As a resident of a country bordering the economic, military, and political colossus that is the United States of America, and as a highly interested, but mostly-unaffected, observer of its 2016 presidential election process, I have some thoughts about the current contenders as they portrayed themselves in the first televised debate recently.
But let me begin with some context.
First, the American dream, as popularly understood, is that everyone who works hard will achieve prosperity and upward social mobility, unfettered by such barriers as racism, religious persecution, gender bias, and other obstacles of that ilk. Private enterprise and capitalism will provide the means, and every citizen will provide the ambition.
This worked reasonably well for the educated, dominant white landowners and merchant class in the largely-agrarian country that emerged in the two centuries following the founding of the republic. It worked less well for the working class (including both slaves and freemen, and immigrants), and scant thought was given to assisting those who didn’t prosper, and who fell into radical poverty. They, it was assumed (if, indeed, anyone even considered their plight), constituted collateral damage, and could move west to pursue their dream. Or die unnoticed.
Today, in a population approaching 325 million, inhabiting a largely urbanized country, there are too many of these unsuccessful achievers of the American dream to ignore. The private sector tries its best to do that, however, in its endless pursuit of profit. Getting rich has become the yardstick for whether or not one has achieved the American dream, and capitalists pursue that goal without regard for the widening income disparity between the wealthiest and poorest. Consider the insurance conglomerates, the big banks, and the pharmaceutical industry as examples of this.
So who will look to the needs of the poor, the disenfranchised, the homeless, if not corporate America? It would appear the government cannot. Socialism is a bad word in America, ‘big government’ is anathema, and any candidate espousing an increase in taxes may be committing political suicide. How, then, can government institute a general sharing of the wealth, drawing from those with means, and giving to those with needs? Such a radical notion runs contrary to the American ethos on which the whole experiment in nationhood was based. We’re not commies, son!
But somebody needs to figure out an answer, and soon, before an American Robespierre arises—angry, ambitious, and armed.
Second, the mainstream media portray (or, at best, do not question) the ‘imperial presidency’ as an office where the person occupying the role is omnipotent. The average American voter—unaware or forgetful of the three branches of federal government, or of the separation of powers that governs their functions—tends to see the president as one who can singlehandedly fix everything that’s wrong with the country, one who can make America great again. And the media, including the unconstrained social media, perpetuate this misconception because of their endless fascination with ratings and readership numbers—the profit motive.
As informed citizens must know, the presidency is the executive function, intended to manage the government’s functions, enforce the laws, and serve as commander-in-chief. Congress—the bicameral, legislative branch, comprising the Senate and House of Representatives—is charged with making the law. And the Supreme Court, the judicial branch, is supposed to ensure that the laws and their execution are constitutional.
If all voters knew this, they would be, perhaps, less likely to fall for the pitches of pretenders to the presidency.
The two candidates for the office in 2016 present a striking contrast, and it was evident in the first debate we watched. Voters will have to decide which of the two will be best able to manage the economy, address the issues of poverty and racism, combat terrorism to ensure the security of the nation, and deal rationally and firmly with other world leaders.
The economy is nowhere near as healthy as reported by the media—rigged numbers supposedly representing the growth rate, the inflation rate, the unemployment rate. The only rate with any plausibility is the interest rate, and it’s so low that people (except for the very wealthy) have no incentive or wherewithal to invest or save. They sure do borrow, though.
The poverty gap is not going to lessen dramatically, regardless of who is elected. In an increasingly-technological society, low-skill jobs are gone forever. State-of-the-art education and innovative entrepreneurship are of utmost importance if the situation is ever to improve. Racism is pervasive and, it sometimes seems, part of the national DNA; there is no quick fix for that, only generational change brought about by relentless pressure and, unfortunately, oft-violent protests.
Terrorism is part of our world, like it or not, and (whether foreign or home-grown) unlikely to be eradicated; there are too many disenfranchised people in the world, with too many grievances, too much hatred, and too many weapons.
The leaders of other nations, allies and foes alike, are not so much interested in American greatness as in their own national aspirations. And it is they, not just the next president, who will exert a large influence on the state of international relations.
So it’s obvious that neither Mr. Trump nor Ms. Clinton can ‘fix’ America’s problems, make her great again, just by virtue of being elected president. Were I an American voter, unimpeded by party affiliation, I would try to suss out which of them is best-positioned to make the best stab at it, imperfect though both may be.
Is either of them presidential, or are they both preposterous?
I would want to know which of them (even if neither is truly altruistic) is more interested in my plight; in helping me to achieve my own American dream; in advancing the prospects of every citizen, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or socio-economic status. Which of them best appreciates the differences between federal and state government functions, and has the skills to foster productive relationships between and among them? Which of them has the most comprehensive understanding of the sacrosanct Constitution? Which of them has the ability to talk with, and listen to, other world leaders?
In short, which of them has the experience, the patience, the gravitas to faithfully execute the onerous obligations of the office most effectively?
Given the limited choices in 2016, I know which of them I’d be voting for.