When elections cease to be a celebration of democracy

A collective sigh of relief will most likely be the world’s response once the 2016 US presidential elections are finally over

Yossi Mekelberg
Yossi Mekelberg
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A collective sigh of relief will most likely be the world’s response once the 2016 US presidential elections are finally over. This is of course assuming that Hillary Clinton wins and Donald Trump is confined to the dustbin of history and ignominy.

Much of the relief will no doubt be related to the fact that we will not be subjected week after week to public debates which sink political discussion to new lows, making a mockery of the notion that elections are a celebration of democracy. It has been a wasted opportunity to deliberate, in a considerate and intelligent fashion, issues of grave concern for Americans and to set a hopeful, realistic and constructive vision for the country’s future.

Nothing is so far removed from this ideal than this year’s US presidential elections. For months we have mainly witnessed mudslinging between the two candidates and their camps. Donald Trump by his vile behaviour, chequered history and fact-less electioneering, dragged the debate to unprecedented lows.

First Lady Michelle Obama’s advice was not necessarily heeded by the Democrats, as when the Trump camp went low, Clinton did not always go high – at times she just managed not sink to his level. Barring any major disaster; Clinton did enough to demonstrate that she is the only viable candidate in these elections with the credentials to lead a major world power.

She increasingly sounds, looks like and projects the image of a president in the making. No one before in American history entered the White House with such unique experience as hers.

Last week’s third and final presidential debate concluded what can be considered a part of the train wreck of these elections – no one can bear to watch them, but it is also impossible to look away. Substance was only on the periphery of the discussion in each of the debates, which were hijacked by personal acrimony and at time bizarre and uncontrollable behaviour by Trump.

Trump became a liability for the Republican Party, especially for those who seek election to Senate or the House of Representatives, hence many within it are distancing themselves from their own candidate

Yossi Mekelberg

GOP liability?

Refusing to commit to accept the election results and calling Clinton a “nasty woman” are just two examples of a man that deeply undermines his country’s liberal traditions and has no temperament to lead a country. Trump became a liability for the Republican Party, especially for those who seek election to Senate or the House of Representatives, hence many within it are distancing themselves from their own candidate.

It is astonishing that Clinton is leading over Trump by a mere six or seven percent of the popular vote, considering she is running against someone who is immensely inferior to her in terms of substance and intellectual capacity, and in addition lacks any moral compass. It reflects on her personally and the far-reaching dislike of her in broad segments of the electorate. However, it is even more a reflection of the huge divide in American society and politics.

While Trump’s candidacy is beyond the pale, Clinton’s is not free of legitimate objections. It is almost self-evident that Donald Trump has none of the attributes required of a world leader, let alone one with his finger on the nuclear trigger. He rides on his notoriety. His last ditch attempt to win votes by claiming that the elections are rigged, and if elected he would start an immediate process of removing 2 million illegal immigrants, are both loathsome and harmful.

Without a shred of evidence, he tries to delegitimize the elections and their results, though according to a study by Loyola Law School from 2000 to 2014 there were only 31 cases voter of fraud by impersonation, out of more than a billion ballots cast. This hardly amounts to evidence of an endemic phenomenon.

What makes a “successful” businessman and reality show host is a far cry from what qualifies anyone to occupy the White House. His alleged business acumen is in actuality evidence of the sorry state of American rogue capitalism, which protects the very rich at the expense of the rest, rather than his business ingenuity.

To the more politically aware the alternative to this crony-capitalism is supporting Bernie Saunders, to the easily manipulated unfortunately Mr. Trump would appear to be a viable option. His racism, misogyny and fascist-like methods should disqualify him from any political position. It would not be that surprising, in the face of a litany of sexual assault allegations against him by an ever-increasing number of women, if he spends the next few years fighting in courts to keep himself out of jail.

Clinton, assuming pollsters are getting it right, especially in the battle states, the 9th of November must be the beginning of healing a divided society that is still badly hurting from the almost decade-long economic crisis. The middle class is haemorrhaging, rural and farming communities are condemned to destitution and young people are crumbling under mounting debt accumulated during their studies.

Momentous tasks

The country is desperate for courageous leadership, which is ready to take tough decisions at home and abroad. There are momentous tasks such as ensuring that affordable care is not just the name of a bill; new jobs paying liveable wages are created; that guns are under control; inner cities are regenerated; and that Wall Street and its roulette capitalism are kept in check.

It is not only the American people who are looking for leadership, it is the world that needs an attentive though assertive US to lead on issues such as Syria, climate change, human rights, WMD proliferation… and the list goes on and on.

If and when Clinton enters the White House, she will have to gain the trust and good will of those who voted for her, as well as those who have an inexplicable blind hatred of her, fuelled by months of a battering and vilifying campaign against her by the Republicans.

Unquestionably the result of the Senate and House of Representatives races will also define whether the next presidency will enjoy constructive support and oversight by the legislature, or if the Washington policy machine will remain the slow grinding partisan one in which Congress constantly undermines the president.

We have another fortnight to endure this nightmare of elections, but the winner needs to put aside the bruising elections campaign and instead of basking in the glory of victory, put much of her energy into the country with a sense of purpose.
Yossi Mekelberg is an Associate Fellow at the Middle East and North Africa Program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, where he is involved with projects and advisory work on conflict resolution, including Track II negotiations. He is also the Director of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program at Regent’s University in London, where he has taught since 1996. Previously, he was teaching at King’s College London and Tel Aviv University. Mekelberg’s fields of interest are international relations theory, international politics of the Middle East, human rights, and international relations and revolutions. He is a member of the London Committee of Human Rights Watch, serving on the Advocacy and Outreach committee. Mekelberg is a regular contributor to the international media on a wide range of international issues and you can find him on Twitter @YMekelberg.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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