Insult. Jibe. Lie. Accusation. Denial. Half-Truth. Smear. More Insult and so it goes on.
The latest circus act in what goes by the name of the US Presidential election has seen all of the above in the Trump and Clinton TV debates and battle for the White House. The only surprising thing is that this type of behaviour really shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Whilst this election campaign has been particularly nasty the US political system has a proven track record of unsavoury tactics going back many years.
There is a story that in a congressional campaign Lyndon B. Johnson, who would later become President in the 1960’s, asked one of his aides to spread a rumour about one of his rivals. The aide responded, incredulous, that it wasn’t true! Johnson told his aide that of course it wasn’t true but he wanted him (the rival) to deny it. There you have modern election campaigning in a nutshell.
The successors to Johnson’s tactics spawned many imitators, not least in this year’s Presidential elections. Candidates have dealt in the currency of insults and accusations a plenty. Trump came up with playground nicknames for his Republican rivals; ‘Little Marco Rubio’ and ‘Lying Ted Cruz’. The Presidential debates were another chance for candidates to insult each other. Trump preferring more of a direct approach in debates 1 and 2, called Hillary ‘the Devil’ and also said she should be in jail. Clinton took a more subtle approach but nevertheless made personal jibes at Trump. In one ironic moment, Clinton accused Trump of diverting from the fact that the Republicans were abandoning him, while herself using that as a diversion for not answering the question!
Anecdotal polling has suggested that most people who are strongly in favour of Trump are impressed by his ability to ‘say things as they are’ and supporters of Clinton are just happy that she isn’t Trump. But those are the politically uninitiated. The un-savvy, who don’t know about policy nor politics. Surely the educationally aware know better. As should the politically literate who you would have thought can see through this farce. And yet, Trump’s support amongst the electorate remains strong.
Millions cannot quite see through the fact that Trump has yet to define any meaningful policies; he has over the years funded and supported variously both the Democrats and Republicans and until recently was close friends with the Clintons’; donating to ex – President Bill Clinton’s charity foundation, dinner invites with the Clinton family and famously golf partners.
In the same way that politicians have displayed a lack of consistency so too have the commentators and media outlets. They have supported candidates and derided the other for exactly the same things. The emergence of a video in which Trump made some shockingly misogynistic comments has seen him vilified. The same media, however, has largely ignored reports of what Bill Clinton has said (and certainly done) worse.
Trump’s racism in calling Mexicans’ ‘rapists’ has been well documented. Hillary’s racism has been given a free ride. As first Lady she called Black people ‘super-predators’. When she was asked by a Black Lives Matter activist recently about that statement she had the activist escorted out by security. Hillary has also actually voted to build a wall on the US – Mexico border. Clinton’s lies go back years; such as when she made up a story of her aeroplane landing under sniper fire in the Bosnian War to embellish her credentials. Hillary Clinton’s record as Secretary of State, in the first Obama administration, as cheerleader-in-chief of the drone attacks policy on Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen in which hundreds of civilians died will last long in the memory.
There is no doubt that this Presidential election campaign has been a dirtily fought affair. Research by the Wesleyan Media Project found that up until last month, 60% of Clinton’s ads, have been ‘attack ads’, attacking Trump. Only 31% have been positive messages about Clinton herself. Meanwhile, all of Trump’s ads’ have been ‘contrast ads’; simultaneously attacking Clinton while glorifying Trump. Trump had no positive ads’. Wesleyan also found that the predilection for negative and attack ads has increased. These type of ads’ tend to focus on the rival candidates inability to lead and protect America. The really skilful can do all that while also creating an atmosphere of fear. Lyndon Johnson’s attack ads in his 1964 campaign were seen as the gold standard, a series of ads that simultaneously created an atmosphere of anti-communist fear as well as indirectly insinuating his rival could not deal with them. Hillary Clinton copied, directly, one of Johnson’s videos. Even using the same actor. The video is titled ‘Confessions of a Republican’
The tragedy of the Presidential campaign isn’t the torrent of insult and abuse levelled by each candidate or even the low levels each are prepared to stoop to get one over on the other. Rather, it is the judgement and character flaws that marks their unsuitability for office leave alone the huge task of dealing with the country’ social, economic and political challenges. To a failed political system and failed political parties can now be added failed Presidential candidates who in their egotistic desire for power have offered nothing new to the millions of victims of Capitalism in America; the poor, the destitute, the ones living in drug and crime filled ghettos, the ones whose homes get repossessed and those killed by police brutality to name but a few. This, ultimately, is the biggest insult of them all.