I've been following American politics and Presidential elections ever since I was 16 at the time of the 2000 Bush v Gore election. That was quite an election with the cliff-hanger ending in Florida, hanging chads and the Supreme Court eventually deciding the result. Since then each Presidential election has had it's own particular theme. The 2004 Bush v Kerry election was unique in many ways for its overwhelming emphasis on foreign policy and national security. This was understandable given the historic significance of what had occurred three years earlier on September 11th 2001 and the subsequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In many ways the 2004 Presidential election was a referendum on George W. Bush's decision to effect regime change in Baghdad. 2008 reverted to a more traditional mix of domestic and international issues with the economy dominate especially in light of the global financial crisis which had been gathering pace throughout 2007 and then climaxing with the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008.
The international focus of the 2008 campaign was the issue of how to repair America's battered image after over five years of being bogged down in Iraq. It also featured the historic significance of the first African-American black President elected in the form of Senator Barack Obama. When 2012 came around the focus was even more overwhelmingly domestic with a traditional return to the Clinton'92 campaign slogan: «It's the economy, stupid!» Mitt Romney ran as the «Businessman» candidate who would speed up the economic recovery after the Great Recession.
The 2016 Presidential election however has been the strangest and weirdest American Presidential election of my life, and I think, many much older than me. What should have been a debate primarily about economic issues such as income inequality, jobs/trade and law & order – with international dimensions squarely focused around the rise and threat of ISIS; the situation in Syria and US-Russian relations redolent of a 1970s or 80s Cold War election – has instead degenerated into something like an episode of Dallas or Dynasty with the sensationalist fluff of 21st century Hollywood «reality» TV. This is due to the presence of one man in the race, Donald Trump, who has hijacked the election to make it more about himself and his celebrity ego and a parade ground of circus antics rather than a serious debate about economics, foreign policy and social affairs. Mr. Trump has offered very limited policy specifics with threadbare detail on his policy programme and how he would achieve such proposals. He seems content with his catch-line: «Believe me!»
What Trump lacks in policy specifics he has more than made up for it with the most outlandish, wild, and inappropriate comments ever heard from a nominee of a major American political party for President. How he has spoken of and attacked his opponent Mrs. Clinton as well as his comments on women, immigrants, Muslims, POWs, Gold star families etc. has been a tour de force in bitter, divisive nastiness. His campaign has been built from start to finish on paranoia, prejudice and primitive base urges and desires. The dominant theme of the 2016 Presidential election is in actual fact one of political and policy sanity. Can America maintain it's equilibrium and maintain its sanity by rejecting the egomania driven, warped and insane world of Donald Trump and his followers? Or will it opt to take a wrecking ball to its established political and governmental system, though no matter how imperfect, is an organisation which is vital to the smooth, rational and calm functioning of the nation as a whole.
Yes, there are deep systemic problems within the American political system, but is Donald Trump, a man with virtually no political resume and the most vulgar world view, really the force required to straighten out the problems of Washington DC? The fact that he has come this far, when at the start of his campaign it appeared to be a clownish attention seeking gesture, must give many sensible and grounded people pause for thought and concern. The political world of DC will never be the same again post-Trump. If Trump loses, and loses big, dragging a substantial Republican majority in the House down with him, the greatest and initial reckoning will come within the Republican Party. It is the Republican Party – its national and local leaders, Congressional members and Governors, radio talk show and far-right media allies – who have created Trump the political animal and it is they who will have to deal with the consequences of their creation. The defeat of Trump and the fallout from his losing to Hillary Clinton could splinter the Republican Party for good into two separate entities with the Paul Ryan Republicans going one way and the Tea Party / Trump / Christie / Palin GOP going another. One thing is clear – after the vitriol and negativity of this Presidential election and the wackiness and weirdness of it all with its lack of policy focus and traditional, old school political debate and discourse – another election like this one with a Trump style figure in either party must be avoided for the internal health and external world image of America.