Elections and their discontents
America’s political and cultural polarizations will not end on November 8 when voters choose one of the two most unpopular candidates in US history
America’s political and cultural polarizations will not end on November 8 when voters choose one of the two most unpopular candidates in US history as president. If anything, the outcome of the elections could plunge the country deeper into a dark zone where political and ideological differences become as entrenched and as hostile as barricades. The hatred for Hillary Clinton is widespread, visceral, real and perverse. Her tendency to operate in the dark, her frequent shaving of the truth, her shifting positions and ceaseless insatiable quest for more wealth all seem to make her the second most reviled nominee ever.
Only Donald Trump, a man of epic moral depravity, who is driven by the daemons of bigotry and racism that could conceivably entice him to incite violence if he is declared the loser, could deprive Clinton from reaching the pinnacles of unpopularity. Given the divisiveness of the eras of George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama, and the ugliest primary season in recent history, the next American president will find that the exercise of governance, and American politics in general, have become, in the words of Thomas Hobbes, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
The woman they love to hate
With Hillary Clinton leading in most national polls, and in many polls in the crucial battleground states that will determine the outcome, she will likely prevail and maybe overwhelm her opponent. But when Clinton enters the White House on January 20, 2017, she will do so as the most hated occupant in the last century. Unless Clinton wins with a landslide, the legitimacy of her election will be questioned by millions of voters who deeply believe that she should have been indicted and jailed because she used a private email server when she served as secretary of state and later deleted thousands of emails, and because they accuse her of dereliction of duty in the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three of his companions in Benghazi in 2012.
Trump’s relentless demonization and vilification of Hillary Clinton over the course of the campaign, including dangerous insinuation of violence, made Clinton look like the embodiment of all the ills that have ravaged the country. Trump’s rallies usually devolve quickly into sessions of incitement against “crooked” Hillary Clinton, where his supporters shout “lock her up” or call her “evil” and a “killer.” The ascendency of the woman they love to hate to the presidency will not sit well with the “true believers” in Trump’s “movement.” But what is more problematic and worrisome is that the dysfunctions and gridlocks of the Obama years that dominated relations between the White House and Congress will pale in comparison of things to come. If Speaker Paul Ryan maintains his majority in the House of Representatives and if the Senate remains even precariously in Republican hands, one can only expect the nastiest and most brutish of fights to rage between the mistrusted and reviled President Clinton and the newly empowered and resentful Republican leadership. Battles will be fought on every front - over the nominees to the Supreme Court, Obamacare, budgets (which could bring back the threats of government shutdowns) and immigration reform, just to name a few. For those Republicans who believe that Clinton is illegitimate, they may brandish the sword of impeachment. In foreign policy, the hands of the Democratic president will be tied, and since Clinton is willing to pursue a more assertive approach to the Syrian conflict, dysfunction in Washington will limit her room to maneuver.
One wonders what the battlefield would look like when and if the Democrats achieve a clean sweep on November 8. What will happen to the Republicans who stood with Trump, only to see him crumble under the weight of his ego, arrogance and narrowmindedness?Hisham Melhem
If Hillary Clinton’s win is decisive and if she manages, with her party, to regain control of both chambers of Congress, then it will be possible in her first year to try to pass some of the long-stalled resolutions. But even then, a deeply divided Congress will not be able to pass serious resolutions to reform immigration laws, or reform and develop Obamacare.
One wonders how the battlefield would look like when and if the Democrats achieve a clean sweep on November 8. What will happen to the Republicans who stood with Trump, only to see him crumble under the weight of his ego, arrogance and narrowmindedness? How will those few Republican leaders who rejected his brand of intimidation, dangerous nativism and xenophobia seek to reform the Republican Party, assuming that such a mission is possible?
If by some unforeseen developments were Donald Trump to win the presidency, his relations with his Republican party will be tense and cold. It is hard to see how Trump would be able to downgrade America’s role in NATO, or reduce its military profile in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf region, while trying to build a wall along the country’s southern borders with Mexico without facing countervailing forces from Congress. A trump presidency will embolden and empower autocrats in the world, particularly Russian President Vladimir Putin, the very strongmen that Trump would like to emulate as a member of a confederacy of autocrats chipping away at what is left of liberal traditions. A Trump presidency will prolong the tragedy of Syria by leading from behind and letting the Russian and Syrian fighters and bombers destroy what is left of Aleppo. A Trump presidency will leave Western Europe twisting in fear in the shadows of a more belligerent Putin.
Life in Trump nation will be harsh. One could see a Trump administration adopting Nixonian approaches to the Media - having an enemy list of problematic journalists - and intimidating politicians. One could see Trump, like Nixon before him, using security agencies (like the FBI and others) in his ongoing feuds with his critics in Congress and among citizens. We have ample examples of Trump’s alt-right trolls that have been subjecting his critics to endless abuse. A Trump presidency would be the biggest threat to American democracy in modern times. What is to be done with those Americans who were drawn to Trump’s Siren call? Ignoring them and ignoring their economic plight will only postpone the fire next time.
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