America’s stark choice in an election that hangs in the balance….writes Harold A. Gould
I am probably not alone in sensing that the Democratic Party coalition which enabled Barack Obama’s ascent to the presidency may be losing its steam. The signs are painfully visible everywhere, and if it is true it could mean that Donald Trump and his coterie of racist bigots, economic opportunists, disgruntled “left-outs”, intellectually naive Millennials and principles-challenged mainstream Republicans are on course to win the impending election.
It would mean undoing of all the progress toward a politically-civilised and economically-equitable society, embellished with sensible, mature international diplomacy, which Obama has endeavoured, against great odds, to achieve during his eight-year tenure in office.
What seems to have gone wrong?
There are many strands converging to produce this potentially dismal outcome.
One of the unanticipated, unnerving developments, in my view, is the fading immanence of the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, as the election’s climax approaches. Following the exciting Democrat Convention in Philadelphia, Clinton enjoyed a near double-digit lead in the polls over her Republican rival and seemed well on her way to victory.
But soon she appeared to lose her momentum and, most of all, her charismatic appeal. In part this could be attributed to her having contracted a mild case of pneumonia that necessitated her to suspend campaigning for a couple of days.
However, when Clinton returned to the fray, it was clear that her emotional intensity and, most importantly in American political campaigns, particularly against a ruthlessly unprincipled demagogue like Donald Trump, her rhetorical viability and, yes her wit and sarcasm, were disturbingly absent. Increasingly, she has come across as an emotionally bland, rather pedantic, policy wonk who appears to be addressing an audience of fellow policy wonks instead of potential voters requiring inspiration.
Clearly, this modus operandi will not succeed in the present American political environment; should it continue, Clinton is up against frighteningly perilous political challenges, perhaps more so than she realises. Her survival, and indeed the survival of all that she and President Obama have striven to achieve, may ultimately depend upon whether Obama himself and other leading personalities in the Democratic Party with charismatic capabilities, like Senator Bernard Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren, can deploy their considerable intellectual, political and rhetorical talents to intensify the pace and frankly save Hillary from herself.
But there is more. Ray Williams, writing in Psychology Today (July 2014), has identified the broad issues confronting American political culture today: “There is a growing and disturbing trend of anti-intellectual elitism in American culture. It’s the dismissal of science, the arts, and humanities and their replacement by entertainment, self-righteousness, ignorance and deliberate gullibility.”
All of these traits are disturbingly apparent in the run-up to the present national election. A vast spectrum of the American electorate are simply too ignorant and uninformed to critically evaluate the manipulative messages emanating from demagogues like Donald Trump and his admixture of devious supporters.
What can be expected, in these challenging times, from an electorate where, as Ray Williams points out, an Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs civic education poll among public school students reveals that: “A surprising 77 per cent didn’t know that George Washington was the first President; couldn’t name Thomas Jefferson as the author of the Declaration of Independence…”?
And these data are only the tip of the iceberg, of course. America has become a society where millions of its citizens take pride in their ignorance and anti-intellectualism. These multitudes are innocent bait for the fascists, racists, economic opportunists, and assorted doctrinal and religious bigots who are currently stalking US society promising nostrums that can only be purchased at the cost of the country’s secularism, pluralism and democratic consensualism.
Along with these challenges to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, there is the matter of the American media’s incapacity or unwillingness to effectively challenge and factually expose Donald Trump’s blatantly corrupt entrepreneurial machinations which span his entire adult life. He is the consummate New York City conman who never gets caught and held responsible for his flawed business ethics and pecuniary criminality.
To an important extent this is because in an era where in the eyes of the general public celebrity and showmanship transcend moral authenticity, Trump has successfully established himself as a mass media icon in the eyes of the intellectually-challenged multitudes. In this sense he is structurally equivalent to Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and every other real or potential totalitarian demagogue who has occupied the political stage in modern times.
It is for these reasons that the outcome of the impending American election hangs in the balance. There is no guarantee that an ideologically-brainwashed and politically-confused electorate will choose a sensible, experienced, emotionally mature candidate (especially one lacking critically-needed rhetorical gifts) over a felonious business tycoon who has successfully evaded judicial accountability and (possessing the requisite rhetorical gifts) has successfully hoodwinked millions of predominantly racist-challenged white persons that he is their political saviour.
It was a comparable scenario after all that led to European fascism as a prelude to World War II.
Whether this outcome can be averted in 2016 depends, in my opinion, upon the demographic forces currently in play. If the admixture of emerging socio-cultural formations into which American society is gradually resolving itself (Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, Millennials, etc.) turn out to vote in decisive numbers, despite the limitations of their anointed candidate, then political sanity will carry the day.
If not, the United States of America will for the foreseeable future descend into a quagmire of ethnic conflict, reactionary economic policies and amateurish foreign policies which will threaten the survival of all the progress towards domestic renewal and social reconciliation achieved under Barack Obama’s enlightened domestic and international leadership.
(Harold A. Gould is a US-based strategic analyst and political commentator. In special arrangement with South Asia Monitor/www.southasiamonitor.org)