It is not hunky dory for a beleaguered Hillary Clinton, but Donald Trump seems too happy to run amok, writes Amit Sengupta from Boston, Massachusetts.
With just about few weeks to go for the American presidential elections, both the Democrat and Republican candidates seem to be running up against a thorny wall, shifting positions and changing goal-posts, fudging on facts and objectivity, rewriting their main and sub-texts in terms of public articulations, testing ground time and again with new pot-shots and pointed fingers, and, by and large, generally walking a tight-rope walk in the shifting sands of public domain and popular perception. Observers say that this might be a particularly low turnout presidential poll with large number of cynical voters from either side of the fence disillusioned with their candidates. Indeed, even while the edge at one time seemed in favour of Hillary Clinton, there has been decisive shifts in support of Donald Trump, including in the fragmented ‘swing states’ – something unprecedented in real time and space a few weeks ago. A recent CNN poll even predicted a upward swing in support of the Right-wing real estate tycoon who has been swinging from hardline to softline, wabbling loose verbosity in between, confusing the voter, while going after Clinton.
However, the dilemma of the Clinton camp has been manifold – most notably the disillusionment of the huge base of Bernie Sanders supporters, especially, surprisingly, a massive support base of the young, which seems typically cynical about Clinton and the several shades of grey in terms of her political credentials and past, and what is openly termed as a ‘shady’ history as the Secretary of State, especially in terms of positions in the middle-east.
That she is known to be a favourite of the Wall Street hawks has not added to her charisma among the young and progressives who earlier chose to support Sanders.
So much so, at least in Massachusetts, where the Democrats are presumed to have won the battle already, a section of academics and ‘Left-Liberals’ might vote for the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, whose support base in the margins has been rising steadily since Sanders quit the race. Come to think of it, these voters might hate the “white nationalist racist supremacist” rhetoric of Trump, who is also branded as an “opportunist” in terms of his shifting positions, but they still just can’t convince their conscience to vote for Hillary Clinton, with her chequered track record, the millions apparently stacked in her electoral treasure chest, and her reluctant and half-hearted acceptance of the original and radical Sanders agenda. A large part of this ecologically sensitive and socially progressive vote base are the inheritors of the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protests, as much as those participated in the anti-war campaigns during George Bush and later.
Besides, the investigations and allegations on her e-mail controversy, and the Clinton Foundation, has kind of stuck to her campaign trial despite the best efforts of her think-tank to shake it off.
It is like Trump saying that he did not support the invasion of Iraq – did he or did he not? No one, indeed, believes one word of Trump.
Among much speculation and digging of facts by various portals and news-media outfits over the claims and counter-claims on Trump’s moral high-point on the invasion of Iraq, BuzzFeed’s take went viral, as much as became a moment of contentious debate on TV channels. Buzzfeed reported that Trump kind of reflected or indicated that he backed the war in a radio interview with Howard Stern on September 11, 2002 just about six months before the beginning of the ‘war’ – also called ‘occupation’ by those who believed the entire WMD propaganda mixed with embedded journalism a big hoax. Oil for blood or vice versa was the basic neo-con campaign, they argued, with big multinational oil companies in the US being the sole beneficiary, apart from the lucrative “war industry” which made profits from the massive ravages of war which continues till this day. They argue now that Obama’s foreign policy in the middle east-has basically failed, especially in Syria. Trump has meanwhile pushed the agenda that the “war booty” meaning oil should have been completely usurped by the Americans — that why was it not done etc? However, in the radio interview, Stern asked Trump in what is perceived as a direct query — that did he support going to war with Iraq. Trump reluctantly replied, “Yeah, I guess so.”
Now, with Trump shifting goalposts on several questions on which he seemed ruthlessly adamant some days ago, and while completely fudging on policy, especially foreign policy and the military question, there are ironical calls by some commentators that the goalposts of ‘reporting’ Trump also should be changed.
There is a rather comical media ethics twist being suggested that after what is a straight news report of Trump’s rallies, interviews or statements, there should be a ‘Fact-Check’ posted about the greys, the black and whites, and the “outright lies” he is alleged to be dishing out nonchalantly.
Indeed, despite Clinton’s prevarications, half-statements and dilly-dallying on issues, including on the military question on the ground in the Middle East, no one has really suggested that the reportage of her rallies or statements should be followed up by a fact-check. Presumably, there is a virtual war machine now being set-up to work on the shifting sands on which Trump is walking.Trump’s open declaration of love for Vladimir Putin, and his rather blunt statement that Putin seems to be a better leader than Barack Obama, has been looked upon as “treason” by some of the Clinton supporters. In India this would sound like “sedition” for certain “nationalists” and trolls of the ruling regime. Considering that Putin took George Bush for a jolly good ride, and has not exactly spread a carpet of red roses for Obama, has not really shaken off the awe and admiration that Trump has bestowed upon the Russian strongman and former Intelligence operative who is being posited as a glorified symbol of an Iron Man Tzar and Conquerer: Putin the Great, as Peter the Great.
“I think under the leadership of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton the generals have been reduced to rubble. They have been reduced to a point that’s embarrassing for our country,” Trump said at NBC’s ‘Commander-in-Chief‘ forum in New York attended by military veterans.
On her private e-mail controversy related to her handling of classified information, Clinton was pushed to the brink. She, however, remained defiant: “I did exactly what I should have done and I take it very seriously, always have, always will,” she said. Her campaign spin-doctors have dismissed the allegations as “smoke without fire”, including allegations on the Clinton Foundation, arguing there are “tax issues” with Trump and that will be a sore point with the American public.,
On Putin, however, Trump has been categorical: “If he says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him… Certainly in that system, he’s been a leader, far more than our president has been.”
The mainline argument here that Obama heads a functioning democracy, or that Putin’s Russia is not really a ‘democracy’ and that he borders on having an uncanny resemblance to the stereotyped version of a ‘dictator’ has not dampened Trump’s spirits. That Russia and the USA have different political systems, has been rubbed in by his opponents – but Trump simply does not care when it comes to Putin.
“When he calls me brilliant, I’ll take the compliment, OK?” Trump has reportedly claimed. The irony is that no one is particularly certain if Putin has called him ‘brilliant’ at all.Indeed, in this season of ironies, Trump really pushed the theatre of the absurd to its limits by visiting Mexico, after what Clinton supporters condemned as branding Mexican immigrants as “rapists, drug-dealers and criminals” and threatening to erect a wall to stop immigrants.
There has been much dilly-dallying on Trump’s extreme position on immigrants too lately, with no clarity in sight, as has been his similar extreme positions on Afro-American issues and the campaign ‘Black Lives Matter’.
Not only was the Mexican president slammed by all concerned in his country for giving presidential treatment to Trump, the top media outfit in Mexico ran a survey immediately after which discovered and declared that 85 per cent of Mexicans whole-heartedly hate Trump.
Indeed, his comments, condemned as sexist by commentators and media analysts, related to female combat troopers, has been raking a controversy. His rather muscle-flexing statement appealing to the lowest common denominator that he will call his generals if he becomes president and tell them to give a 30 days plan to defeat the ISIS, period, has been taken with a big pinch of salt. “We are going to convey my top generals and give them a simple instruction,” Trump declared in a rally in Greenville, North Carolina, recently. “They will have 30 days to submit to the Oval Office a plan for soundly and quickly defeating ISIS. We have no choice.”
Former army generals and analysts argue that it again proves his complete lack of foreign policy knowledge, military tactics and basic nuances of hard diplomacy. They have argued that ISIS is not going to go away in 30 days, and needs a long-drawn and protracted military strategy, including foreign policy paradigm shifts.
Surely, pushing an agenda of 30 days or calling them to be in a state of ‘rubble’ has not helped the morale of the military top brass, argue analysts.
On top of it, his “misogynistic” remarks have been widely criticised. His earlier 2013 tweet, which has been confirmed by NBC News as a “correct tweet”, and which is termed as a reiteration of his basic belief system by his critics, was widely slammed as an affront to female soldiers in combat positions. His tweet said: “26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military – only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together?”
In a scathing article, which he defended on television, columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote in The New York Times on September 8, 2016:
“Whether in his youth, in his business career or in his personal life, Trump’s story is that of a shallow egoist who uses those around him…
“Even as a child, he personified privilege and entitlement. In business, he proved a genius at marketing himself but grew his fortune more slowly than if he had put his wealth in a stock index fund. He made a mess of his personal life and has been repeatedly accused of racism, of cheating people, of lying, of stiffing charities…
“His life is a vacuum of principle, and he never seems to have stood up for anything larger than himself…
“Over seven decades, there’s one continuous theme to his life story: This is a narcissist who has no core. The lights are on, but no one’s home.”
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