Why is the US pres­i­den­tial race so close?

The Myanmar Times - - News | Views - EL­IZ­A­BETH DREW news­room@mm­times.com

MANY peo­ple around the world are prob­a­bly won­der­ing why Hil­lary Clin­ton – who is ob­vi­ously more pre­pared and bet­ter suited for the Amer­i­can pres­i­dency than her op­po­nent, Don­ald Trump – isn’t waltz­ing to vic­tory. Many Amer­i­cans share the world’s be­wil­der­ment.

Na­tional opin­ion polls may well con­tinue to fluc­tu­ate un­til the elec­tion on Novem­ber 8. But Trump has been clos­ing in on Clin­ton in re­cent weeks, even threat­en­ing to catch up with her in the Elec­toral Col­lege vote, where the Democrats’ con­trol of some of the most pop­u­lous states (New York and Cal­i­for­nia) give Clin­ton an ad­van­tage. Why is this hap­pen­ing?

For starters, Trump, de­spite know­ing al­most noth­ing about gov­er­nance or pub­lic pol­icy, has man­aged to con­sol­i­date most Repub­li­cans be­hind him. One mo­ti­va­tion is Repub­li­cans’ long-held ha­tred of Clin­ton. An­other is the Supreme Court; the court al­ready has one va­cant seat for the next pres­i­dent to fill and is likely to have more over the next four years.

Trump has also ex­ploited many Amer­i­cans’ eco­nomic anx­i­eties, tap­ping the same anti-im­mi­grant, anti-elite rage that is sweep­ing across Euro­pean coun­tries. But Trump can­not win by ap­peal­ing only to white men with­out a col­lege de­gree. So he has been clum­sily try­ing to sug­gest that he also cares about African-Amer­i­cans and Lati­nos – not by talk­ing to African-Amer­i­can and Latino vot­ers, but by speak­ing in ex­ag­ger­ated stereo­types about them to white au­di­ences. Not sur­pris­ingly, African-Amer­i­cans and Lati­nos con­sider his com­ments in­sen­si­tive and pa­tro­n­is­ing; white women – his real tar­get au­di­ence – haven’t yet been per­suaded, ei­ther.

Mean­while, Clin­ton is hav­ing her own dif­fi­cul­ties re­con­struct­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s coali­tion of women, African-Amer­i­cans, Lati­nos and mil­len­ni­als. Many young peo­ple who pas­sion­ately sup­ported Clin­ton’s Demo­cratic pri­mary op­po­nent, Sen­a­tor Bernie San­ders, have ig­nored San­ders’ own ad­mo­ni­tions to sup­port Clin­ton, and are say­ing that they’ll vote for third-party can­di­dates, which would help Trump.

Since the two ma­jor par­ties’ na­tional con­ven­tions in July, each can­di­date has al­ter­nately made gains and suf­fered losses. This month, just as Trump was ris­ing in the polls, he at­tempted to sep­a­rate him­self from the racist “birther” move­ment, which falsely claims that Pres­i­dent Obama – Amer­ica’s first black pres­i­dent – wasn’t born in the United States, and thus was in­el­i­gi­ble for the pres­i­dency.

Trump’s re­marks, terse and grudg­ing, re­minded ev­ery­one that he him­self was one of the loud­est “birthers” of all. His dam­age-con­trol ef­fort fur­ther back­fired, be­cause he falsely claimed that Clin­ton and her 2008 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign had started the birther ru­mour. Many news out­lets fi­nally used the word “lie” in their cov­er­age of Trump, who had gone es­sen­tially un­chal­lenged on past fab­ri­ca­tions.

Trump’s re­cent polling gains say less about his im­prove­ment as a can­di­date than they do about Clin­ton’s own weak­nesses and bad luck. Out­side her base of pas­sion­ate loy­al­ists, Clin­ton has al­ways had a voter-en­thu­si­asm prob­lem. She comes across to many as a pack­aged knowit-all, the su­per-smart girl who put off the boys in school. And she con­fronts a fair amount of sex­ism, even among her sup­port­ers. (A for­mer Demo­cratic gover­nor re­cently de­clared that she should smile more. Would he have said that about a man?)

But Clin­ton has also cre­ated some of her own prob­lems. Her poor judge­ment in us­ing a pri­vate email server as sec­re­tary of state, thereby risk­ing the dis­clo­sure of clas­si­fied ma­te­rial, has be­come a chronic bur­den for her cam­paign. She com­pounded the prob­lem when she claimed, falsely, that her pre­de­ces­sors had done the same thing, and that State Depart­ment se­cu­rity of­fi­cials had cleared it. And, un­like Trump, she re­ceived no def­er­ence from the press on this is­sue.

The email saga added to vot­ers’ long-held im­pres­sion that Clin­ton isn’t “hon­est and trust­wor­thy”, and it ex­posed her to at­tacks from ad­ver­saries on the right. The highly con­ser­va­tive ad­vo­cacy group Ju­di­cial Watch has con­tin­u­ally called at­ten­tion to the is­sue, forc­ing the dis­clo­sure of emails that Clin­ton hadn’t turned over to the State Depart­ment. (The FBI found nearly 15,000 emails on Clin­ton’s server that she hadn’t pro­vided.) Nu­mer­ous as-yet-undis­closed emails with the po­ten­tial to dam­age Clin­ton may well be re­leased be­fore the elec­tion.

While FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey de­cided not to rec­om­mend pros­e­cu­tion of Clin­ton for the email is­sue, he hurt her cam­paign by com­ment­ing that she’d been “ex­tremely care­less”. In any case, the choice not to pros­e­cute had Repub­li­cans and con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tors howl­ing that she’d re­ceived pref­er­en­tial treat­ment from the Demo­cratic ad­min­is­tra­tion. Polls showed that 56 per­cent of re­spon­dents agreed that Clin­ton should have been pros­e­cuted.

A new is­sue for Clin­ton arose in Au­gust, when the Associated Press re­ported that nu­mer­ous donors to the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion had re­ceived spe­cial treat­ment by the State Depart­ment dur­ing Clin­ton’s ten­ure there, mainly by win­ning an ap­point­ment with her. But many of these peo­ple would have re­ceived an ap­point­ment any­way, and there is no ev­i­dence that State Depart­ment poli­cies were changed as a re­sult.

Mean­while, The Washington Post has be­gun to re­port on ques­tion­able – pos­si­bly il­le­gal – ex­pen­di­tures by Trump’s own char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tion. Trump, who hadn’t do­nated to his foun­da­tion since 2008, sub­se­quently used its funds to buy per­sonal items (in­clud­ing a 6-foot por­trait of him­self) and to pay le­gal set­tle­ments. Pre­vi­ously, it had also been dis­closed that funds from the Trump Foun­da­tion had been used to con­trib­ute to the elec­tion cam­paigns of at­tor­neysgen­eral in Florida and Texas, which would also be il­le­gal.

Fi­nally, Clin­ton had the bad luck of fall­ing ill, with cell­phone video show­ing her nearly col­laps­ing as she left early a cer­e­mony in New York City com­mem­o­rat­ing the Septem­ber 11, 2001, ter­ror­ist at­tack. This added fur­ther fuel to right-wing me­dia spec­u­la­tion that she is in poor health; Trump added the sex­ist charge that she lacks the “stamina” to be pres­i­dent.

Af­ter ini­tially claim­ing ex­haus­tion, Clin­ton’s camp re­vealed that she had been di­ag­nosed with pneu­mo­nia two days ear­lier. Much of the press was fu­ri­ous that she had not shared the in­for­ma­tion sooner. But Amer­i­can pres­i­den­tial elec­tions are bru­tal marathons, and it’s un­der­stand­able that she did not want to can­cel planned events. A later poll showed that the ma­jor­ity of the pub­lic agreed.

Clin­ton’s four-day con­va­les­cence came just as she was pre­par­ing to make the case for why peo­ple should vote for her, rather than why they shouldn’t vote for Trump. Just as she re­sumed cam­paign­ing, there were bomb­ings in New York and New Jersey, and two more po­lice shoot­ings of un­armed African-Amer­i­cans, which spurred demon­stra­tions in North Carolina, a swing state. The events took over the na­tional di­a­logue, with Trump, as usual, play­ing on racial di­vi­sions and blam­ing Pres­i­dent Obama and Clin­ton.

This is the back­ground against which the can­di­dates will head into face-to-face de­bates, which tend to play a large (even ex­ces­sive) role in shap­ing US elec­tions. It would be un­wise to call this elec­tion over be­fore it is. – Project Syndicate

El­iz­a­beth Drew is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to and the au­thor, most re­cently, of

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Myanmar

© PressReader. All rights reserved.