The Luvvies are out in force again, though this time it’s the Hollywood left, that pious, humourless and self-righteous branch of the acting profession who turned this year’s Oscars ceremony into a sanctimonious PC rally that was straight out of ‘Team America: World Police’. Interpreting their participation in blockbuster movies that make millions as indicative that the audience stuffing itself with popcorn as they fly around in tights will also sit and listen to them preach as well is a measure of their colossal egos and sense of self-importance. They never learn. Lecturing the American electorate and commanding them to choose Clinton over Trump will probably be as counterproductive for Hillary’s campaign as their British equivalents promoting Remain were for that particular cause. Trump Republicans may be content to fill the multiplexes when actors are doing their day-job, but the minute thespians start preaching politics, the effect is to push a sizeable chunk of their audience into the arms of the enemy.
When Hillary Clinton referred to Trump supporters as ‘deplorable’, it was a rather sweeping statement that I have no doubt contained a grain of truth in the case of the narrow-minded bigoted redneck faction; the problem is that by tarring all Trump supporters with the same unsavoury brush, Clinton is delivering an almighty insult to those Americans whose fortunes have plummeted under the Washington regime of both blue and red persuasion over the last twenty years. Many Americans hold Hillary’s husband, Hillary herself and Obama responsible for the state they’re in; they may have previously voted Democrat and placed their faith in the man who said ‘Yes we can’, but the ultimate impotence of the office for resolving the problems of what Nixon referred to as the Silent Majority has hit them hard. In their eyes, Clinton’s statement seemed to represent both her contempt and cluelessness when it comes to vast swathes of a vast country’s population.
Many of that population have flocked to Trump simply because he’s telling them what they want to hear – not in an airbrushed and (for want of a better word) ‘politically correct’ way, but in the brusque, blunt and unvarnished manner of a barroom braggadocio; some of the things Trump has said in public are indeed deplorable, yet one could probably hear the very same things in any drinking den in any corner of the US; to hear them on the political podium is a novelty that makes some voters believe he speaks their language.
A showy, egomaniacal maverick multi-millionaire whose luxurious lifestyle was inherited from his father is hardly the kind of candidate one would imagine capable of captivating those struggling to make ends meet, let alone taking on and defeating the sophisticated Republican establishment; yet the elements of Trump’s personality that alienate his detractors are the same ones that have attracted his supporters.
Both Clinton and Trump have the kind of income and fortune that only a small percentage of their respective supporters will ever enjoy, so for either to declare themselves to be at one with The People is laughable; but the uncouth bluster of Trump has a kind of Homer Simpson appeal to many Americans, whereas Clinton’s public image is closer to that of Mr Burns. Trump has sold himself as the outsider, and pitching himself as an antidote to the formula so many blame for their ills is a pitch that has precedents.
The antipathy and envy Richard Nixon exhibited towards the Kennedys – seeing their movie-star glamour, wealthy privilege and aristocratic aura as everything he craved but knew he would never have – was to him the embodiment of East Coast elitism, a world that had been barred to him all his life, as it is to most; but the grudge he bore was one he used to his eventual advantage. Post-Watergate, it’s easy to forget that Nixon won a huge landslide in 1972; despite his many enemies, he connected with the same kind of voter that Trump is connecting with today.
Ironically, Clinton herself shares much with Nixon. Tricky Dicky’s political career had a vintage of over twenty years before he was finally elected President. He’d played a prominent part in HUAC activities in the late 40s/early 50s, spent eight years as Eisenhower’s Vice President, famously ran for President in 1960, and had a taste of future questions over his trustworthiness as early as 1952, when he utilised the relatively untested power of television by defending accusations of financial impropriety in the so-called ‘Checkers’ speech. After several years in the wilderness following his 1960 defeat to JFK, his capture of the Presidency in 1968 was undoubtedly one of the great political comebacks of all time. Clinton’s political career stretches back even further than Nixon’s did in 1968, and eight years after her first attempt to become the Democratic candidate she has returned for one last battle.
Like Nixon, Clinton has had her fair share of scandals that her opponents have pointed to as proof she cannot be trusted. There was the Whitewater controversy, which emerged even before her husband had been elected for the first time; there was her alleged compliance in buying off the victims of Bill’s extramarital philandering; there were a couple of ‘gate’ affairs – Travelgate and Filegate; there was the email controversy; there was her dubious recall of events when she landed in Bosnia in 1996; there have even been criticisms of her not being entirely truthful as to the state of her health during the current campaign – enough scandals, in fact, to fill a book, which Christopher Hitchens partially did in his merciless 1999 dissection of Bill, ‘No One Left to Lie To’. If only Hitch was still with us. What a mouth-watering commentator on 2016’s no-holds-barred battle he would have been.
This Presidential race is unlike any other in that both candidates are so intensely loathed by great sections of the American electorate. Hatred of Hillary goes back a long way, but Trump has done his best to catch up over the past twelve months. Perhaps it’s inevitable that someone as ghastly as Trump is the type that emerges when the masses feel disenfranchised and dispossessed, because it is only the Donald Trumps of this world that can boast the requisite ego, fearlessness and unshakable self-confidence in their own magnificence, the only ones that have the gall and gumption to push themselves forward for the job and genuinely believe they can do it. His complete inexperience in public office next to someone with more experience than anyone else is, on paper, a non-starter, yet his supporters bizarrely regard that factor in his favour, as much as it fills his opponents with dread.
The vacuous slickness of Obama and eight years of achieving very little beyond being the first black President can be perceived as a lack of guts, balls and the stomach for a fight; by comparison, Trump has convinced his supporters the opposite approach will achieve everything they desire. If recent events are anything to go by, America is indeed broken; but is Donald Trump capable of fixing it? And what does that say about the American political system that a man such as Trump is even in with a shout of fixing it in the first place?
The first TV debate between the two most polarising Presidential candidates in US history will air in the wee small hours of tomorrow morning. It could well be worth staying up for, if only as a dispiriting and masochistic wallow in how low we’ve sunk.
© The Editor