Sex, lies, videotapes, ISIS and the American elections
It was the strangest, ugliest week in the most grotesque presidential campaign in modern times
It was the strangest, ugliest week in the most grotesque presidential campaign in modern times. It reeked of the decadence of Caligula’s Rome; sex, lies, debauchery and deception, minus the videotapes and the bloody intrigue. In one week, our political culture became a foul brew of vulgar debates, sexual harassment, predatory conquests and braggadocio, victims of reality television, unbridled social media, the he said/she said ad hominem, and scorched earth tactics leaving behind scorched souls. Everywhere one looked, one confronted the unbearable stench of rottenness. Yes, something is rotten in the state of the United States of America. It was offensive watching Donald Trump during his second debate with Hillary Clinton, shamelessly mouthing an unconvincing apology for his sexually predatory behavior captured on a videotape where he celebrated his offensive hands invading the sanctity of innocent women, objectifying them and violating them. No sooner than he finished his short pro-forma non-apology, apology Trump, the pretend commander-in-chief, vowed to fight and crush ISIS. It was a breathless and unique rejoinder, where only Trump could ram sex, lies, videotapes and ISIS in one sentence. The debate was tawdry and dirty, with one slimy proud sexual predator on the stage, accusing a former president, the spouse of his rival of belonging to a higher class of sexual predators. The debate encapsulated America’s current dark predicament; the utter failure of the ruling political and economic classes in charge of the two party system to come up with better candidates than the dangerous Trump, and the deeply flawed Clinton, the two most unpopular candidates in recent decades. Yes, the times they are a-changing in America, but not like Bob Dylan had prophesized.
Historians and social scientists will write tomes about the causes of the moral and political decay of America circa 2016. They will muster data, statistics and charts showing the negative effects of the international trade agreements on America’s labor force, the new marginalized Americans left behind watching in despair and anger the globalization caravan passing them by, the 21st century’s version of the displaced Oakies, roaming the country in search of non-existing manufacturing jobs that once were the beating heart of life in small town America. Both the candidates and their parties are totally unaware of the fraying of social and economic life in large swaths of rural America following the epidemic of drugs that ravaged them in recent years, where suicide rates are nearly double those in big cities. These are the disinherited of America, who have been hypnotized by the Siren calls of Donald Trump to join his movement of woes and wrath. These are the Americans who are driven by fear and loathing and who believe that their once proverbial shining city on a hill is being overtaken by the invading barbarians.
It is conceivable, given Trump’s warnings, that if Hillary Clinton wins a very close race, violent protests could occurHisham Melhem
Future chronicles of America’s malady in the second decade of the twenty first century, will analyze the rise and fall of Donald Trump, the vile would-be savior of the disinherited, who stormed his way by sheer guile and intimidation to wrestle the mantle of leadership of the hapless, ossified Republican Party. His was the rise of the brute but cunning populist who, as the self-proclaimed Cassandra, weaves conspiracies of impending gloom and doom where America’s enemies, domestic and foreign collude to destroy the realm and presents himself as the sole supreme leader capable of providing deliverance. If Arabs, had a long genealogy of fake religious figures, America has had a less colorful genealogy of scoundrels and charlatans posing as populist saviors in times of crisis. But America has never seen a dangerous presidential contender as close to the White House as Donald Trump is now.
The revelations of numerous videotapes and radio interviews in which Trump bragged about his sexual conquests forced some Republican leaders, including the Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and other party elders like John McCain, to abandon their candidate, who found himself confronting a growing number of his victims exposing his debauchery publicly. His reaction was predictable, swift and brutal, like a wounded animal. He adopted a scorched earth policy in dealing with what he sees as his endless list of enemies. One week after the second debate debacle, Trump was directing his fire against the “Clinton Machine,” the leadership of the Republican Party, the “corrupt” media and his accusers whom he described as not attractive enough to deserve his sexual advances. Trump, who does not share the ideological orthodoxy of the Republican Party such as international trade agreements, immigration reform and cutting entitlement programs, lashed out at the “disloyal” Republican leadership which he claimed is “far more difficult” than Hillary Clinton. Trump, who has alienated the conservative intellectuals and Republican national security experts, was acting now as an “unshackled” independent candidate, oblivious to the wishes of the Party hierarchy. What was described as the Republican “civil war” could eventually lead to the fragmentation of the Grand Old Party, particularly if Clinton is elected, but even if Trump becomes president it will be very difficult for him to reconstitute the Party.
Toward the end of the week, Trump resurrected the old reliable anti-Semitic canard of International bankers conspiring with Clinton to destroy America. Trump is explicitly Islamophobic but he is certainly implicitly anti-Semite, given his numerous references to Jews as moneyed people. In a speech in Florida, Trump attacked what he termed “a corrupt global establishment” at the heart of which is Hillary Clinton. He then went into the heart of darkness, where no candidate of a major Party dared to go in recent memory saying “Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of US sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special interest friends, and her donors.” To drive the point home, Trump added that Clinton “doesn’t care for you unless you’re Wall Street or Hollywood,” two American bastions of Jewish presence that traditionally receive the ire of the anti-Semites.
With his popularity slipping in all national polls, and most polls taken in battleground states like Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado and South Carolina, that will determine the race and with traditionally Republican states like Georgia and Arizona susceptible to Democratic inroads, Trump upped his warnings of potential rigging of the election results, telling his supporters that the presidency could be “stolen” from him. There was more than a racist whiff in these remarks when he warned his mostly white supporters in Pennsylvania, that “other communities” could deprive him of the ultimate prize. He was referring to the large concentrations of African-Americans in the two largest cities in the state: Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Just to make sure that his concerns were fully understood, he said “everybody knows what I am talking about.” Questioning the legitimacy of presidential elections in the United States, have never seriously been raised since the Civil War. It is conceivable, given Trump’s warnings, that if Hillary Clinton wins a very close race, violent protests could occur.
Whither the Republican Party?
Reeling from their second humiliating defeat at the hands of Barack Obama in 2012, the Republican National Committee requested a report with recommendations to broaden the party’s appeal to minorities and other groups the Republicans needs to remain viable. The subsequent “autopsy” report which included some good recommendations such as “comprehensive immigration reform” was eventually ignored by the party leadership, and the critical introspection that some Republicans were hoping fore never materialized. Large organizations with entrenched leadership are usually resistant to self-examination or self-criticism, even though sometimes they do self-destruct, as maybe the case with the Trump candidacy. It is inevitable that the Republican Party will undergo a wrenching convulsion after the elections and what looks now, according to the polls and other indications, like a resounding defeat. What is certain is that Trump, and more importantly his “movement”also known as the “deplorables” as Hillary Clinton crassly called them, will remain a block of alienated and angry voters. It will be difficult for the traditional conservative wing of the Party, represented by Speaker Paul Ryan and the leadership in congress to build bridges with Trump’s base. However, in the absence of conducting a serious autopsy, the malady of the Republican Party may lead to further fragmentations and aimlessness in the political wilderness.
But the crisis of the Republican Party is a symptom of a more grave condition. The rise of Trump who received almost 14 million votes during the primaries, and whose popularity as a candidate hovered around 40 percent of voters, speaks of the failure of the whole political culture and not only of the Republican Party. In the last few years, the political dysfunction in Washington, exemplified by the occasional destructive and undemocratic “shutdown” of the Federal Government, and the abuse of the filibuster in the Senate have had a debilitating effect on both the Executive and Legislative branches. Beyond the mechanics of passing laws and budgets and approving senior officials and Supreme Court nominees, the challenge facing the whole political system, is what to do to help the millions of disinherited “deplorables,” who were victimized by the new economy that destroyed their world and their way of life in the once thriving small towns and farming areas of America, where some of these towns look today as if they were visited by a rampaging hurricane. The September 2001 attacks occurred in part because of lack of imagination in the realm of national security; to stop the decline of the inner cities where racial and economic tensions are rapidly rising, and to contain the decaying quality of life in rural America, will require the kind of national imagination and creativity that America did muster in the past when it was visited by truly hard times - during the war of independence, the Civil War, the Great Depression and the Second World War.
Admittedly, these are different and dire times but if past is prologue, then America is still capable of self-renewal and of achieving great things.
Hisham Melhem is a columnist and analyst for Al Arabiya News Channel in Washington, DC. Melhem has interviewed many American and international public figures, including Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, among others. He is also the correspondent for Annahar, the leading Lebanese daily. For four years he hosted "Across the Ocean," a weekly current affairs program on U.S.-Arab relations for Al Arabiya. Follow him on Twitter : @hisham_melhem