Over the course of the many months that it has been going on, the US election has received immense coverage, even more perhaps than one could have expected.
Everyone will have lost count of the number of controversies and debates that have been had on the subject. And yet among all the buzzing, how much analysis of the two candidacies have we heard? Close to nothing.
We might have learned a lot about the people named Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as individuals but it is not an exaggeration to say that for weeks at a time, the media has not reported one word about them as candidates, in other words, about their proposed policies. The bulk, if not the entirety, of the commentary from pundits and politicians alike has been devoted to Hillary Clinton’s efforts to appear relatable and progressive, and similar efforts to underline Mr. Trump’s offensive remarks and general rudeness.
Normally, focusing on the candidates’ style rather than ideas is a sign that the candidates have similar ideas; in this case, however, this serves to obfuscate the fact that they are actually different in substance, which bodes well for Mrs. Clinton. Trump’s statements (however wrong they might be and many of them certainly are) do at least touch on serious issues and questions about the impact of immigration and globalisation, about multipolarity in geopolitics, or about the place of money in government. Whatever one’s opinion on the subjects, these are debates that will have to be had eventually and his raising of these issues will undoubtedly force future Republican – and Democrat –nominees to adapt their discourse accordingly.
Clinton’s campaign, on the other hand, is proposing very little in terms of analysis of America’s problems or ways of addressing them. Instead, her arguments have been largely either generic or purely symbolic, like being the first women president which, symbolic though it is, is not actually progress for the nation.
As for the issue of money in politics, she has understandably been too embarrassed to bring up the issue, due to her own reliance on super-PACs (organisations that pool money from wealthy donors to political campaigns). She did try to placate her electorate on the matter by giving the impression she would tackle it simply by appointing a judge on the Supreme Court who would overturn the famous Citizens United ruling, but as this piece from The Atlantic shows, that is unlikely to achieve anything in reality.
The campaign on the Democrats’ side has been mostly about the career of one person, from First Lady to senator to Secretary of State to President as a natural progression. For such a candidate as well as for her followers, winning the election and being in office is its own objective. Holding office, unlike pushing reforms, can only be temporary and ultimately brief, meaning that even if she is elected, and re-elected, once she leaves office her contribution goes with her, leaving little trace behind.
Americans certainly do not have an enviable choice to make and there is not much in Trump’s manifesto that would make conservatism come out less sullied by a Trump presidency than it has been by his candidacy. Yet, in point of fact Trump will have more impact on Western politics even in defeat than Clinton could ever have in victory.
Bow Group International Affairs Reseacrh Fellow