Tag Archives: clinton

Buckeye bellwether

Cleveland, Ohio

The Chicago Cubs might have narrowly beaten the Cleveland Indians to clinch the World Series last night, but it will not take Ohioans long to become distracted from the pain.

For as long as the Cubs have dwindled towards the bottom of the Major League Baseball ladder, Ohio has been what is known in as a “bellwether state” – home to voters that know which way the wind is blowing when it comes to presidential politics.

Like the Australian seat of Eden-Monaro in southwest NSW, Ohio has an uncanny knack of accurately predicting who the next US president will be. Indeed, in 25 of the 27 elections that have been held since 1904, the candidate that won Ohio also won the presidency.

Given there are only a few swing states in the country– with the vast majority being either safely blue or red – and that there is plenty of superstition surrounding Ohio ballots, both campaigns have been frequent visitors to the ‘buckeye state’ of late.

Earlier this week, I joined a couple hundred Clevelanders and fifty or so roving reporters to welcome the former Secretary of State to town. No stranger to the stump, Mrs Clinton gave a polished speech that took more than a few cues from Bernie Sanders’ campaign, focusing on her student loan debt reduction plan and the shortcomings of her opponent.

But while her supporters probably left buoyed – even inspired – by the up close and personal event, there is no doubt their enthusiasm paled in comparison with that of a different political crowd gathering across town.

About a mile out from the iX Center – Cleveland’s largest convention centre – the Republican nominee’s unmistakable head became visible, glaring down from a giant neon billboard alongside the five letters of his global brand: TRUMP.

Having been knocked back for a media pass (itself a telling difference between the two campaigns), I donned a ‘Make America Great Again’ cap and cautiously joined the 5,000-strong throng, paranoid I would be exposed as a pernicious, foreign journalist at any moment and ripped limb from limb.

I stood silently towards the back, fighting the urge to take notes and hoping no one would be offended by my lack of raucous cheering. The crowd whipped itself into a frenzy as the billionaire’s thick Queens accent began to boom from the stage, vigorously waving signs with slogans like “Women for Trump”, “Hillary for Prison” and “Deplorable Lives Matter” – a response to Clinton’s derogatory characterisation of Trump fans.

Partly the disparity in size and style between the two events has to do with the mundane fact that Trump’s event was primetime, Hillary’s in the afternoon.

Trump’s obvious showmanship is also a factor. I wasn’t the only one refraining from hooting and hollering, with a few other attendees likely more interested in glimpsing the candidate than voting for him (assuming they weren’t similarly cast asunder members of the press).

However, it can’t be denied it may also be a sign that Ohio is leaning Trump. In fact, Real Clear Politics has him leading Clinton by 2.7 points in the crucial state, according to the average of a number of polls taken in the past week, as do most others. Even the Huffington Post‘s poll has Trump up by half a percentage point – a publication likely to be read by very few Trump fans.

Once the global headquarters of the rubber tyre industry, in more recent times headlines about Ohio have told a sad story of economic stagnation and the decline of manufacturing (alongside occasional and very welcome sporting success).

Some have suggested this post-industrial malaise, and the joblessness it entails, is at least partly responsible for the Trump phenomenon, meaning it is no surprise he has a few natural supporters here.

Trump’s pledge to “renegotiate” the trade deals he says are responsible for factory jobs relocating overseas, as well as his more general mantra to revert national life to a previous era, resonate especially with these recently down and out folks.

His lead in Ohio heading into the final days of the campaign is all the more remarkable considering the state’s popular Republican governor John Kasich thinks so little of his own party’s nominee that he essentially donkey-voted, writing in the name of 2008 nominee John McCain instead of ticking the Trump-Pence box.

If the polls stay steady and Ohio stays true to its bellwether reputation, then there is a good chance Trump will be the next president.

But as the Chicago Cubs and their fans will be very happy to remind you, history does not always repeat itself.
Image source: Wikipedia Commons.

Published on 3 November 2016

Context in Colombo

Colombo, Sri Lanka

Between 1983 and 2009, as much of Asia cast off colonial and communist shackles and began relentlessly pursuing peace and prosperity, Sri Lanka was engulfed in a civil war that claimed more than 100,000 lives.

Aside from tea and its national cricket team – the ever-determined Lions whom I think it’s fair to say most Aussies have a soft spot for, particularly when they beat India, their giant rival to the north – the island formerly known as Ceylon rarely grabs international attention.

But while it might not have dominated headlines, the decades-long conflict between the native Sinhalese population and the separatist Tamils – who emigrated from southern India during the Middle Ages (hardly recent imposters) – has left visible scars on this otherwise tropical paradise.

Its cities and townships clearly haven’t developed at pace with geographical neighbours and though the Sri Lankan people seem industrious and hard-working, few seem to be enjoying the spoils of economic growth that so many Asians have now come to know.

A disastrous tsunami and earthquake in 2004 made the already-precarious situation notably worse. I was shocked to see the state of the Galle International Stadium, one of cricket’s most storied grounds. Aside from an oddly-placed washing machine and the occasional faded advertisement, its rooms and stands were bare and crumbling, the musky stench of water damage still lingering.

Here to give a speech on the US election, a comparison between the two nations could not be avoided.

Having laid out my assessment – as I do throughout this thread – that the world’s superpower is at historic levels of division currently, some audience members could not help but be cynical.

Dr Sarath, a smiley Sinhalese economist living in Shanghai, was quick to respond.

“Yes I agree, this election is very interesting and a Trump win would have a profound effect on global financial markets,” he opened diplomatically. “But to a Sri Lankan, America doesn’t seem quite so divided.”

I was about to retort that the number of US gun murders between 1983 and 2009 would dwarf 100,000 but thought the better of it, not wanting to get into a tasteless size-up between two atrocities.

Moreover, the good doctor’s point was well made: America might have its problems, but overall its citizens are still richer, healthier and safer than most places on Earth.

It was the kind of important perspective that so often accompanies travel in the developing world.

In his autobiography, the brilliant writer and raconteur Christopher Hitchens explained that he liked to spend some time each year in a country less fortunate than his own, in order to come by these kinds of contextual epiphanies. Upon reading that – in Africa at the time mind you – I was inspired to emulate Hitch’s maxim, something I’m happy to say I’ve more or less achieved so far (thanks mainly to a worryingly laissez faire attitude towards credit card debt).

And having seen a fair bit of the third world in recent years, the one thing that seems to separate those that are flourishing from those that are yet to find their way in the post-colonial age is the strength of institutions and rule of law. Wherever politicians can get away with more, and can more readily intervene in the affairs of the people without accountability, the worse the state of its economy and lower its standards of living I have generally found.

Sadly, this has been the case for Sri Lanka. Too many of its leaders have succumbed to the divisive rhetoric that has postponed reconciliation between the Tamils and Sinhalese, whether out of genuine xenophobia or, more likely, as way of mobilising the masses. Others have stuck their fingers deep into the communal honeypot, plundering without the inconvenient fear of being brought to justice.

Even the man credited with ending the war, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, is now under suspicion of corruption and this morning I picked up the local English language rag to see that his son Namal has been arrested on charges of fraud. He will likely be let off scot-free, but even the fact that the police took action against such a VIP is promising.

Every country has its developmental issues, but the notion that rule of law transcends the power of any man (or woman) is central to its ability to grow and provide peace for its people.

That’s why so many Americans are worried about their current presidential prospects, whether it is Hillary Clinton’s lax treatment of confidential emails or Donald Trump’s shock claim that the constitution may “take a back seat” if he occupies the White House.

They would be wise to brush up on recent Sri Lankan history. Or maybe take a little trip to somewhere less fortunate.

sri lanka

Image source: Agence France Press

Published on July 18 2016

Teflon Don

Austin, Texas

John Gotti was known as ‘Teflon Don’ for his ability to evade criminal charges, but compared to Donald Trump the notorious mob boss looks more like quicksand.

Trump embodies an unprecedented political phenomenon.  The 24-hour and increasingly hysterical media cycle has made most elected officials overly cautious, condemning them to weasel words and what Orwell called “newspeak” for fear of slipping up and derailing their career.

And yet, the new rules of engagement – where a gaffe could be fatal and the outrage police are always on high alert – seemingly don’t apply to Teflon Don.

Consider a select few of the gems from this campaign:

He inferred that all Mexican immigrants are “rapists”. Regardless of your views on border security, this is vicious and unwarranted description of the grandmothers, children and upstanding citizens – not to mention rape victims – that are no doubt included among the millions of Mexico-born American residents.

He called out former presidential hopeful John McCain as a fraud, despite the Arizona senator’s distinguished record of military service including as a prisoner of war in the Hanoi Hilton (a youth starkly at odds with Trump’s own pampered and perfumed Upper East Side upbringing).

And of course, just this week his latest thoughtful contribution to public policy: a ban on all Muslim travel to the United States – originally including Muslim Americans currently abroad – despite religious freedom being a fundamental theme of the founding documents and moderate Muslims and allied Arab heads of state being absolutely crucial to defeating radical Islam. Even Israeli PM Bibi Nethanyahu, who has spent his life fighting Jihadists while Trump was renovating apartments on Park Avenue, has decried the proposal as ill-conceived.

In all of these cases, and countless more, Trump’s game plan is the same: make a headline-grabbing announcement and then water it down – a flip-flop that would see any other candidate relegated to yesterday’s news.

Compare his treatment with that of Mitt Romney, who, despite being a far more suitable candidate for president, had his shot at the White House all but sunk when he (arguably accurately) explained that 47 per cent of Americans are dependant on government handouts and pay no income tax – a far less offensive and outrageous statement than Trump’s Gestapo-esque proposal that Muslims display ID badges.

The media’s complicity in the Trump freak show is astounding. As other – more serious – candidates are forced to fly around the country making their case to anyone who will listen and fighting for scraps of precious airtime, Trump descends the escalator in his palatial skyscraper and meets his fawning (or at least encouraging) press buddies in his own lobby.

Some of the more conspiratorial conservatives suggest the media pays so much attention because they are hell-bent on a Hillary win and know Trump is damaging the Republican brand.

While this may be true of MSNBC and other Democratic mouthpieces, a more likely scenario is that they are simply enjoying the much-needed ratings, as reality TV fans tune into cable news in unprecedented numbers.

One of the most common praises of Trump is that he ‘calls a spade a spade’. His political incorrectness appeals to many liberty-loving folks, not just in the GOP base.

I’m all for freedom of speech and don’t believe offending people should be a crime, but that doesn’t mean we should celebrate crass and piggish behaviour – like mocking a physically disabled journalist with base-level humour even the most insecure 12-year old class clown wouldn’t laugh at. You can rebel against PC orthodoxy without being an arsehole.

The other often-heard piece of admiration is that he is a “businessman and not a politician”. But this narrative is also problematic. Stacked up against other contenders, Trump hardly epitomises the American dream.

Carly Fiorina rose from secretary to CEO and beat cancer along the way.

Ben Carson was raised in the ghettos of Detroit, broke and fatherless, and became one of the world’s foremost neurosurgeons.

Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich all grew up in immigrant households and sought public office despite their foreign names in order to give back to the nation that has offered their families so much.

All of these stories are more emblematic of the American ethic – and the Republican message of social mobility through incentive and ingenuity – than Trump’s own life in an elitist Manhattan bubble, the son of a minted property developer who left him millions.

In some ways Trump is more representative of everything we hate about politicians than politicians themselves: he is a complete egomaniac, has no discernible or genuine philosophical beliefs, is obsessed with the media, out of touch with the everyday coffee-table discussions of Americans and will say whatever it takes to get his manicured mitts on the levers of power.

With all of this in mind, how the hell is he not only still around but leading in the polls?

The only reasonable conclusion is that the voters are not being serious, they are ‘taking the piss’ as we say Down Under.

Sure, there is a distinct group within the conservative heartland that like the ‘tough guy’ persona and the xenophobic message, but this group is not big enough to have him where he is, otherwise there would never have been an Obama presidency.

As I travel around the country I often hear everyday citizens lament the ludicrously extensive 24-month presidential election cycle, and the fever pitch reporting of it.

Perhaps Trump is the American people’s way of seeking revenge – a plaything they can throw to the media and postpone the serious debates between the likes of Clinton and Rubio and Cruz that will surely come.

Or maybe Trump is the real deal and it is me that is out of touch.

I am a dangerous foreigner, after all.

trump dragon

A roadside mural in western Colorado depicting ‘Donald the Dragon-Slayer’. Photo credit: AJ Stolte

Published 10 December 2015