Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton? This is a choice that most Americans wish they didn’t have to make. Sure, passionate crowds greet Trump, and you can find those who are genuinely thrilled at the prospect of Madam President. But throughout this election, the most striking fact has been this: for the first time in modern polling, a majority considers both candidates as dishonest and unfavourable. For many, the choice is an awful, negative one: who do you most want to vote against, rather than who do you want to vote for.
If people had negative impressions of the two candidates from the start, the campaign has only solidified their assessments. It is safe to say this has been the ugliest campaign in living memory, favouring personal mudslinging over issues of substance. Many like to put the crude character of the campaign down to the vulgar Trump, but both candidates have driven the tone lower. ‘When they go low, we go high’, said Hillary, echoing Michelle Obama. No, when they went low, Hillary went to the fat-shaming of Miss Universe, an undercover Access Hollywood ‘pussy-grabbing’ video, and a message that a vote for Trump was a vote for the Ku Klux Klan. It is perhaps not all that surprising that more than 80 per cent say the election has made them feel disgusted with politics.
In the popular talk, the electoral choice is posed as: which do you prefer — crazy or corrupt? There are elements of truth to those characterisations – Trump is erratic and insulting; Clinton has a history of shady dealings – but, from a political perspective, the reality is actually worse.
Trump isn’t just a showman who shoots his mouth off; he’s not just someone who is monumentally ignorant of economics and politics. He also displays a dangerous authoritarian streak, tossing out threats to persecute journalists and throw political opponents in jail. If you took him at his word, he would engineer the deportations of millions. His claim to have opposed the Iraq War is dubious, but he exhibits no restraint for future, undefined militaristic adventures. His answer to political correctness is to plead more loudly than others, to cry ‘listen to my grievances, not theirs’.
Trump’s flaws are easy to see – as the saying goes, they are a feature, not a bug. Clinton’s weaknesses, in contrast, are less well understood. This has been especially the case in the past two weeks, when liberals have put out a fatwa on anyone who would whisper a dissenting word about Clinton (don’t mention the emails!), lest young people won’t go to the polls and keep the fascist Trump out of the White House. And to the extent that criticisms of Clinton have emerged, they have tended to centre on accusations of dishonesty and corruption. From the right, we hear about the pay-to-play Clinton Foundation; from the Bernie Sanders left, the highly paid speeches to Goldman Sachs.