There are only 53 days left until election day, when United States citizens will decide who to put in the Oval Office for the next four years.
The untamed, populist, anti-establishment Donald Trump, who always plays against the rules, has made this election unpredictable from the very beginning. Rejecting the political system while making a good use of it does not seem to bother him.
When Trump stepped into politics, he immediately appealed to politically marginalized voters who found no space in a country moving quickly towards free-thinking and liberal society. The appearance of Donald Trump on the political scene created the conditions for the erosion of America’s Republican institutions by digging out the values of the deep past and installing savage, extreme right-wing populism.
It is incredible how similar this is to what happened in Italy with Silvio Berlusconi’s arrival on the Italian political stage. In spite of the different circumstances, the patterns of social erosion in Italy in 1993 and in the United States 2016 are of the same kind. The consequences that hit Italy are known: regardless its flourishing talent and capacity for business, its predominantly hard-working population, and its enormous artistic heritage, the country has become a colony of the world’s globalized economy.
Many of my American friends have told me that America is too big to go down the drain just because Trump may become president. Me? I don’t know what might happen. All the right conditions for the precipitation of chaos in America — including the tense international situation — are in place now. It is up to the voters to decide what will happen. Then, in January, we will see which way we will head if Trump wins for real.
This is the reason why the elections in November are so important. One can see by the rising political fever that the country is aware of the importance of this political moment.
The expectations for the first televised debate of the general elections — which scheduled for September 26th — are without precedent, as Jill Lepore reports in her piece for the New Yorker :
This year, the candidates will appear together on the stage of a university lecture hall. The event will be called a “debate” and it will be broadcast live, but it won’t really be a debate and a lot of people will watch clips later. There will be no commercials. Hillary Clinton will be there, overprepared; Donald Trump says the whole thing’s rigged, but he’d be hard-pressed to stay away. “There are those who will say it will be one of the highest-rated shows in television history, if not the highest,” he told the Washington Post. “It will be the most watched event in human history,” former Clinton adviser Paul Begala told me. “Bigger than the moon landing, the World Cup, the Super Bowl, the Olympics, and the latest royal wedding!” It will be gruelling. It will be maddening.
The debate will be everything but political. It will be wild. It will be rude. It will be personal. The scent of blood attracts the huge audience that will attend the debate. No, I am not saying that American voters have a thirst for blood. They simply do not like their own candidates. They might as well just sit back and watch the two candidates attack each other, as Lepore concludes in her piece:
There’s another way of getting the candidates to clash—boxing ring, courtroom, all at once. In 1992, the night before the New York Democratic primary, Phil Donahue hosted Democratic candidates Bill Clinton and Jerry Brown in a debate shown live on C-span. “I am pleased to present Governor Brown, and Governor Clinton,” Donahue said. Then he sat back in his chair and never uttered another word. Clinton and Brown talked to each other for forty-five minutes, unmoderated, and uninterrupted. “It was as good a conversation as I have ever seen,” Paul Begala told me, looking back. “Someone could try it this time,” Begala said. “The lights would go on and the moderator could say, ‘Madam Secretary, Mr. Trump, have a good conversation,’ ” and walk off. Begala laughed, picturing it. “Except no one could do that this time because Trump couldn’t sit and talk, civilly, for ninety minutes because, with Trump, you need a lion tamer, a whip, and a chair.” Except, maybe the electorate is the lion tamer, the whip, and the chair. Or maybe the electorate’s the lion, wild and prowling.
Madam Secretary, Mr. Trump: Have a good conversation
Back in 1960, when Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy sat down for the first televised debate in a bare CBS studio, things were much different, as Eric Black observes in his column for the MinnPost:
The most amazing thing to me, at least watching the Kennedy-Nixon debates through the prism of today’s politics, is how incredibly civil and polite the candidates were to each other. There were basically no personal attacks at all, of any sort, and a constant assertion of mutual respect. Each listens respectfully to the other. Each asserts that the other is a good person and that both want what is best for America, but that they have differences of opinion on how to bring that about. JFK favored raising the federal minimum wage from $1 and hour to $1.25. Nixon thought that was too high.
Lepore’s article is full interesting points — it’s an account of the evolution of presidential debates. We are looking into history that is only 56 year old, and yet, in reading Lepore’s piece, it feels like those times have completely disappeared. Vanished.
So how will this election play out? Can the three debates ahead of us change anything?
Nate Silver — a very respected pollster who has not had much luck so far with predicting Trump’s results — notes that the last few days of the campaign were pretty bad for Hillary Clinton. First, she said that “half of Trump’s supporters” could be characterized as “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic.” Then, two days later — after she abruptly left a September 11 memorial event — a video captured her appearing to stumble into her vehicle. Nate Silver asks himself whether Trump, who now has a 34 percent chance to win the elections, might move further up and increase his chances of winning. Giovanni Russonello of the New York Times cites another pole, saying that, “The third-party candidates draw their strongest support from younger voters. Twenty-six percent of voters ages 18 to 29 say they plan to vote for Mr. Johnson, and another 10 percent back Ms. Stein. A little more than one in five political independents say they will vote for one of the third-party candidates.”
If the figures are right, then Hillary Clinton could be doomed because votes for independent candidate will come from her own electorate, essentially pulling votes away from her. But on the other hand, the Atlantic notes in its recent piece, “America’s Cultural Civil War,” that, “most of the GOP fundraising infrastructure has renounced [Trump]—even as Clinton has attracted huge financial support not only from traditionally Democratic donors but also some Republican-leaning ones. A detailed Wall Street Journal analysis last week found her drawing nearly 90 percent of the donations made by employees of major industries like finance and health care that four years ago directed most of their contributions to Mitt Romney. The top 10 firms whose employees are donating the most to Trump included a ‘five-acre hog farm,’ a garlic producer, and an Anchorage-based ‘clothing and home-furnishings retailer.’”
I could continue with the “quid pro quo” list that would lead us into a spiral of guessing who will be the new POTUS. The mainstream media does exactly that. But that’s why I like Ta-Nehisi Coates, who tries to turn the conversation in a different direction:
When Hillary Clinton claims that half of Trump’s supporters qualify as “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic,” data is on her side. One could certainly argue that determining the truth of a candidate’s claims is not a political reporter’s role. But this is not a standard that political reporters actually adhere to.
Determining, for instance, whether Hillary Clinton has been truthful about her usage of e-mail while she was secretary of state has certainly been deemed part of the political reporter’s mission. Moreover, Clinton is repeatedly—and sometimes validly—criticized for a lack of candor. But all truths are not equal. And some truths simply break the whole system.
Open and acknowledged racism is, today, both seen as a disqualifying and negligible feature in civic life. By challenging the the latter part of this claim, Clinton inadvertently challenged the former. Thus a reporter or an outlet pointing out the evidenced racism of Trump’s supporters in response to a statement made by his rival risks being seen as having taken a side not just against Trump, not just against racism, but against his supporters too. Would it not be better, then, to simply change the subject to one where “both sides” can be rendered as credible? Real and serious questions about intractable problems are thus translated into one uncontroversial question: “Who will win?”
It does not have to be this way. Indeed, one need not even dispense with horse-race reporting. One could ask, all at once, if Clinton was being truthful, how it will affect her chances, and what that says about the electorate. But that requires more than the current standard for political media. It means valuing more than just a sheen of objectivity but instead reporting facts in all of their disturbing reality.
Perhaps Coates could be a voice of the future that we lost as we travelled into the past.