October 31, 2016, by Charlotte Anscombe

The Last Leg: Clinton’s Probable Victory and the Ruptured Soul of America

Professor Todd Landman, Pro Vice Chancellor of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Christopher Phelps, Associate Professor of American Studies, review the final week ahead of the US Election.

A week away from the U.S. presidential election, America limps to the finish line, exhausted and divided.

Intense outsider passion propelled by voters’ desires for new directions characterised the campaign as it began more than a year ago, both in Senator Bernie Sanders’s socialist challenge in the Democratic primaries and real-estate mogul Donald J. Trump’s right-populist upending of the Republican field.

But the ultimate victory is likely to accrue to the ultimate insider: Hillary Clinton, who has quietly and confidently made her way to what looks likely to be a decisive victory in the Electoral College on November 8, unless the late-breaking FBI investigation into her e-mail practices upends her campaign.

Trump has persistently been unable to get beyond about 40% in the popular vote, and trails Clinton significantly in the projected Electoral College. Nate Silver, the master prognosticator, still has Secretary Clinton on odds higher than 80% chance of winning the election, and states like Arizona, Georgia, and Texas, long thought impregnable to the Democrats may well fall next week.

These projections do not mean that Clinton is well-liked. She isn’t. Even before the recent FBI announcement, Wikileaks, revelations about Clinton Foundation “pay to play” (particularly strong in a $12 million case involving Morocco’s monarchy) amplified doubts about her trustworthiness.

But her campaign has consistently outperformed the unlikeliest of all contenders. Trump entered the race with bluster and knocked out 16 other Republicans with a style, culled from the tabloid press and reality TV, never encountered before in the modern electoral cycle. A penchant for insults backed by few facts mesmerised the press and captivated his base, while his stoking of anti-immigrant fear, baiting of Mexican Americans, and proposed Muslim travel ban heightened fears of resurgent bigotry in American politics.

Trump nearly closed the gap with Clinton a few times, but her fortunes took a positive turn across the three debates, won by a combination of studious preparation, well-placed jibes, and Trump “own goals.” Most crucial was the release of a shocking tape in which Trump bragged in vulgar language of grabbing women, followed by more than ten women telling tales of his unwanted impositions upon them.

Clinton now has an Electoral College vote projection greater than 300, where only 270 are needed to win. But she, in notable contrast to Barack Obama, has been propelled to victory largely based on simple revulsion toward her opponent, not enthusiasm for her.

Trump tapped into a deep sense of angst, worry, anger, and disappointment among a solid core of supporters, especially white and male. His greatest support is among white working-class voters but in the primaries he did surprisingly well in higher-income and better-educated groups as well. His rhetoric about law and order, border security, a return of manufacturing, and trade protectionism played well to those with economic anxieties. But his overtly racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic discourses meant that he has been unable to reach beyond that base in the general election.

His base will not be pleased with a Clinton victory, as they perceive her as the epitome of the corrupt elite in American politics. Trump has signalled that he may contest the outcome of the election. But beyond this trial for civic life lie much deeper conflicts in American society.

America is undergoing great demographic changes. In the next ten years it will be less white, less religious, less Christian, and more liberal. These trends challenge the traditional base for the Republican Party and the centre-right tendencies in the Democratic Party, while income stagnation and economic inequality signal further political volatility.

The Democrats have been able to capture the White House in recent elections based on a broad demographic appeal, while Republicans have dominated the Congress, in good part due to gerrymandering.

The Republican politics brought into high relief by Trump and many from the hard right or Tea Party side of the party have significantly alienated many groups in American society and have torn at the fabric of the party. This stance has been adopted during a period in which America has seen a surge in gun ownership (although highly concentrated), controversy over documented police violence toward African Americans, and patterns of institutionalised racism that undermine the very notion of equality meant to be one of the nation’s founding principles.

The first woman president in American history will, therefore, face major challenges. While the world’s attention has been riveted on the electoral map, it is this deeper social map that requires reflection, dialogue, and the development of long-term solutions.’

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