Well before Donald Trump turned the whole things into a version of a vulgar but strangely hypnotic reality TV show, I decided to pay attention to the US Presidential election this time around.
I’ve always had a vague general idea what was going on in American politics, but any detailed knowledge was limited to what could be gleaned from being married to someone who was addicted to the West Wing TV show.
My principle guide through the unfeasibly long and drawn-out primary and general election process has been the website 538.com, and in particular their elections podcasts.
Nate Silver is 538’s founder, elections model designer and its best podcast contributor. He gets joined on the pods by a pair of politics reporters, and host Jody Avirgan leads them in an analysis of the election favouring an empirical and data-driven approach, rather than viewing it through a partisan lens. They’re really pretty good. Nate looks at and models elections the same way I look at and model sports. So listening to him is like hearing from an old friend from home.
538 is essentially unbiased and neutral, although you suspect there aren’t a whole load of Republican voters staffing their office in New York, and have more than their fair share of lily-livered, bleeding-heart, liberal, egg-head communists. But I’ve learned a lot through the podcasts, and it’s been great to add some new words to my vocabulary. Here are my three favourites;
Plurality: What a lovely, though tricky, word to say. I’ve found it is actually impossible to say ‘plurality’ three times in quick succession after several beers, and mighty hard while stone-cold sober. I fancied that I’d heard of it before, but confess I thought it was a word Eminem had just made up in order to find a rhyme for ‘oh there goes gravity’. Turns out it means what I believe in the UK we would refer to as a ‘simple majority’. In other words, a plurality is having a bigger vote share than anyone else, but less than 50%.
Gubernatorial: I don’t know where I got the idea, but I always thought that the Governor of a state was the senior of two senators that every state sent to the Senate. Not so – the Governor of a state is like it’s CEO, and is elected in races which are known as gubernatorial elections. Don’t know why they are not ‘governatorial’ races, but I think we can all agree gubernatorial is a much better word. And Arnold Schwarzenegger would have been much cooler if he’d been known as the ‘Gubernator’.
Demagogue: This was a new one on me too. As the first few times I heard it used was on a podcast being spoken by Nate (as in; ‘the Republicans are in danger of nominating a demagogue’) rather than seeing it written down, and because I guess my ear isn’t perfectly attuned to the accent, I misheard what he was saying. So I spent a couple of weeks more than a little bemused at the idea that Nate Silver was suggesting Donald Trump was half man and half God. A demagogue is really an orator, normally a politician, who appeals to people’s prejudices and fears rather than rational argument.
What to say about Donald Trump? With the lewd hot-mic tape where he bragged about sexually assaulting women just another in a mountainous collection of evidence suggesting that the man is a despicable human being, I was trying to think of something original and funny to say about him. But I don’t think I can do better than my countryman Frankie Boyle, who summed it up succinctly when he said;
“Remember when you thought George W Bush was the bottom?”
Whatever his personal faults and shortcomings as a candidate, there does seem to be a general acknowledgement that Trump’s presence in the race does at least make for great theatre. Or at least he has turned the whole process into a kind of big, lewd pantomime that has done well at the box-office.
But I can’t help feeling that actually, kidding and incredulity aside, it’s really not funny that a person like Donald Trump could have got so close to becoming the leader of the free world.
“The American Dream is now that both candidates die from natural causes before election day” FB
A couple of years ago here in Scotland we had a referendum to decide the question of us becoming an independent country. The campaign certainly included some truth-bending, implicit and explicit threat-making plus traces of xenophobia. But on the whole, and without being too pompous about it, I thought the standard of debate was something we could be proud of.
For the first time 16 year-olds were allowed to vote in a national vote, and it was genuinely pretty cool to see so many of these young people engaging in the debate, forming an opinion on something they’d been studying in school, and then having a say in a decision that was likely to have a far greater impact on them than older generations like mine. My kids aren’t that age yet, but I’ve got a ten year old daughter who likes to talk and learn about this stuff, which has to be a good thing.
Before the 2nd US Presidential debate a couple of weeks ago, there was a Trump news conference at which he paraded women who claim to have been sexually assaulted by the husband of his opponent. It made me ask myself; if my daughter was a few years older and able to vote in the US election, would I have sat down and watched this presidential debate with her? Where the first half hour was dominated by personal attacks about sexual assaults, allegedly perpetrated or covered up by the two nominees.
Literally it felt like the contest for the next leader of the richest nation on earth had been reduced to a contest to find out which of these two awful people had the least worst record with historical sexual assaults.
“It’s not so much an election, as a competition to find the 2nd worst person in the world” FB.
Seriously America, there are 320 million of you. The President is your top job. Are these people really the best you can find to choose from?
“Deciding the next President may be the most important decision since the War, and whenever there’s a really important decision to be taken, I don’t know about you, but I think ‘I hope no Americans are involved in making this decision’. No country that thought it was a good idea to make seven Fast And The Furious movies should be trusted with important decisions” FB
The prospect of a woman being elected to the top job of US President should be such a big deal, a much bigger story surely than it has been. As the father of a smart young girl, who I want to grow up feeling there is no glass ceiling on her ambitions, no limits to what she can do because she’s a girl – I’d really like to involve her in the coverage and debate, and for her to remember where she was when she saw the first woman sworn in as President of the United States.
But I’ve shielded her from coverage of the election. She’s probably smart enough to get her head around the US electoral college system far better than me, but I’m not ready to start explaining how lecherous old men who talk about grabbing women’s pussies can be candidates for high office.
It’s entirely possible as well though that Hillary Clinton is the second worst candidate for President in modern American history. She is seen as part of the ‘establishment’, which has never been less popular. Her approval and trust ratings are historically low. She’s made paid Wall Street speeches in which she said things that place her miles out of touch with ‘ordinary’ Americans.
There’s the private email server saga, shady business deals in her past, and a general view that she has stood by a cheating husband for reasons of political expediency. Plus she’s a woman, which roughly 3% of Americans think makes her automatically unsuitable for the job.
And Clinton in a poor campaigner. She’s a pedestrian, though well-rehearsed debater and an uninspiring orator. She represents the incumbent party at a time when the US economy is only so-so.
So it says something about the historic awfulness of Donald Trump as a candidate that it looks likely now that Clinton could well win in a landslide.
“Donald Trump doesn’t really have policies, they’re more the things a drunk would say on a bus when he gets shaken awake by a pothole” FB
In the whole 2016 US Presidential election process the only person to emerge as a genuinely likeable and impressive political performer is Michelle Obama. It’s probably not a coincidence that she is also the only one with no interest in pursuing elected political office for herself.
As I mentioned at the top, my wife is a massive fan of West Wing, and following this campaign has made me think of the scene where Leo says to Jed Bartlett; “They say a good man can’t get elected President. I don’t believe that, do you?”
If Jed Bartlett was running for President in 2016 he would probably win with about 90% share of the vote. But I suppose, purely on the basis that she’s the lesser of two evils, I’ll be rooting for Hillary on the 8th of November.