Echoes of Brexit in the US presidential campaign give no cause for comfort

I doubt if I’m alone in feeling as dissatisfied with the coverage of the US election as I am on tenterhooks about the outcome. One problem has been the requirement of the media I respect to preserve some sense of balance amid the horrors the campaign. It is not true that each candidate is as bad as the other, whatever is going on in American society.

Whoever wins the presidency, the political fulcrum has shifted further to the right and may stay there for some time. Even the Republican establishment does not favour this, as it has fragmented their party. In spite of the Facebook revelations, it would be wrong to blame social media. This was a campaign fought on the stump, on platforms, on TV. It needed no reinforcing.

While Obama’s first win produced impossible expectations, the best  to hope for this time is that the abysmal character of the campaign will  produce a reaction to deny the worst fears of gridlock and a divided America.

The campaign itself degenerated from the off and produced very little content for sane debate – on the impact of globalisation, the transition from a majority white to a majority diverse America, and growing isolationism. Reports from the grassroots  were too often crafted to reflect the raucousness of the stump. Weighing Trump’s awfulness against Hillary’s flaws has created real distortions.  Month’s ago it was Bernie Sanders who yelled at Hillary: “I’m sick of hearing about your damned emails.”

Trump, no slouch on spin, seized on the example to give him comfort.  In one of his last rallies he shouted: “ Tomorrow , we’re going to have Brexit, plus, plus plus…”  Tonight, Trump ended as Boris did on referendum eve. “Today is our Independence Day”. While it’s amazing for little ol’UK  to be  noticed at all, what does that say about Brexit?

The parallel Trump is looking for is of course the big upset that defies the predictions based on the hairline margins of the polls, mirroring the  supposed triumph of  the people over the elite in the UK.

  • That Trump is in a different category from previous candidates has registered to the point where it has become the new normal. There are dangers in this. The nature of his exception has become dulled in 24/7 coverage. The deeper analysis of Trump’s real character is left to the same  “ elite” which has been fighting what has seemed  like the rear guard action of a no longer dominant orthodoxy. The New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik spelt it out on Radio 4 ‘s Point of View this week, in a version of his classic article.

Trump is not normal. Nothing about him is. One need only look at his rallies, track the rhetoric they offer and the vengeful orgy of hatred and misogyny and racism they induce, to see just how different he is. His followers are not, shall we say, there to root on their favored libertarian in his pursuit of free-market solutions to vexing social problems; they are there to scream insults and cry havoc on their (mostly imaginary) enemies, to revel in the riot of misogyny and racism that Trump has finally given them license to retrieve from the darkest chapters of our past. (“Not politically correct” means openly brutal to minorities and women.) A ten-year-old screams, “Take that bitch down!” to laughter..

It will be scary too, as well as agonizing, for Clinton if she doesn’t make it. She is now fighting not just for the presidency but for the life and meaning of the republic itself.

She must know that if Trump wins, the blame—the disillusion with all things Clinton—will be unfathomable, in the nation at large and in her own home. Thanks to her run, her husband will have seen his own legacy sullied by the trashing of the foundation. And she herself will have plenty to brood over in his old infidelities, which blunted her ability to deliver the kind of powerful, heartfelt hurt to her supporters about Trump as a sexual predator that Michelle Obama has so feelingly expressed.

Already there are donors who vent about how a different, less-tarnished Democratic candidate could have flicked Trump aside and won the Senate, too. Her supporters have experienced a constant ebb and flow of despair and reassurance. Each time she aced it in a debate she reminded the country what a smart, cool, seasoned operator she is, how supremely qualified she is to be commander in chief in a crisis—only to have more foundation and email toxins infect the airwaves and reverse her momentum.

Not that Hillary had any right to an easy ride. Ace columnist Maureen Dowd is  a natural Democrat who has been a thorn in Hillary’s side. She  describes the flaws which evoke uncomfortable echoes of Richard Nixon.

Hillary started as a young lawyer on the House Watergate committee, yet she never learned how paranoia can act as an acid on dreams. She couldn’t dismantle her wall of secrecy and defensiveness and level with the public and the press; instead, she built the wall higher and clung to attack dogs like David Brock and Sidney Blumenthal, needing to surround herself with people, no matter how dubious, who would walk the plank for her.

In the leaked emails, Hillary’s advisers also worried that she has an apology “pathology,” as Tanden put it to Podesta, fretting about Hillary’s inability to offer a sincere apology for putting classified information at risk with rinky-dink servers.

They worry that her battles have made her so guarded that she can’t convey authentic emotions.

“Eventually she will sound like a human,” Tanden said.

Her staff tried to script spontaneity. Tanden suggested having a party where Hillary could “let loose” to music and have a beer and maybe it would go viral.

And even Chelsea was concerned about the foundation’s ethical morass.

The problem with Donald Trump is: We don’t know which of the characters he has created he would bring to the Oval Office.

The trouble with Hillary Clinton is: We do know. Nobody gets less paranoid in the White House.

Michael  Gove is one of two Tory politicians who has  demonstrated that being a commentator is a whole lot easier than putting your money where your mouth is as a minister.  Back on the road for the Times, Gove the intellectual doesn’t go so far as actually to support Trump. But he envies the brazen appeal of the Strong Man, a characteristic which when he tried to find it in  himself  at the last minute, went badly wrong.  His piece reveals as much about Gove than about Trump. Michael has yet to fully discover who he is.  What is worrying is that this is in the pathology that won the Brexit referendum. And just might win the White House.

….What he had to do was much more visceral than intellectual. He had to deliver a series of appeals to the gut of his audience and blows to the solar plexus of his opponent.

Indeed there was something raw, physical and impetuously pugnacious about his whole pitch from the start….

It is hard to imagine a British politician endearing himself to the crowd by speculating on whether he should have warmed up for his speech by going mano a mano with a Marine commando. But it is precisely the sort of “let me at ’em” stance you’d expect from Vladimir Putin or, a century ago, Teddy Roosevelt.

That is at the heart of the Trump appeal. Even though he is a paunchy 69-year-old he exudes vigour and communicates a sense of determination to get things done, brutally but effectively.

What matters more than obsessing over details is being clear that you will not be bound by squeamish political correctness. So, “Hillary Clinton can’t say the words Radical Islamic Terror. Anyone who can’t name the enemy can’t lead the country.”

Nobody could say that Mr Trump was a gifted orator or a gilded phrase-maker. He doesn’t use language to soothe, move to pity, extend empathy or invite reflection. But he is, in a very special way, the pretty great messenger he says he is. He takes big crude blocks of anger, passion, resentment, anguish and yes, from time to time, hope and optimism and hurls them, on behalf of his audience, at the enemies they share.

Mr Trump may have his own set of, equally distinctive, character flaws. They certainly include a certain recklessness in making claims about himself and others that do not always stand up to scrutiny.

But there is a reason he is considered more honest than Mrs Clinton by more voters. They believe that he is candid about what has gone wrong with America’s economy, its foreign policy, trade agreements and political leadership in a way no one else with power and wealth appears to be. They are tired of the carefully crafted and evasive political language that passes for deft communication skills in Washington. And they want the hot and strong blow torch rhetoric of a man who wears Washington’s scorn as a badge of honour.

All feel profoundly unhappy with the condition of their nation. They have flocked to the man, symbols and stances that advertise how angry they are. They are unhappy with a president who they feel has been apologetic about America and hostile to its traditions. They feel unhappy that the Democrats have chosen a candidate for the presidency on the basis of her wealth, connections, husband and sense of entitlement rather than picking a fighter for America. They feel unhappy that just when America needs an injection of confidence and vigour, that it may get another eight years of scandals, cover-ups, investigations and evasions, drift and introspection.

So they are prepared to take the momentous step of backing the first person who might be elected president without either having held high elected office or won a war. It is one thing to kick the establishment, quite another to take a gamble of such epic proportions. But that is what America might very well do.





Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

  • Kevin Breslin

    In my opinion Trump as US President would never be as bad for the US as Brexit is threatening to be for the UK, he doesn’t come across with the same level of entitlement.

  • Zorin001

    I had a ten pound free bet from an online bookmakers, I’ve lumped it all on Trump to win at 10/3. First time i’ve ever wanted to lose a bet.

    If worst comes to worst I can at least afford a decent bottle of Scotch to console myself with.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Kevin, if you listen to John Finnemore’s excellent sound-essay on Trump at the opening of this recent episode of “The Unbelievable Truth” you will quickly find how very right you are:

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I’m forceably reminded of that old Anarchist slogan painted all over north London walls during an aerly 1960s general election:

    “Don’t vote, it’s a ‘Double X'”:

  • Zorin001

    Even when Clinton beats Trump (which i’m 90% sure she will) the underlying economic mess which has devastated working class America will continue and become more severe as the once safe “middle income” jobs start to disappear due to increased Automation. For example, if driverless vehicles are successfully introduced then the haulage industry will be totally transformed, that’s 10s of thousands of lower middle income workers out of a job.

    I’ve yet to hear one major political Western figure address this issue beyond mere platitudes, Trump himself says he will bring the jobs back to the US but exactly how is he going to manage that when neo-Liberalism and Free Market Capitalism is so firmly entrenched into the Global economic structure?

    And lest I be accused of being a rampant Lefty who dislikes Trump on principle (though thats true) the Left have been absolutely dire in addressing the issues above and also allowing the alt-Right to take control of the political narrative.We on the Left have been complacent and slow to react to the new economic structures being created through the internet and automation, that has to end and end quickly before the Right do serious damage to the social and economic fabric in the West (I fear its already to late for the UK).

    The political establishment (both Left and Right) need to be honest with the Electorate and with themselves that the world has changed utterly in the past 25 years, socially, economically and politically. If they don’t come to grips with that and offer real solutions to the issues facing us today then it will be men like Trump (or worse) who fill the void with the bile spewing Populism.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Much more than echoes of Brexit Brian. The US election is a much bigger battle against globalists than the UK’s fight to be free of their control within the EU. The globalists are the elite than control western politicians, international corporations, and the MSM. The difference this year is that there is a big enough wave of the population that gets their information outside the MSM and has learned the truth. The people want to be free of this control and are rejecting the politicians that are their puppets, such as David Cameron. We saw the elite trying to sway the thoughts of the UK man in the street with crazy fear propaganda in the MSM. It didn’t work, so they went full retard with the propaganda. It got so stupid that people could see the lies a mile away. WW3 from Dave was the best.
    Now the MSM in the US has been even more obviously biased in propaganda for Hillary. She is the last globalist controlled puppet in the US race. On the Republican side, Jeb couped early on. The Clinton News Network, (CNN) is constantly exposed on independent media for their lies. The US MSM already has a 6% approval rating, that means that the US public already know that what the talking heads say on TV news is a lie. There has been a complete news black out on the MSM on the corruption exposed by WikiLeaks publishing Podesta emails. Only because of the large size of social media and independent media on the internet, has the MSM been forced to report on the WikiLeaks scandals at all. Hillary and many of the Democrats are going to jail soon, all being well.
    The main independent news site covering the US election is Infowars. You can watch their 52 hour election news program here

    There is massive voter fraud going on by the Democrats at the polling stations. It is also expected that the voter machines will be hacked using ‘fractional magic’ technique. But if this can be overcome by sheer numbers voting for Trump, then hopefully we will have a pretty big landslide Trump win tomorrow 🙂

  • Zorin001

    “so they went full retard with the propaganda”

    If you want anyone to take you seriously you can cut out that kind of language for a start!

  • Sir Rantsalot

    “as the once safe “middle income” jobs start to disappear”

    These jobs have already disappeared. That is the main issue for the ordinary working class in the US.

    There are a few scary graphics to show the real wealth distribution. There is a good one that uses a line of 100 people to show the imagined and real wealth distribution, unfortunately I cant find it. But here is one representing what people think vs the reality.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Its a line from a comedy movie “Tropic Thunder”.

  • Zorin001

    I know, i’ve seen it but context is everything. We’ve had a poster going off on one here recently calling people who disagree with him “Libtards” so forgive me if i’m a little tetchy when it comes to language such as this.

  • Anglo-Irish

    Michael Gove is the type of individual I detest, he is referred to in political terms as a ‘Hawk’ and yet self evidently couldn’t fight his way out of a wet paper bag.

    He admires ‘macho’ in other men and is quite prepared to allow them to make sacrifices whilst he cheers them on from a safe distance.

    Apparently he’s not such a good judge of character either, Trump isn’t a macho hard man, he’s a draft dodging blatherer who talks tough but would run a mile in any actual personal confrontation.

    The American system of democracy with its concentration on personality politics has been brought into disrepute by this election and I would imagine many Americans are mortified by the whole affair.

    The echos of Brexit are clear, people are sick and tired of the continuing corrupt self serving brand of politics that we have had to endure for generations.

    Who can blame them? We all want change, the problem is that change for changes sake with no guarantee of improvement doesn’t get us anywhere, and may well result in us being even worse off.

    The ideal situation in my view would have been a narrow victory for Remain with such a tight margin that politicians got the message about change being required.

    Similarly in the US a narrow victory for Hillary hopefully would result in some reflection.

    Problem being Brexit has happened with no assurance of improvement, and if Trump is elected then we have instability installed in the Oval Office which can’t be good from anyone’s point of view, except perhaps Vladimir Putin’s.

  • Zorin001

    And this is why its critical that the political establishment work out a way to combat wealth imbalance by reforming the system (both politically and economically) that has lead to the situation we find ourselves in.

    Because there will come a time when the have-nots decide that if the haves won’t share willingly then they will take it by force.

  • lizmcneill

    Voter frud? You mean like the NC Republican party cheerfully admitting that they deliberately made it harder for black voters to vote?

  • lizmcneill

    You think he doesn’t come across with a sense of entitlement? He comes across to me like an adult toddler.

  • lizmcneill

    Citizen’s income time?

  • Zorin001

    I think that its an idea which should be looked at seriously, however getting an objective review of it will prove challenging. I’m well aware that it will get an absolute pasting from those in the press and those on the Right who simply see it as financing the feckless

  • austin mcclafferty

    The election is nothng more than a sideshow. A president is elected to be honed and shaped into a pubic relations lecky of the very exclusive few interests. World bank, IMF, the Federal reserve, alarm bells are sounding this time round. A course has been set for confrontation during the term of this presidency. Russia is to be challenged in Syria and on its own borders.

  • Brian Walker

    ransta, you’ve got a good nom de plume there.

  • Kevin Breslin

    He’s just one man though.

  • hgreen

    If anyone was in doubt about the benefits of publicly funding political parties here in the UK they just have to look at this clusterf*ck of an election in the US to see where we are headed if we don’t sort political funding out.

  • hgreen

    Ha ha. And who is leading this rebellion against the elites? Trump, who couldn’t be more elite if he tried.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    The Republican party has their own corrupt people too. But their puppets got knocked out.The party has spent 0 on Ads for Trump apparently. Its his own money being spent. The big thing about this election is that for the first time in decades a non puppet is running for President. That’s why all the establishment is against him and 10s of thousands of people are turning up to support him at rallies.

  • hgreen

    You must be expecting brexit to be very very bad then.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Thanks 🙂

  • Kevin Breslin

    Nah, I’m saying that I’ve just observed Brexit seems to be coming with a fair degree of buyer’s remorse, considering they weren’t exactly sure what they were buying it with.

    Did people still believe that India was Britain’s, what’s that word again the Tories like to use, oh yeah supplicant?

    British free movement rights for example, access to European science bodies, convoluted technology controls they’ve no clue how to implement. It’s quite remarkable actually.

  • John Collins

    I for one do not share your conviction that the Donald is not an insider.
    After all Hilary was a guest at his wedding.

  • Slater

    The BBC don’t even pretend to be unbiased. They are rooting for Hillary big time and in a classic neo-colonial fashion.

  • eireanne3

    here’s a little info and arguments pro and con a universal income, which is being trialled as we speak in Europe

  • Sir Rantsalot

    No surprise there!

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Even MSM news in US now reporting examples of rigged voting machines flipping votes from Trump to Clinton.

  • lizmcneill

    They’re still suppressing the vote on his behalf.

  • hgreen

    Imagine not supporting a man who boasts about assaulting women. I’m tearing up my tv license.

  • Brian Walker

    An intemperate judgment on a former justice secretary who has just supported the judges where other Tories have either attacked them or uttered weasel words. Detestation is so much simpler than acknowledging complex fairness isn’t it?

  • Anglo-Irish

    Nothing whatsoever intemperate about it.

    My actual assessment of Michael Gove would in fact be rather more harsh.

    A man who can betray another man who was supposed to be his friend without having the guts to do so eye to eye deserves nothing but contempt, and anyone who doesn’t understand that deserves to have their opinion disregarded.

    As for complexity, there is little complexity involved in naked ambition and nothing but amusement to be gained from a complete and utter balls up when failing to turn out to be the Machiavellian character that you ( or possibly your wife ) thought you were.

    Turning out to be more Catsmeat Potter Pirbright than Francis Urquhart must have been a salutary lesson for Mr Gove.

  • Hugh Davison

    ‘Complex fairness’? I’m mystified. Please enlighten me.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Excellent result. As with the UK, the people have overcome globalist control.