Political artwork on 14th and U in Washington, DC
The sheer length of the campaign cycle in the United States combined with its lax candidacy requirements virtually guarantees some eccentric presidential hopefuls getting their five minutes in the national spotlight. For 2016, Americans had the equivalent of a political buffet, with a grand total of 23 different candidates to choose from between the Democratic and Republican parties. Those looking to take over the Oval Office included a brain surgeon who believes that the pyramids were grain silos, a Libertarian who couldn’t name the leader of North Korea, a Florida senator who hates his job, and a Vermont Congressman who once claimed that bread lines were actually a sign of economic prosperity.
Even more shockingly, Americans have ultimately decided on a race between a businessman who hosted his own personal reality television show and argues that not paying his income taxes “makes [him] smart”; and a career politician who not only has a history of constantly lying on record, (remember that widely discredited Bosnian sniper fire story?) but was also under investigation by the FBI for hosting classified state documents on an undeclared, personal email server.
The Battle of the Smear Campaigns
Diehard supporters on both sides claim that their candidate is nowhere near the alleged monster that the media has painted – which, interestingly, is only Donald Trump. For example, Trump supporters often point out that he is an outsider to the American political establishment – a point that has been heavily emphasized by “the Donald” himself. And to many Americans who view the American political system as fundamentally flawed, the notion that Trump is somehow immune to the bidding of special interest groups within the Republican Party is a very welcome breath of fresh air.
On the other hand, some supporters of Hillary Clinton argue that a vote for her is a vote for sanity – which, when one watches the gestures and expressions and various ideas pitched by Trump during his rants – is a claim that is not far off the mark. But, given Hillary’s extensive and decorated career within the American political system, it is clear that she represents the establishment and the political elite. In all likelihood, a Hillary Clinton presidency would simply mean the continuance of the status quo, or in other words, “business as usual.” And for Hillary supporters, the fact that Trump is unpredictable leaves her as the only possible choice. Unfortunately, when one looks at the policies and personal background of both political candidates, it is clear that it does not matter who one votes for this election – the American people will lose no matter what. Here is why.
Beauty or Beast?
At first glance, Hillary Clinton sounds like a great political candidate. Not only is she articulate, her policy platform is clear, and makes a lot of sense. For example, she wants to offer free college tuition to a large portion of Americans, continue developing Obama’s vision of universal healthcare, raise the minimum wage, and has spoken out against the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership. All of these positions seem to provide net benefits to America’s middle and lower classes. But how much of this is she willing to actually deliver? To determine this, it is best to look at a candidate’s trustworthiness. Unfortunately, many of Clinton’s supporters overlook her severe lack of integrity and ethics, as well as her many intimate connections to internal agencies, corporations, and even foreign governments. Clinton’s ties to all of these interest groups suggest that her policies are intended to benefit the lobbyists, rather than ordinary Americans.
Very Questionable Connections
Various email correspondence and internal documents obtained by organizations such as Wikileaks show collaboration between the Clinton campaign and various reporters within media outlets such as the New York Times and the Boston Globe. In addition, according to an email obtained by Wikileaks, CNN contributors even gave the Clinton campaign questions that were going to be asked in a CNN-hosted debate between Hillary and Bernie Sanders in advance. Evidence suggests that NBC may also have been complicit in similar tactics, which brings the impartiality of the media in question when it comes to election and candidate coverage.
Additionally, there have been questions regarding the impartiality of the FBI in its investigation of Clinton, which ultimately chose not to prosecute the Democratic nominee, as well as offering immunity to several aides that were complicit in destroying digital evidence of any wrongdoing. In 2015, former CIA Director David Petraeus has been prosecuted and found guilty for far less in similar circumstances, so why did the bureau fail to prosecute Hillary? The answer may lie in the close ties that FBI director James Comey has with the Clinton Foundation, which, after a little digging, brings up only more connections to companies such as defense giants Lockheed Martin and Boeing. According to an investigation conducted by the International Business Times, the Clinton Foundation has deep financial and political ties to nearly two dozen nations, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE – states that have not only have well documented human rights abuses, but are also well-known to the Obama administration as sources of funding to ISIS. The IBT report states,
“Under [Hillary] Clinton’s leadership, the State Department approved $165 billion worth of commercial arms sales to 20 nations whose governments have given money to the Clinton Foundation … The Clinton-led State Department also authorized $151 billion of separate Pentagon-brokered deals for 16 of the countries that donated to the Clinton Foundation … governments and corporations involved in the arms deals approved by Clinton’s State Department have delivered between $54 million and $141 million to the Clinton Foundation as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments to the Clinton family, according to foundation and State Department records.”
These connections alone should be ringing alarm bells inside every American’s head, especially those who are concerned with the amount of corporate and foreign influence within the American political system. Secondly, it is hard to take Hillary’s promise of taking down ISIS seriously due to her connections to countries that are sympathetic to its cause. As Patrick Cockburn of The Independent writes,
“Hillary Clinton should be very vulnerable over the failings of US foreign policy during the years she was Secretary of State. But, such is the crudity of Trump’s demagoguery, she has never had to answer for it.”
If Hillary supporters are willing to vote for a politician with her hands in so many pockets, and a clear disregard for ethical behavior, over the alternative, how crazy must they think Trump is?
Even More Questionable Ethics
Aside from having the media, the FBI, and various corporate and foreign interests under her influence, Hillary also has a heavily documented reputation of flip-flopping on various issues – often because the opposite standpoint is a better political position to hold during a particular period. For example, Clinton initially supported the Iraq War when she voted for it in 2002, but since then called her decision “a mistake” – probably because of the massive human and financial toll that the war has caused since her vote. Additionally, during her tenure as Obama’s Secretary of State, Clinton also called the TPP the “gold standard” of trade deals, but now has decided to oppose it. This change of heart probably occurred not only because of the massive domestic and international opposition that has risen up against the agreement, but also the fact that her political opponents such as Trump and Bernie oppose the measure as well. Hillary has even claimed that she was against NAFTA during the Bill Clinton administration, despite claiming that the agreement benefited New York during her time as Senator of the state, as well as her record of supporting almost all trade deals within the last 20 years in various political offices.
Certainly, while Hillary has a distinguished career in the public service, many questions remain about her credibility and honesty when it comes to her proposed policy agenda if she wins the Oval Office. Her deep ties to the military industrial complex, Wall Street (where she and Bill earned $120 million in speech fees since 2001), the mainstream media but also foreign administrations brings a massive amount of doubt in regard to her suitability as the leader of the American people—not Wall Street, multinational corporations and other lobby groups. Is Trump accurate in describing his opponent as “crooked Hillary”? I believe that the evidence speaks for itself. But, that doesn’t make Donald Trump the better alternative.
The Wild Card Candidate
As a businessman, the one thing Trump certainly has plenty of experience in is marketing. The problem with this from a policy perspective is that while grand promises packaged in short-and-sweet sound bites (such as his campaign slogan, “make America great again”) sound good on television or during campaign rallies, they provide very little information in terms of offering a coherent policy platform. While his official website offers a list of policy objectives, they are rather vague, and the fact remains that Trump has literally no political experience. This brings into question not only whether he actually possesses the skills required to develop and implement an effective public policy framework, but also his actual knowledge of the policy-making process. Saying that you are committed to building an immigration wall that somehow Mexico will pay for, or will boost economic growth to 3.5% annually without any actual idea of how the policy-making process works makes such promises meaningless. While Trump has claimed of having foreign policy experience by arguing that he has “made deals with leaders all over the world… I deal with presidents and I deal with prime ministers, I deal with everybody,” there is a very real difference between business deals and political negotiations. While Trump’s mediatory skills will come in handy if he becomes president, it is very doubtful that he could wine and dine seasoned political veterans such as Putin as easily as he could any CEO. Additionally, Trump’s often vulgar and abrasive personality may have the potential of negatively affecting situations that require finesse or modesty.
Yet, Trump’s lack of political experience is something that does not matter to his supporters — indeed, it may be one of the reasons they support him in the first place. Unlike the Democrat hopeful Bernie Sanders, who resonated with college-age, left-wing voters (which, as a voting demographic, are powerful but represent only a small fraction of the American populace), Trump has gained favour with people from across the social, economic and political spectrums. As Chris Arnade has explained,
“…large parts of the U.S. have become completely isolated, socially and economically… They feel unvalued. They feel stuck. They are mocked. And there is nothing they feel they can do about it. The only thing they can do, faced with that, is break the system. And they are going to try. Either by Trump or by some other way.”
Large-scale internal disenchantment with the current system from the American public certainly offers a convincing explanation for the rise of Donald Trump. After all, Trump doesn’t shy away from pointing the finger at people and interests that he and many Americans believe are causes of current problems in the U.S. today, including a reliance on foreign oil, weak immigration laws, and Trump’s theory that political correctness has allowed a global spread of radical Islamist networks.
A Mirror of Middle America?
As a former campaign manager argued, “Every other candidate mis-estimated the anger and outrage of the “silent majority” of Americans who are not a part of the liberal elite.” The problem is that this mass outrage is being taken advantage of by a candidate that will only make matters worse. As many political commentators have claimed, Trump is more of an opportunist than someone who really wants to be America’s next president in order to advance their own political agenda or grand vision for the country. At least for a large number of left-wing media outlets, Trump is a racist, a radical, and a bigot who is taking advantage of the current social tensions dividing America. Amanda Marcotte of Salon describes him as “the voice of America’s ugly underbelly.” In other words, Trump is not running for the benefit of Americans – he is running to benefit his own ego and brand.
A Victim of His Own Success
The scary part is that these accusations may very well be true. Insiders from the Trump campaign have come out and said that nobody, even in his own inner circle, had ever expected him to get even close to clinching the Republican nomination; even elites within the GOP tried everything they could to prevent it. According to Stephanie Cegielski, a former top Trump campaign strategist,
“I don’t think even Trump thought he would get this far. And I don’t even know that he wanted to, which is perhaps the scariest prospect of all. … Trump never intended to be the [Republican presidential] candidate. But his pride is too out of control to stop him now. … The hard truth is: Trump only cares about Trump.”
If this is the case, what happens if he wins? Trump’s proposed plans of action, such as expanding the American military, imposing discriminatory immigration policies, and implementing economic policies that are openly belligerent against influential states such as Russia, China and Iran carry a big chance of severely worsening what are currently very delicate relationships between the United States and these countries (and may even result in a Second Cold War) along with destroying what little goodwill America has left in volatile areas of the Middle East and Africa.
The fact that it has come down to a race between an ultra-wealthy megalomaniac that seems to want a return to Reagan-style brinkmanship and isolationism, and a shrewd politician with ties to every major lobbyist group imaginable shows very clearly that the political system of the United States is in dire straits. Thankfully for me, when November 8th comes, I’ll be on the Canadian side of the Niagara Falls.
Michal Jastrzebski is a graduate of the University of Toronto with an Honours Bachelors of Arts in Political Science and History, and is currently pursuing a Masters in Political Science at McMaster University.
Image Attribution: “2016.05.28 DC People and Places 05221” by Ted Eytan, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0