Po­lit­i­cal and so­cial sit­u­a­tion has de­te­ri­o­rated

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

There is a sense that the 2016 elec­tion is unique. There are two can­di­dates who are enor­mously un­pop­u­lar, each ut­terly loathed by the sup­port­ers of the other. Each can­di­date has sought to make the case that the elec­tion of the other would have cat­a­strophic con­se­quences. Each has their al­ba­tross to carry, whether it is a mail server or an old video. Many believe that we have never seen an elec­tion like this.

Defin­ing how this elec­tion is dif­fer­ent is im­por­tant. It is not sim­ply the fact that two can­di­dates who are both widely dis­liked ac­cord­ing to the polls are run­ning. What is dis­tinc­tive about this elec­tion is the ex­tent to which large seg­ments of the elec­torate are not merely di­vided but are ac­tu­ally en­raged at each other. Sup­port­ers of Don­ald Trump and Hil­lary Clin­ton not only hate the op­pos­ing can­di­date, but they hold the other’s sup­port­ers in con­tempt.

Ac­cord­ing to Trump sup­port­ers, they are run­ning against the fi­nan­cial, media and other elites who have im­posed an alien ide­ol­ogy on the United States in or­der to serve their in­ter­ests. Clin­ton rep­re­sents that ide­ol­ogy. Ac­cord­ing to Clin­ton sup­port­ers, Trump’s cam­paign rep­re­sents a fas­cist move­ment built on racism and ul­tra-na­tion­al­ism, presided over by a per­son­al­ity not un­like Mus­solini. It goes beyond the can­di­dates, and that’s what’s im­por­tant. Clin­ton’s sup­port­ers think of Trump’s sup­port­ers as red­necks and trailer trash. Trump’s sup­port­ers think of Clin­ton’s sup­port­ers as po­lit­i­cally cor­rect snobs, at­tempt­ing to im­pose for­eign val­ues on the coun­try.

It is the bit­ter­ness that is strik­ing and the sense that the coun­try has cul­tur­ally ripped into two parts. But there is a third part of the coun­try as bit­ter and alien­ated as the other two. These are the vot­ers that de­spise both can­di­dates, their sup­port­ers and the man­ner in which they think the coun­try is be­ing wrecked. It is not ap­pro­pri­ate to call this group the cen­tre. At the mo­ment, there is no cen­tre, since the Repub­li­can is run­ning against Wall Street and the Demo­crat is say­ing that not only half of Repub­li­can sup­port­ers are racists, but that the other half are eco­nomic losers.

His­tor­i­cally, Repub­li­cans have been seen as back­ing the fi­nan­cial com­mu­nity, while Democrats have been seen as sup­port­ing the lit­tle guy. The world ap­pears turned on its head, and the third group wants to take it back to the way it was, ide­o­log­i­cally and in terms of de­meanour. This group should not be dis­re­garded, as it is rarely aroused, but when it is, it can re­set the sys­tem.

The po­lit­i­cal and so­cial sit­u­a­tion has cer­tainly de­te­ri­o­rated. But it is im­por­tant not to think of this as un­prece­dented. Since World War II, we have seen ap­prox­i­ma­tions of this mood twice be­fore. Once was in 1952, when Harry Tru­man was forced to de­cline a run at re­elec­tion be­cause of over­whelm­ingly neg­a­tive poll num­bers. The sec­ond was in 1968, when the cam­paign was punc­tu­ated by gun­fire and ri­ots. This is not the first cam­paign built around apoc­a­lyp­tic para­noia, where ev­ery­one is con­vinced that if the other side wins, the coun­try will col­lapse. The per­sonal clash be­tween the can­di­dates might not have been the same, but the canyon di­vid­ing the coun­try was.

When Harry Tru­man de­clined to run in 1952, Ad­lai Steven­son won the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion and Dwight Eisen­hower won the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion. There was noth­ing odd about this. What was not nor­mal were the cir­cum­stances around the elec­tion and the role of Joseph McCarthy. The Cold War had bro­ken out, with a cri­sis in Berlin and a war in Korea. McCarthy and his team be­gan search­ing for com­mu­nists.

Now, that was not un­rea­son­able, although good spies are hard to catch. Ob­vi­ously, Moscow had spies in D.C. just as Wash­ing­ton had them in Moscow. What McCarthy did, how­ever, was speak of con­spir­a­cies so vast they had never been seen be­fore. He cre­ated a sense that the United States had been pen­e­trated at the high­est lev­els by com­mu­nist

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