US Primaries 2016 - An Experiment Too Far?



U.S. PRIMARIES 2016: “National politics and elections are dominated by emotions,” wrote Swiss academic Tariq Ramadan, “by lack of self-confidence, by fear of the other, by insecurity, by infection of the body politic by the virus of victimhood.”

Though not writing specifically about this year’s US presidential primaries, Ramadan succinctly expressed some of the driving forces behind them.

For many of us who are privileged to visit the USA from time to time and who profess to be Americanophile in outlook, the current presidential primaries are mystifying.

On the Republican side, momentum remains largely with billionaire wheeler-and-dealer Donald Trump. A man with more than a sniff of P. T. Barnum about him, Mr. Trump has drawn large and boisterous crowds, inspired opposition and divided opinion.

He is the present front-runner for his party’s nomination, but may yet fail to garner enough votes to qualify for automatic selection. In that eventuality, the GOP would go into a brokered convention.

The Republican presidential candidate would then be decided by various internal party procedures. I don't profess to fully understand these – and I suspect a great many of the party’s members don’t either.

Driven by a deep dislike of Mr. Trump and his nearest competitor Ted Cruz, party establishment movers and shakers may choose to back the likes of Ohio governor John Kasich. The governor has, at the time of writing, won only one primary – in his home state.

The convention may even opt for an individual who hasn’t appeared at all in this year’s primaries – such as Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, who ran unsuccessfully in the 2012 race.

The former House Speaker, John Boehner, has already endorsed Ryan to be the Republican presidential nominee, believing that he would heal a fractured party.

If the GOP took this route, however, it would likely further stoke the anger and intense frustration with politics-as-usual which have largely underwritten Trump’s extraordinary support.

In the end, a substantial number of his supporters – both conservatives and liberals – would probably opt out of voting altogether. The GOP would therefore, by default, hand the presidency to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

If, however, Trump achieved the minimum votes required for automatic selection, the face-off between he and Clinton would be a miserable choice for many Americans.

I daresay that in their heart-of-hearts millions of Americans, outside of the core constituencies of both candidates, do not want either to win the White House.

There will be many who do not savour the idea of another Clinton in the Oval Office. One Rasmussen poll suggested that her overall support among registered Democrats sits at around 58 percent.

Arguably, many of the remaining 42 percent of registered Democrats, not to mention the wider electorate, would not want a President who, while she has long been a political insider, is associated with questionable dealings reaching from as far back as her husband’s governorship to her recent stint as Secretary of State.

Nor would they relish the idea of a President Trump. They would balk at handing the US nuclear codes to a man whose present demeanour and past record in private enterprise suggest that he is impulsive, insecure, often angry and given to favouring hyperbole and inflammatory comment over informed insight.

Politics seldom throws up the two very best candidates for any top job at the same time.

However, voters are also seldom offered the choice between a hot-headed political novice and a calculating political junkie, both of whom seem primarily interested in achieving the highest office for its own sake.

To this point, neither seems to possess an overriding image of what America aspires to be or could become – at least, that is, in their statements reported in the international press and media.

While Trump’s speeches seem mostly to be filled with hype and bluster about making America “great”, Clinton’s appear to change tack as the occasion demands.

One minute, Mrs. Clinton is pushing her credentials as a proven political player, the next she is claiming that elections are not easy for her because she isn’t a politician. At the start of her campaign, she is a centre-left candidate, yet she soon tacks further leftward to out-manoeuvre her opponent, the self-confessed socialist Bernie Sanders.

In the process, she gives the impression that her stance is primarily shaped by politics, not ideals.

Both major candidates appear to be making things up as they go along - even more than is usual - sounding off about being proactive while behaving in completely reactive ways.

For his part, Senator Bernie Sanders does offer a vision, with some fairly clear policies to back it up. He has at least tried to match his ideals with concrete ideas.

But is his vision credible? Many Democrat voters seem to think so. I wonder, though, whether anyone seriously imagines that the mighty, global home of capitalism might willingly morph into a quiet social democracy akin to tiny Denmark?

This, after all, is one of Mr Sanders’ stated goals. If it happened it would represent more than the political revolution he has promised. It would signal nothing short of a game-changing tsunami in global politics, socio-economics and more.

As far as I’m aware, Mr. Sanders has never lived in a social democracy. I have. During almost ten years in Copenhagen, I found a good deal to appreciate about Danish society and culture.

The same is true for each of the Nordic countries, where I have spent a lot of time working and have felt privileged to do so.

It is preposterous to imagine, though, that Americans would be content to surrender to their government and its bureaucracies the level of independence that Scandinavians do to theirs.

Everything about the pioneer, success-loving, aspirational nation that is the USA seems opposed to a cultural mentality which insists that all must remain in their place, that nobody should be lauded as more successful than his or her fellows.

Could America learn from Denmark? Yes, it could – especially in such areas as government-funded healthcare, aged care and improved conditions in prisons.

However, to imply, as Mr. Sanders appears to do, that Denmark and its neighbours are nations largely free of fundamental human problems such as racism and intolerance of minorities is wide of the mark.

Though an obviously very experienced and erudite man, he also seems to forget that the world does not look to socially democratic Denmark for its global policing.

That job falls to a country driven by innovative, capitalistic principles, which thankfully are often tempered – to a degree anyway – by religious, humanitarian and ethical principles.

America is far from perfect. Americans know it, the world knows it. And this election cycle reinforces that fact.

It is still, however, arguably the world’s greatest experiment in democracy. We can but hope that in this election cycle the experiment does not become too experimental to maintain America’s dignity and the world’s respect.


Mal Fletcher's BBC interview

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