Commentary | 07 July 2016

'The US public just wants to get through the Clinton-Trump election'

'After 18 months of a campaign that is universally described to have been the weirdest and one of the ugliest in living memory, folks are desperate for it all to be over.'

Originally published in the Australian Financial Review. Photo: Getty Images/Brooks Kraft

  • Emma Connors

'After 18 months of a campaign that is universally described to have been the weirdest and one of the ugliest in living memory, folks are desperate for it all to be over.'

Originally published in the Australian Financial Review. Photo: Getty Images/Brooks Kraft

  • Emma Connors

The world is not used to seeing America like this. With just a few days to go until the presidential election, this confident, ballsy nation that prides itself on being number one, always, is experiencing the almost novel sensation of indecision. And Americans don't like it one little bit.

'Covering the election? So you've come to have a good laugh at us then?' said the Customs and Border Protection guy at the airport, a job that usually doesn't come with self-deprecating remarks.

If you turn away from the wall-to-wall media coverage and avoid the frenzied ground game surrounding the presidential candidates as they dash across the country, you find the mighty US of A is in a funk. In the malls and the bars, in the snatches of conversation you hear on the street as people go about their business, there is an odd, subdued air. Americans, it seems, have lost their mojo.

It's a nation in a funk. It knows the world is watching but, for possibly the first time, it would prefer if we averted our gaze. This chapter of American history is not pretty to watch but it's even harder to live through.

After 18 months of a campaign that is universally described to have been the weirdest and one of the ugliest in living memory, folks are desperate for it all to be over. One retiree told me everyone he knows was voting early because that way, at least for them, it would be done.

'A cycle of awfulness,' is how a 19-year-old student describes the campaign. She also voted early, holding her nose to tick the box for Hillary Clinton.

Core beliefs

'I'd rather have her than him but I don't like him or her. They have both disrespected our founding fathers and our core beliefs,' she says.

In the final days of the campaign, a black church was torched in Mississippi and daubed with pro-Trump graffiti. The Black Lives Matter movement says the racism that has been so visible in this campaign is a reminder to "good white people" that not much has changed, despite Barack Obama's two terms in the White House.

One state Republican senator tells me that while he felt duty bound to vote for Trump, he would not endorse him. 'What I want to know' the senator says plaintively, 'is when immigration became a bad thing in the United States?'

The roughly one third of the GOP that identifies as 'fiscal Republicans' are not sure they will still have a party for much longer. This group could co-exist, just, with social conservatives and evangelicals but the alt right that gave rise to the Tea Party and then fell in behind Trump is a step too far. One describes the sensation of losing her party as becoming a political orphan. Both parties have managed to reinvent themselves before after taking a step to the extreme: the Republicans survived the far right choice of Goldwater and the Democrats the far left choice of Mondale. But everywhere there is weary acknowledgment that the polarising forces that have seen millions swarm to Trump while millions of others look on in horror are only going to intensify in coming months and years.

Uncharted waters

At some point between 2040 and 2050, the US will become a majority minority country, composed of 50 per cent non-Hispanic whites. Some big cities are already there: in California, San Jose became a majority minority city a decade ago. Change prompts fear and if someone tells fearful people they should feel angry instead, they will jump on board.

If one keeps scratching, though, Americans' optimism starts to peek through. They know a Hillary Clinton presidency will have no honeymoon period. Indeed, there have been renewed vows to impeach her if she wins – 'high crimes and misdemeanours' is the constitutional phrase. They know a Trump presidency would take their nation into uncharted waters. They know they have to find some way of stopping the two blocks of voters from tearing each other apart come Wednesday morning. Yet they reckon they can push their way through.

This is, after all, the nation that did 'one of the coolest things in history', to cite one political scientist, back in 1787 when those oft-cited founding fathers invented a new form of democracy. In the years since, Americans have proved themselves to be the masters of reinvention. It is not in their nature to think they will not do so again.

But if the rest of the world wouldn't mind just turning away for a little while as they work their way through it all, well, they sure would appreciate that.

Read the full text here.