a miracle happens, Donald Trump will be the Republican flagbearer for the 2016 Presidential election. He has received endorsements from key members of the Republican establishment, something that was thought unlikely. In a recent debate, his fiercest opponents even said they would support anyone that wins the GOP nomination. It may be too late to “dump Trump.”
He did not invent the votes that have put him comfortably in the lead. Republican voters actually gave him the votes. While voters at party primaries do not represent the general voting population, they are nevertheless saying something about the American mind at this moment. Trump’s message of xenophobia, protectionism and isolationism attracts large followership and excites the conservative crowd. The average American is angry: angry with his circumstances, with the establishment, with the lack of jobs, with the economy, with politicians, with foreigners. Trump shapes all that anger into rhetoric and he offers himself as an alternative. He is not part of the establishment; he is against it. He calls himself a “common sense conservative” but he is actually a political insurgent. The only time he has said anything that sounded Presidential was after Super Tuesday, when he departed from his usual script.
This has been taken as a sign that perhaps Trump will re-brand, and that his style so far has been nothing but populist gimmickry. As President of the United States, he would probably change that style, recruit experts to handle state affairs, and restrain himself. But can America afford to vote on the basis of that possibility? Can America afford to gamble? Trump is impulsive and non-conventional; there is no guarantee that his Presidency will not trump America and embarrass the party of Abraham Lincoln. The character of the leader affects nearly everything else. It will be too much to believe that Donald Trump is merely acting, given his surplus confidence.
Mrs. Hillary Clinton is a better choice, but going into a general election, she would have to deal with the division within the Democratic fold. Bernie Sanders, her leading rival, has such a devoted grassroots followership that has divided the Democrats into the pro- and anti-establishment wings. Sanders has mobilized such a fanatical political base within the party and on social media that does not trust Mrs Clinton. She has been branded a friend of Wall Street and the status quo, whereas Sanders and his supporters insist that the best way forward is to change how Washington works, and they do not believe Mrs Clinton can do that.
Despite her attempts to move a little to the left in recent times, the insurgents running a “Bernie or Bust” campaign may move to the Trump side during the general elections because they are convinced she is play-acting, just to win the nomination. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is admired for his progressive, liberal ideas. But again, just as in Trump’s case, his mostly young supporters are motivated by anger and insecurity. Sanders wants to redistribute wealth, checkmate Wall Street, and revolutionize health care. The young and the angry are excited but those ideas are not properly articulated in policy terms. And in any case, will the American voter be willing to have as President a man who says he is a “socialist?”
Mrs Clinton’s big challenge is to play the role of a unifier and take steps to unite the party, after winning the Democratic nomination. She will definitely need that “Bernie or Bust” crowd. She struck the right chord when she spoke recently about love and unity, quoting the Scriptures. “Love never fails. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (I Corinthians 13),” she said.
“These are words to live by, not only for ourselves, but also for our country. I know it sometimes seems a little odd for someone running for president in these days, in this time, to say we need more love and kindness in America. But I’m telling you from the bottom of my heart we do. We do.
“There is no doubt in my mind that America’s best years can be ahead of us. We have got to believe that. We’ve got to work for that. We have to stand with each other. We have to hold each other up, lift each other up, move together into the future that we will make.”
These are wise, consolatory words. Mrs Clinton has her heart in the right place and has both the experience and the maturity to lead America. Senator, former Secretary of State, and 42nd First Lady of the United States, more than 25 years in the limelight has exposed Hillary Rodham Clinton to intense media scrutiny, creating what many consider an image problem. But whatever that is, it can be surmounted. A Presidential contest between her and Trump will amount to a choice between love and hate, between the sober and the outrageous, between the respectable and the grossly self-contradictory. America needs to encourage love and kindness within its borders and also stand with the rest of the world. The angry American voter who feels under-represented, alienated, jobless and unfulfilled, and who desperately wants to punish the establishment, may be making a comment on mainstream politics, orthodoxy and the performance of the Obama administration. But that anger should not be turned against the rest of the world by putting a xenophobe and closet dictator in the White House.
Democracy is tricky; it sometimes ends up as a parody of itself. When the people clamour for change, they can vote with their hearts, and prove impervious to plain sight reason, and overlook likely pitfalls. We can only hope that Donald Trump does not become the symbol of the change that Americans are seeking. That would be sad indeed for the free world.