Monday, 7 November 2016

Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? The Independent view on who should win

A campaign that has exposed many flaws presents only one competent candidate       Editorial

After 30 years, The Independent has reached the point in its existence when as many readers are in the United States as the United Kingdom, thanks to the expansion of our online readership. Moreover, the election on Tuesday is arguably the most important in America’s history, with the choice on offer to the US electorate staggeringly stark. Its outcome will also have ramifications for the rest of the world.

We accept that for many it is hard to be enthusiastic about either
Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. It is a sign of the dysfunction of America’s political system that a process which has dragged on for 18 months has thrown up the two least trusted and unpopular candidates in the country’s recent history. Were they running against almost any other opponent from the other party, both would be near-certain losers.

What has unfolded in the US since Mr Trump declared his candidacy in June 2015 has much in common with the wave of populism sweeping the rest of the West, fuelled by fear and resentment of immigration, globalisation and supranational institutions in general, and stoked by anger at apparently out-of-touch and self-perpetuating domestic elites who failed to prevent the financial and economic crash of 2008, the aftershocks of which still reverberate. These forces contributed heavily to the Brexit vote. They are driving nationalist parties in France and other European countries. In America, the beneficiary is Mr Trump.

But Mr Trump is a man of breathtaking ignorance, vanity and shallowness. He exhibits alarming racist and xenophobic beliefs. He has mocked and threatened Mexicans and Muslims. He has a staggering disregard for the truth. His contempt for women is a disgrace. He has dragged political discourse down to levels until now unimaginable in an American presidential election, to the point of urging his opponent be sent to jail.

Breaking earlier assurances, he refuses to release his tax returns, unlike every White House candidate since Richard Nixon. His admiration for autocrats and tyrants is sinister, to put it mildly. His casualness about nuclear weapons is frightening. His concept of foreign policy, insofar as he has one, is purely transactional: what’s in it for the US? If that means the end of the Nato alliance, too bad. Such attitudes set the worst possible example to a world that still looks to America for leadership. Mr Trump, in short, is utterly unfit for the most powerful office on earth.

Ms Clinton sits atop the most powerful machine in Democratic politics, probably in all US politics. But she is secretive to a fault, sealed away behind a praetorian guard of longtime advisers, and inclined – as Clintons are – to assume there is one rule for them and another for everyone else. Such a mindset helps explain the fiasco of the private email server she used while Secretary of State. One may criticise the FBI for reopening the matter days before the election, but her problem is entirely self-inflicted.

Campaigning, however, is not governing. If her record as Senator and Secretary of State is any indicator, she has the makings of an extremely competent president. It is hard to imagine a better-qualified candidate for the job (a job, admittedly, for which there is ultimately no adequate preparation).

As her debate performances showed, she is a master of the issues. In foreign policy she might be more assertive than Barack Obama, especially towards Russia and China – no bad thing, many would argue. But she is an internationalist who would maintain and foster the West’s key alliances, and work constructively on the great questions of the day, from the Middle East to human rights and global warming.

At home, she is well aware of the country’s needs, alive to the left-wing populism that made Bernie Sanders so dogged a primary opponent. Her instincts might make her defer to Wall Street, but her political nous will tell her otherwise. In a Clinton administration, Obamacare, the most significant healthcare advance since Medicare/Medicaid in the 1960s, would be preserved and improved. Mr Trump, by contrast, has vowed to rip Obamacare apart.

Most important, as she proved in the US Senate, Ms Clinton is a pragmatist who is able to work across the aisle. Nowhere are such qualities needed as in polarised and hyper-partisan Washington. It would be a tragedy if Americans failed to make her the 45th President. [Abrisdged]

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