Watching the U.S. election coverage makes a believer in democracy wring his hands and run for the shower while wondering how the great experiment in governance by the people for the people has gone so far off the rails.
Nightly immersion in the media cesspool is like wallowing in a fetid mental mud hole. It’s like being addicted to reruns of Mob Wives or Keeping Up with the Kardashians or consuming a steady TV diet of My 600 Pound Life. Hour after hour. Night after night. It leaves a grimy coating on the brain.
It wasn’t always so.
In 1868, the Republicans dumped the incumbent Andrew Johnson, who took over when Abraham Lincoln was rewarded with a bullet for leading the nation through its bloody internal upheaval. The Grand Old Party drafted the man hailed as the saviour of the Union in his place, Civil War hero General Ulysses S. Grant.
A brilliant military tactician who drove Union armies in relentless pursuit of the rebel forces tearing the country asunder, the chain cigar-smoking General was a humble man who before the war had once been reduced to selling firewood on street corners to feed his family.
He accepted the GOP’s invitation to head the 1868 ticket on the condition that he would not campaign. Grant viewed electioneering as unseemly. A man of few carefully chosen words, he disdained political speech-making, preferring to let the Republican campaign theme—Let Us Have Peace–spread his view across the war-weary land.
Grant had seen firsthand what happens when a divided country stops buying into majority rules, with a generation of America’s sons buried in makeshift graves and lame and maimed survivors returned home forever altered by the horror of what they experienced.
He governed so well during the crucial Reconstruction Era, championing the rights of the newly freed black population while soothing the embittered South, that he was elected for a second term, even after infuriating Republican insiders by rejecting party politics in making independent cabinet appointments. He respectively declined Republican calls to run for a then-allowable third term.
Fast forward 140 years to the digital media age. What the hell happened?
Hillary Clinton’s campaign recently announced an outstanding fundraising month in September—$150 million, most of which will be spent on TV ads trashing her opponent in the month remaining. She says she needs it because the Donald is threatening to throw $50 million of his own ‘tax-free-smart-money’ into his election pot to piss on his opponent.
The media loves it. And why not? The 2016 election makes Real Housewives of New Jersey look like Leave it to Beaver. It’s the biggest grossing (no pun intended) reality TV show in history and the 24-hour news networks get all their content free.
On the one side, we have historic Hillary the hypocrite, an advocate for all women except the ones who accuse her husband of coercion and sexual assault. That class of woman—lowly ‘cabaret singer’ Jennifer Flowers, whose ‘love’ for the married governor got her life scrutinized by private detectives looking for dirt; Arkansas government worker Paula Jones, who Bill paid $850,000 without admitting guilt; and the naïve campaign worker willing to donate her time but not her body to hubby’s election campaigns—are not Hillary’s kind.
Not to mention Monica Lewinsky, the White House intern a few years older than her precious daughter, whose life she was willing to ruin until DNA evidence proved what she already knew—that Bill was a serial philanderer, a sex pervert and a shameless liar.
After all, the Left’s political power couple had already faced down a special prosecutor while brazening their way through the Whitewater financial scandal that resulted in jail terms for friends and business partners Jim and Susan McDougal.
Then there was the time in the late 70s when Hillary, then First Lady of Arkansas, who had no history or expertise on the stock market, turned a $1,000 investment into $100,000 trading cattle futures over a 10-month period, ostensibly with the guidance of the chief counsel to Tyson Foods, the state’s largest employer. At the time, the cash-strapped Clinton’s combined annual income was $58,000. When later revealed, the eye-popping windfall raised eyebrows but no government investigation.
As it turns out, the stock market profiteering was chump change compared to the hundreds of thousands of dollars she got for a single speech to the Wall Street bankers she’s vowed to reign in when she becomes President. You’d think a speech that got parsimonious bankers to dig so deep would be something to be proud of but Hillary refused to release a transcript despite repeated requests from her Democratic nomination rival Bernie Sanders.
Meanwhile, her 2016 podium partner Bill has been staying busy post-Presidency. While Hillary was Secretary of State, he managed a photo-op with Vladimir Putin after getting $500,000 to broker a deal to help the Russians corner the uranium market, the same Putin U.S. officials labeled a thug and a kleptomaniac. The beneficiary of that deal later donated millions to the Clinton Foundation.
But Putin seems like a good guy compared to another of Bill’s running buddies, billionaire and registered sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who lawyered a sweetheart deal and served 13 months for soliciting a 14-year-old prostitute. Bill cut ties with Jeffrey before he had his day in court but not before earning frequent flyer points on Epstein’s private jet, dubbed the Lolita Express, which reportedly had a large bed aboard for the passengers’ in-flight entertainment. Not to worry Hillary, Bill says he did not have sex with those underage women.
And these are the good guys on this reality show.
Hillary’s nemesis, Donald “if-his-lips-are-moving-he’s-lying” Trump, is the reality show’s villain and star attraction, an aging evil clown with pursed pussy lips. Manhattan’s answer to what happens when you give a vulgar misogynist with low intelligence and a short attention span too much inherited money.
Think WWF showboat Gorgeous George in a suit and an extra-long tie to camouflage his reputed shortcomings, an orange-tinted, overweight blowhard with a ferret on his head travelling the country with a greasy, obsequious entourage. And that’s just the grown kids.
Complete the story-line with a trophy wife who glides at his side with the fake self-awareness learned on fashion catwalks, a high maintenance model closer in age to his older sons, who in a not so subtle effort to differentiate themselves from the alpha male in the family, wear custom corporate suits with shorter ties and slick their hair back like the bad guys on Miami Vice. That the wife at least once overcame her physical revulsion to the aged patriarch is borne out by the Donald’s youngest son, appropriately named Baron.
Completing the familial package are two daughters, the oldest of which is whip smart and attractive enough to be a Playboy model, and as her father creepily points out, somebody he might have dated if she wasn’t his daughter.
Her prominent position in the family business is often cited as an example of the Donald’s respect for women, though it is more likely her intelligence so overshadows the dullness of the slicked-back sons that the businessman in the Donald won out over his misogyny, at least when it comes to family.
The younger daughter, born out of wedlock in the wake of a well-publicized affair with future trophy wife number two, makes grudging appearances on the show when she can tear herself away from the New York party scene.
Trumps seeming strategy is to tell so many lies, insult so many people and issue so many over the top proclamations that detractors will be overwhelmed by the material at hand. The short list includes:
*Responding to the numerous corporate bankruptcies that left hundreds of small businesses and tradesmen who did work for Trump companies footing the bill, the Donald boasted that it was good business and that he was smart enough to get out on time
*He launched his campaign at America’s bigots by singling out illegal immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries, most of whom work hard at low-paying jobs Americans won’t do, some of them for Trump companies, calling them drug dealers, criminals and rapists.
*He has vowed to kick out 11 million men, women and children (the Syrian refugee crisis pales in comparison) and proclaimed when he becomes king he’ll build a high wall thousands of miles long to keep out the riffraff and make Mexican taxpayers pay for it. No word on if he’ll use his self-proclaimed negotiating skills to make the Mexican government ban ladders south of the border.
*Trump tried to make political hay with his bushel of deplorable followers in the aftermath of a mass shooting in a gay nightclub by calling for a ban on Muslims entering the country, ignoring the fact that such an edict is unconstitutional and against the principles of a nation founded on the concept of religious freedom. His take on the Orlando tragedy curried favour with the powerful National Rifle Association. ‘Things would have been different if club-goers were wearing ankle holsters’, he said.
*The man who wants to lead the nation and by de facto become a role model for its children, told the largest Presidential Debate audience in history, 80-odd million citizens who pay the country’s bills, that not paying taxes is smart, leaving those who pay their share to ponder whether they are patriotic or plain stupid.
*Trump University, an ‘educational establishment’ you might expect to find advertised on the back cover of comic books or on late night TV infomercials, is being sued in a class action law suit by thousands of disgruntled students who allege they were charged exorbitant fees for information they could have got for free online. After unfavourable rulings in civil court Trump claimed the American-born judge hearing the case is biased because of his Mexican heritage.
*Responding to accusations of misogyny Trump bizarrely brought comedian Rosie O’Donnell into the Presidential Debate, claiming he was justified in calling her a fat slob because nobody likes her. When his treatment of a former Miss Universe winner was brought up, a woman he once called ‘an eating machine’, the man who aspires to the world’s most powerful job stayed up late tweeting insults about her, calling her disgusting and falsely claiming she appeared in a sex tape.
In the ensuing furor, he called upon his unsavory lickspittles to shine up his image. Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, an unrepentant serial philanderer who turned the tragedy of 9/11 into a lucrative speaking career, pivoted with a finger pointed at Bill Clinton’s infidelities. When asked about his own marital indiscretions, he admitted that adultery is no big deal because everybody does it.
Meanwhile, Republican ‘family values’ stalwart Newt Gingrich, whose litany of extramarital affairs and profligate spending on mistresses are well-documented, took to the hustings to mock the former Miss Universe’s weight gain. “It was a beauty pageant,” said portly Newt.
Not surprisingly, this tacky twosome has six marriages between them.
With disdain for the women voters the candidate is wooing, the Trump campaign brought on as a consultant disgraced Fox News boss Roger Ailes, who resigned his job earlier in the year in the wake of multiple accusations of sexual harassment that resulted in the network paying $20 million to one complainant.
Did I already say you can’t make this stuff up?
Political analysts point at maps with blue and red states while pontificating on the percentages of various voting blocs the candidates need to win. They tells us without irony that the ‘United’ States is divided into black voters, Hispanic voters, other less important people of colour, college educated white women, college educated white men, blue collar white voters, millennials and baby boomers, the Christian Right (as opposed to the Christian Left?), Muslims, citizens who live in Rust Belt states, seniors in rust-free southern retirement states, the military and so on.
With polls showing record disapproval ratings for both candidates, the Presidential hopefuls are focusing their personal energies and insults in the handful of battleground states that will decide which of these unpopular choices will win the election by default, tailoring their messages according to the latest polls.
If the Donald needs to shore up his weak showing with blacks, a visit to a black Detroit church is sandwiched into his schedule. When Hillary’s numbers with young voters need buttressing, the campaign trots out Bernie and slots in a college campus. That pandering to polls is an obvious insult to voter intelligence seems not to factor in.
While the candidates fly hither and thither, there is no shortage of sycophantic surrogates eager to mouth up to network microphones to further insult voters’ intelligence by telling them that black is white, or white is black, depending on which way the political poll wind is blowing on any given day.
Even without notes from their respective doctors (one of whom, in keeping with the over-the-top script, is a hen-pecked Park Avenue gastro with a suspicious penchant for Donald-like hyperbolic diagnostics), the months spent fighting this dirty uncivil war leave no doubt about the stamina of either of these trust-challenged senior citizens. The real question is: Will they have anything left for the job of commander-in-chief?
With a month still to go, this well-showered, disillusioned, self-admitted reality TV political junkie, looks longingly to November 9.
In the words of General Grant—Let Us Have Peace.