Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1316, (20 - 26 October 2016)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1316, (20 - 26 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Cracks in the US political system

This year’s US presidential campaigns have reached lows previously unimagined, damaging the US political system as a result, writes Abdel-Moneim Said

Al-Ahram Weekly

One thing American intellectuals agree on — and they are joined in this by politicians, journalists and leaders in many fields — is that there has been nothing to compare to this year’s presidential campaigns since the election of founding father George Washington. On the whole, electoral campaigns were never entirely clean, neither in word nor in deed. But they did always observe certain traditions with regard to language, appearance and respect for the presidency. Perhaps Richard Nixon, in spite of his many successes, such as ending the Vietnam War and launching US rapprochement with Moscow and Beijing, will be credited as the first president to sully the status and prestige of the office. The Watergate scandal that ultimately forced him to resign delivered a powerful blow to the presidency. President Bill Clinton, too, logged many achievements, especially in the economic domain where he produced a budgetary surplus of around $4 trillion. However, his affairs with a number of women, the most famous being the White House intern Monica Lewinsky, led to his impeachment by the House of Representatives. Although the impeachment bill did not obtain the necessary two-thirds majority in the Senate, the scandal continued to haunt him throughout the rest of his career. Today, it has reared its head again, not just at him but also at his wife.

Today, the US elections have entered a totally new dimension of scandal mongering and airing of dirty laundry. Most recently, The Washington Post broadcast a video recording of the Republican presidential candidate in the process of discussing his relations with women in lewd and vulgar language. The recording was released only two days before Trump’s second debate with Hillary Clinton, but by then it had gone viral. At that point, all gloves were off. Trump brought past accusers of president Clinton into the debating arena, issuing a token apology to observers and American voters for his own comments. His principal means of defence was attack: To reopen the Bill Clinton file and fling its contents against his adversary, Clinton’s wife. The accumulated effect was to severely shake the prestige of the White House, before either candidate sets foot in it.

A lack of public confidence in the moral integrity of the candidates has become widespread. The majority of American voters simply do not trust either candidate. However, the Republican Party institution appears to have suffered the most when plunged headlong into the grips of populist trends that bypassed the party establishment led by an ideologically deviant, temperamental and psychologically imbalanced demagogue. The Republican Party, one of the two halves of America’s political party life, is deeply split. The divide opened during the party’s primaries when Trump pitted himself against 17 other nominees and single-mindedly insulted one after the other. Amazingly, with every offence his popularity ratings shot up. Not surprisingly, many of the politicians wounded by Trump did not show up at the Republican National Convention — or if they did they did not stay for long. More significantly, a large number of Republican Party leaders have begun their own private war against Trump. The most recent instance is speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan, the most prominent elected Republican figure at present, who, following the release of the Trump recordings, announced that he was done supporting the Trump presidential campaign. The Republican candidate, needless to say, hit back, telling Ryan to tend to his own work, which is to make laws that the US people need, instead of challenging his party’s presidential candidate.

Trump has a unique and also brazen way of eliminating his rivals. It involves using social networking sites — mostly Twitter — to attack them, pitching his language to the street and, particularly, to the US working class where he finds his main base of support. In a sense, he has imposed a terrorist style of approach and this compelled the Republican National Committee (RNC) to try to circumvent supporting him by focussing on promoting Republican candidates for the House of Representatives and the Senate. But, unable to withstand the onslaught of criticism for this, the RNC backed down and put its weight behind Trump on the grounds that he is, after all, the party’s candidate.

Not that Trump would be deterred by rifts within his own party. On the contrary, out of the conviction that he is the voice of the real feelings of the American people, he managed the debate in a way that enabled him to drop a political bombshell. It was an unprecedented moment for the US system of government when the Republican candidate announced that, if elected to the White House, his first action would be to have his attorney general appoint a special prosecutor to launch an investigation into his adversary, Clinton, who, he said, would end up in jail. In so saying, Trump took a leaf right out of the book of the world’s dictatorships, threatening to jail his political opponents, even before winning the elections.

Also, in another first, he turned to information from Wikileaks (an object of censure in the US establishment because of its abuse of classified information), as manipulated by the Russian news Website Sputnik, to “prove” Hillary Clinton’s role in the Benghazi terrorist attack that caused the death of the US ambassador and three other US diplomats at the time that she was serving as secretary of state.

The fissures that Trump has sent through the American governing system and perhaps American political life as a whole may not be easy to repair in the future. However, Hillary Clinton and Democratic Party leaders can not be absolved from responsibility. To some extent, the Democratic candidate has behaved as though her candidacy and her eventual entry into the Oval Office are her divine right. True, she has many points that qualify her for office. But it is also true that she is guilty of some serious mistakes and grievous wrongs. This goes beyond her behaviour with respect to her husband’s actions and extends to her actions when she served in the Senate and then in the State Department. In addition, many doubts have been aired concerning her state of health and whether she is fit enough to shoulder the heavy responsibilities of the presidency.

The US campaigns are in their final stretch and the American people will soon have their say. Hillary Clinton will most likely be the next American president. But that does not mean that no more will be heard from Donald Trump, who is increasingly billing himself as a champion of a political movement that wants to change America. If change has not already occurred in the American political system, now bereft of its traditions, perhaps it will have to wait until the cracks broaden into deep and gaping wounds.

The writer is chairman of the board, CEO, and director of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies.

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