August 1, 2016, by pressoffice
A tale of two Americas
It is the best of times and the worst of times in America according to Professor Todd Landman.
Originally from the US state of Pennsylvania and currently Professor of Political Science and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Social Sciences at The University of Nottingham, Professor Landman gives his unique outlook on the latest developments in the race for the White House.
The Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention have now come to pass. After two weeks of listening to supporting speeches and the keynote speeches from Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, it would appear that it is both the best of times and the worst of times in America.
Donald Trump painted a picture of an America that is in decline, with rising crime rates, crumbling infrastructure, threats from unwelcome people, and a loss of power and authority abroad. His solution to these problems remains to be fully articulated, but certainly involves his own personal efforts, which he alone will deploy and to be ‘the voice’ of his supporters. It reminded me somewhat ironically of the populist caudillo candidates from 20th Century Latin America: men on horseback who alone will deliver their people to true greatness.
Hillary Clinton entered the stage in a pure white suit and presented a vision of America that was markedly different from her rival. She acknowledged many challenges but set out a number of proposals typical of her style as a pragmatic realist, informed by her experiences as a charity worker, lawyer, First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State. She adopted a centre left position on social issues and combined it with a stern (complete with a steely stare) set of statements on foreign policy and national security, while articulating a more inclusive and welcoming narrative about the collective culture of success in the history of America.
These events in the long electoral calendar for the US President are meant to unify supporters, clarify platforms, and energise voters. They are meant to consolidate party positions and pave the way for the remaining months of the campaign until the elections in November. Popular reaction to both conventions suggest that the Democrats succeeded in all three to a much greater extent than the Republicans, but lacking from either was a real home run speech from the two Presidential hopefuls.
In the run up to the conventions Trump and Clinton had sealed the support of enough delegates to secure their parties’ nomination. For Trump, the convention should have been an opportunity to provide reassurance to those Republicans who remain uncertain about his candidacy and to build a broader coalition of supporters he needs to win the presidency. Instead, the convention had a notable absence of key republicans (e.g. rival and governor of Ohio John Kasich, as well as any former Presidents), a plagiarised speech by his wife, the failure of his main rival Ted Cruz to endorse him, and Trump’s claim to double down on his authoritarian promises of being a ‘law and order’ President. There was no centre ground and very little attempt to reach out to the key constituencies he will need to win the election.
For Clinton, the convention provided the opportunity for her to show her human and compassionate side, and to build bridges with many of the disgruntled supporters of her main rival, Bernie Sanders. The convention got off to a rough start with the revelation that the Democratic National Committee had been hacked (by Russian agents it turns out), the resignation of its Chairwoman Debbie Wassermann Shultz, and continued unrest from Bernie supporters which calmed in some degree after he officially endorsed her for President. The remaining days picked up pace with two strong speeches from Michelle and Barack Obama; one of the shortest and most powerful speeches from Khizr Kahn, whose son died as a US soldier and who directly challenged Trump over the true meaning of the US Constitution; and a surprising speech from Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York and Independent who said of Trump, ‘I know a con when I see one.’
In an earlier piece in The Conversation after the ‘Super Tuesday’ primaries held on 2 March, I correctly predicted that Trump and Clinton would secure the nominations of their parties. I also said that the election is Clinton’s to lose. I still very much believe this to be the case. While her speech was not particularly inspiring, the Democratic National Convention did manage to articulate a more hopeful and inclusive message that more closely aligns with the underlying demographic shift that has taken place in the American populace.
Beyond the doubts about her personal attributes and her record of behaviour in public office (e.g. past policies, her closeness to Wall Street, the on-going email scandal, and the Benghazi affair), the Convention succeeded in occupying the patriotic, hopeful, and nationalist ground typical of Republican conventions. Trump, for his part, enjoyed a post Convention bump in the polls (but not big enough according to some analysts) , but then he has reacted angrily to many of the speakers at the Democratic Convention and scored two own goals by (sarcastically) inviting the Russians to find more missing Clinton emails and by ridiculing Khizr Kahn’s wife for not speaking while standing next to him.
The most striking thing about this whole campaign, is that both candidates are the most unpopular ever to have run for President, with Trump scoring more than a 50% unfavourable rating, followed by Clinton’s score with just under 40%. Despite these negative ratings, the race to November is likely to remain heated as the two candidates test how their different visions of America resonate with voters. At present, with the first post-DNC poll reporting a 15% lead over Trump and key states with large electoral votes lined up for the Democrats, the odds remain in Hillary’s favour.
Professor Landman delivered some of this analysis in a lecture on 31 May 2016 at the University of Nottingham Ningo and will share his thoughts again in a special lecture for the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham on 28 September 2016.