Perhaps if Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams and the rest could have glimpsed 240 years into the future on the day they were poised to sign the Declaration of Independence, they might have come to the conclusion that taxation without representation wasn’t really that bad a deal after all. Would they have committed the Thirteen Colonies to breaking from the Mother Country had they been able to see what their great democratic experiment would descend to by 2016? Mind you, I suppose that bit about all men being created equal was somewhat contradicted by the fact that most of the Founding Fathers were slave-owners – an issue it would seem the nation that became the United States of America has yet to fully come to terms with.
The seven years of war that followed events on 4 July 1776 may have eventually established American independence from Britain, but it was a fragile independence that the huge land mass absorbed into the Union appeared to exacerbate. 78 years on from the Treaty of Paris, the new nation (now comprising 34 states) was at war with itself. The sheer size of the country – on a par with most continents – has always presented its President with problems, ones so persistent that it seems almost impossible for the US to really be regarded as One Nation. After the end of the Civil War in 1865, there was a slow, gradual forming of a new genuinely post-colonial identity that shaped the country we know today, yet it was still one that the old Confederate States continued to resist for another hundred years.
As post-Civil War America expanded, the speedy industrial overtaking of Europe that was to shape the forthcoming ‘American Century’ may have made it the richest nation on Earth, but jarring inequalities on a par with those of the Old World have never been far from the surface. The US now stands on the cusp of making a decision that seems poised to extend the various racial, regional and economic disparities beyond what they even have been since World War II, yet this is just the latest in a long line of challenges to the aims of the Founding Fathers; that it is undoubtedly the most ugly example in living memory doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the worst, but it sure as hell feels that way right now. A historical perspective is often the only reminder of how young a country the US still is, and the contemporary state of the nation suggests it remains in the throes of teething troubles – which brings us nicely to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, again.
The airing of an old recording in which Trump exhibited his gentlemanly charm when it comes to the fairer sex has been received as though his previous public image had been on a par with Cary Grant. Numerous Republican bigwigs have excommunicated Trump as a consequence; but wasn’t the truth staring them in the face the minute the billionaire celebrity first announced his intentions to run? How could anyone not know what Trump was like from the off? After all, he’s been a household name in the States for over twenty years, and he’s never been a shrinking violet when the camera points in his direction. It’s a measure of the dearth of talent the Republican Party can call upon that Trump even got this far, so they’ve only themselves to blame. For so many to now express shock and horror is a bit rich.
Anticipating the Clinton team to use such ‘revelations’ against him in the second TV debate, Trump ensured his apology would contain a dig at his opponent and her husband for equally reprehensible attitudes towards women in the past. Hillary would have to be very clever to successfully use the Trump archive as a stick with which to beat her nemesis when Bill’s own closet is crammed with enough skeletons to fill the grounds of a small provincial cemetery. With one more distasteful warm-up missive shot, the unedifying scene was set for the next head-to-head in the most vile and vulgar car-crash in American political history; and episode two made it to TV screens in the wee small hours of this morning UK time.
First time round, Trump’s shaky opening reminded me a little of Jemini’s memorably off-key live vocal at the 2003 Eurovision, though as soon as he was on the attack his bullish confidence surfaced and he was reborn as Dana International. This time, he didn’t hang around, with his response to a question about ‘that’ old recording the cue to revive some of Bill’s past misdemeanours whilst the ex-President sat just a few feet away. No knives were on hand to cut the atmosphere, but it was gruesomely electric. The nature of this debate was different to the first; there was a ‘Question Time’ vibe to proceedings, with selected members of the audience dictating the discussion. Both participants had stools to occupy when the other had the microphone, though as the programme progressed Trump prowled around the set when Hillary spoke, carrying the menacing air of a caged lion eyeing up the zookeeper when feeding time had been delayed.
During Trump’s most personal assaults, Hillary’s lengthy experience in public life was evident by the way in which she kept her cool and took the blows. Exhibiting the characteristics that have won him appeal amongst a sizeable chunk of the American electorate, Trump was more emotional; whenever he overran or wanted to respond to something Hillary had said about him, he questioned the fair share of time both had to make their respective points. He also sniffed a lot again, which will no doubt form part of his post-match criticism of how he was treated by the presenters. Hillary slickly skirted around some of the more probing questions of her own conduct, especially the ‘email’ issue, though whether her skilful avoidance of that perennial topic showed her expertise under pressure or preserved the popular image of her as a liar without compare remains to be seen.
What impact the second debate will have on the eventual result is too early to predict. Both contenders essentially lived up to preconceptions and nothing new was really learned about either of them. Its main purpose was as entertainment, a gladiatorial horror show that said more about the irresistible urge to watch two unpleasant individuals slugging it out to the death than it did about the optimistic ideals of the eighteenth century Enlightenment as a viable political blueprint that retains its relevance 240 years later. But who really expected it to?
© The Editor