America, the Land of the Free, has become the Land of the Free for All. Coming week, the new Leader of the Free World will be chosen by the deeply divided populace after an excoriating electoral battle to decide the best of two worst choices. The 2016 contest for the White House has been the most invective-infested poll campaign in decades—between “rotten” Hillary and “bully” Trump. Together, the opposing candidates for the 45th President of the United States represent a new low in American politics. Donald Trump, a shady tycoon with just a year in politics, has become a global phenomenon on the basis of his notorious past and polarising present. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton reached the pinnacle of American political hierarchy primarily thanks to her status as Flotus, being married to Bill Clinton. The selection of the two ballot boxers reveals the bankruptcy of talent in both the Democratic and the Republican ranks. Badges and sexist tweets by Trumpists referred to the Monica Lewinsky affair. An app by Hillary supporters labelled Trump followers on Facebook sweaty “fat pigs”. A leading American news channel commented, “There’s been a lot of mudslinging this election season, what with Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, creating a new moniker for Hillary Clinton—Crooked Hillary—and virtually everybody else calling Trump everything, from a carnival barker to drawing comparisons to Adolf Hitler. But now both Hillary and Trump can add a new name to their lists: disliked.” To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, this has been an election “of two hated people, by two hated people, for two hated people”.
For the past few months, the electoral discourse in the US has hardly revolved around governance and international relations. There is no greater insult for the feisty democracy than choosing a lawbreaker as its top lawmaker and commander-in-chief. Both Trump and Hillary are accused of violating the law; the former for dubious business deals and contacts in a hostile country and the latter for illegally raising millions for her private foundation. Never before in the US history has elections thrown up contestants with deeply tarred reputations. It’s not unusual for presidential candidates to engage in vulgar verbal vitriol, but their personal images have been cleaner than the ones in the race now. Trump was caught on tape bragging about barging in on women backstage at beauty pageants to “inspect” them.
Politico magazine aptly summed up the Trump-Hillary war saying, “To judge by the daily parade of headlines and sound bites, the 2016 presidential election has boiled down to one steaming mass of invective, calumny, character assassination and contempt: the madman versus the prevaricator, the bully versus the biddy, the devil you know vs the devil you don’t.” Indian elections, famous for verbal vandalism by leaders using phrases like khoon ki dalali and maut ka saudagar pale into insignificance when compared with the populist poison spewed forth by Hillary and Trump.
Against this mud-splattered background, the hypocrisy of Indian secularists stands out in stark contrast with their avowed objectivity. Indian politics stands accused of using vote bank to divide society. The liberal class, many of them educated in the US and funded by US think tanks, takes Indian political leaders to the cleaners for choosing divisive agendas. They selectively pounce upon leaders who even indirectly use religion to garner votes. But in America, both Hillary and Trump are openly seeking a mandate for their personal persuasions. Each is using the social media to not only launch personal attacks but also to polarise their electoral constituencies. Trump is ahead of his rival with 13 million Twitter followers as against Hillary’s ten million-plus. While over 10 million like Trump’s Facebook page, only eight million approve of Hillary. A sample of his tweets:
Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump Oct 22, Pennsylvania
Crooked Hillary Clinton Tops Middle East Forum’s ‘Islamist Money List’
@realDonaldTrump Oct 28, Ohio, USA
Crooked Hillary launched her political career by letting terrorists off the hook. #DrainTheSwamp
@realDonaldTrump Oct 30
Wow, Twitter, Google and Facebook are burying the FBI criminal investigation of Clinton. Very dishonest media!
@realDonaldTrump Nov 1
Look at the way Crooked Hillary is handling the e-mail case and the total mess she is in. She is unfit to be president. Bad
But Hillary has been equally ferocious. Her tweets:
@HillaryClinton Nov 2
On average, Latinas make only $0.54 for each $1 white men earn. Time to close that gap. #LatinaEqualPay
@HillaryClinton Nov 1
It’s time for Trump to answer serious questions about his ties to Russia. http://slate.me/2dWggCd
@HillaryClinton Oct 27
“Would my son have a place in your America?” —Khizr Khan, father of a fallen American hero,
to Donald Trump
In between the continuous exchange of invectives, however, some serious issues have cropped up as a matter of convenience and not conviction. These mirror the similarities in both democracies. While the Congress retains its visible commitment to the idea of an inclusive India, Hillary is promising an America for all shades of people, including immigrants from Islamic nations. Trump has chosen Narendra Modi’s nationalist model by pandering to the sentiments of whites against extreme Islamist immigrants. To dismayed American voters neither of their potential Presidents is talking about “We, the Americans”. Instead, they are pontificating about the America of their Dreams. For the first time in its history, maximum America is about to elect a minimum leader.
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla