In the last critical hours before the American people decide their new leadership, the hyperbole will mount into near hysteria. Much, if not most, of what is said is either irrelevant or grossly inaccurate. Even the descriptive monologues of The Talking Heads are either exaggerated or dead wrong.
No, it is not certain this is the most important election in history, even recent history. That would have to left to historians with a more dispassionate view decades if not centuries from now.
No, it is not the most dramatic or controversial presidential election ever. Greybeards will remember when a dashing, young, handsome utilities executive organized the balconies at Philidelphia in 1940 to wrestle away the convention from the floor and domination of the historic Taft family of Cincinnati. [In many ways he set the style for the Kennedy brothers a generation or so later.]
No, not the most drama ever? going to work an early November 1948 morning on an overnight shift through an empty Time Square bereft of its NYC Democrats only to find a few minutes later that Harry S Truman had won a victory that surprised almost everyone included the professional politicians.
American presidential campaigns have always been as much show and tell as serious electoral proceedings. The parties were one of the few major governing features the Founding Fathers did not envisage. But even the otherise untouchable George Washington complained to his Thomas Jefferson follower, soon to be president himself, that Democratic-Republican critics were out of hand in their fight against they saw as the royalist Federalists around the first president.
None of this is to minimize the importance of the decision coming in next week’s voting booths. [Early voters by mail or whatever as a new innovation not to be discounted]. The voters are being given a choice of two candidates who may represent more differences than usual. They are not reflected in the policy arguments – which have been few and far between. Hillary Clinton, despite her enormous reliance on the Baracl Obama Presidency’s support, would likely drift quickly away from many of his policies, the disastrous Obamacare and the American overseas withdrawal where she is quietly much more hawkish.
But it is the tone that sets the two contenders apart, not their differences on policies. One has to take Donald Trump’s more flamboyant throw-away proposals with more than a dash of salt. Yes, Washington and the American people have tired of bearing what they consider an overload for the maintenance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. But the argument, like all policy conundrums, is complex: is the solution in an expansion of European forces in thegface of new Russian aggression in Georgia, Crimea, Ukraine. There are the complicated payments for resident American forces [which in any event would have to be maintained if in North America]. It’s an old and complicated argument, as old as the Treaty itself. But as the most successful alliance in history, NATO won”t be abandoned overnight whatever Trump’s throwaway suggestion.
But what Trump is adding to the political mix is a sense of the amateur, the non-professional political – one he rides to success on and cherishes. He may know, as he claims and which seems likely, that as a successful big businessman he has more than the novice’s share of understanding of how the system operates. That makes him, he claims in an interesting argument, the one to best tackle and reform it.
But what really sets this election apart – if, indeed, it is that unique – is that that the amateurism which Trump represents and the knowledgeable if tarnished professionalism of Hillary introduce a new and basic “feel” to the contest. There’s little doubt that Trump has reversed the traditional party roles, the mystic that the Democrats since at least Franklin Roosevelt’s time that they represented the little people and their Grand Old Party opponents were the creatures of Wall Street. We may never see those speeches Hillary gave at enormous fees for the corporations [nor Bill gold auxiliary speaking tours from the Clinton Foundation] but her ties to big capital are now well known.
The big policy questions may indeed be how much Trump could and would change major trends in the U.S. economy with his “amateurism”. Some of his [and Hilary’s] economic promises are downright foolish. Neither can nor would “return” the “jobs” they are promising. Washington’s actual contribution to the economy – even with such expensive outlays as FDR’s and Obama’s – has minimal effect. In fact, what business craves at the moment is the withdrawal of Washington’s bear hug. Meeting the demand for jobs against a tsunami of technology which is routinely eliminating them would be an enormous feat; America’s economy even traveling at its current slow rate demonstrates that new phenomenon.
So what’s at stake in a few hours is not thoughtful contradiction of ideas but the contest between a rank if talented amateur and a gifted is tarnished politico.