Living in the Land of Nod
Trustin’ their fate to the Hands of God
They pass by so silently
Tweedle-dee Dum and Tweedle-dee Dee — Bob Dylon
Get ready, all Americans — white and black, rich and poor, fat and slim, Democrats and Republican — to hail the Messiah, the Deliverer you’d been patiently waiting for decades. The sun may just be about to rise to herald that promised resplendent dawn that your fellow American, H L Mencken foresaw coming. Remember his cheerful prophecy: “On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
Come the eighth day of November 2016, we may not have exactly a moron elected to move in the White House, but indeed it will either the one with an inglorious track record of cutting corners of all sorts OR a foul-mouthed, self-professed misogynist and professional tax dodger. All you may then do is to swear in the Bard’s celebrated curse: A plague o’ both your houses!
True to Form
Pre and post nomination squabbles that surfaced within both the parties are an integral part of the horse trading that American political system sees every four years. And this time, as before, both the Democrats and the Republicans stuck to their form. “The Republicans never do any serious fighting in public,” H. L. Mencken declared in 1932 when Herbert Hoover ran for the nomination all unopposed. But a month later, it took the Democrats four ballots and five days of sweaty wheeling dealing before F.D.R. won the Democratic nomination after defeating Al Smith, the former New York Governor. “The Democrats, unlike the Republicans, always do their fighting in public,” Mencken wrote. “The history of the party is one long record of ambushes, treasons and kidnappings.”
Donald Trump emerged as the Republican candidate with characteristic ease. The deals had been struck in the private. Democrats, true to their form, brought their dirty party linen to launder in public. But they also made history, electing a woman candidate for the first time in American history. And should Hillary Clinton make it, the Unites States of America will join the United Kingdom and the Federal Republic of Germany with as a woman leading the nation. That would be a real historic precedent. Won’t Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel and Theresa May get together to raise a toast to Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who became the world’s first woman prime minister followed by Indira Gandhi and Golda Meir?
The world was a witness to the acrimony in choosing the two gladiators who finally would land in the ring on November 8. However, Thomas Friedman, a respected New York Times columnist bemoaned:
Seriously, why didn’t we sell tickets? If only our national election had been pay-per-view for the rest of the world, we could have wiped out the national debt. But while viewers around the world seem to be lapping up our national reality TV show, are we, the citizens of America, going to get anything out of it?
USA did indeed get a lot back in replenishing its reservoir of good will, teaching free the whole world how not to run their affairs, including the selection of who their next President will be.
Here, dear readers, are the profiles of the two contenders for the world’s most coveted position.
Donald Trump relishes to call opponents “Lyin’ Ted” and “Crooked Hillary” and manages to get away with more falsehoods and fabrications than any politician you care to remember, including Joe McCarthy. (Remember the scare-mongering Wisconsin Senator who looked for a hidden Commie in the closest of every American home.)
Take the sordid saga of Trump’s tax returns. First he said he’d release them, as every Republican and Democratic presidential and vice presidential nominee has done since 1980. Then he shifted his stand that he cannot before an Internal Revenue Service audit was complete (which may or may not be before the November election). Then he took another somersault that he’d release them after all, but didn’t say when.
And till he releases them people have a right to conclude that the real reason for his reticence is that he doesn’t want his compatriots to know what the documents might reveal. That he’s really not as rich as he says he is? That he’s used legal loopholes to reduce his tax liability? That he’s stingy in matters of charity?
Trump seems self-convinced that he can get away with saying whatever he wants, truth be damned. He said he saw thousands of Muslims cheering in New Jersey after the 9/11 terrorist acts — a scene no one else in the whole country was a witness to. He claims that he warned that the U.S. “better take out” Osama bin Laden before the World Trade Center attacks. Of course he never did. He charges that President Barack Obama “is thinking about signing an executive order where he wants to take your guns away”. Here’s another gem of a fabrication.
Then there was his first big national splash: the absurd allegation that Obama, the country’s first African-American president, wasn’t born in the U.S. He also knows that Hillary Clinton, his presumptive opponent cannot effectively make the transparency case against him as long as she refuses to release the text of speeches she has delivered to Wall Street bankers and for which she was lavishly compensated.
Many women have accused Donald Trump of sexual misconduct following the recent leak of a 2005 Access Hollywood video, in which he makes spicy misogynistic comments and brags about sexually assaulting woman after woman.
In a controversial clip — unearthed and released by The Washington Post on October 7 — the ex–Celebrity Apprentice host, Donald Trump boasts to the anchor that he once tried to “f--k” a married woman and even said that his star power gives him the ability to do as he pleases with women — kissing them without permission and even grabbing them “by the p--sy.” (Trump, of course, dismissed his remarks as “locker-room talk” and issued an apology in a Twitter video.)
As Election Day draws near, more and more women are coming forward and sharing their stories about Trump’s unwarranted advances, a pastime that he specializes in.
At least three scandals will continue to haunt Hillary: the Benghazi affair, her private email server and her dubious Wall Street connections.
What the National Review later labeled the Battle of Benghazi, the 2012 Benghazi attack refers to a coordinated attack against two US government facilities in Libya by members of the Islamic militant group Ansar al-Sharia in September 2012, leaving the American ambassador and three other Americans dead. It later emerged that the state department, led at the time by Hillary Clinton, had rejected appeals for additional security at the consulate where the attack took place.
In March 2015, it became publicly known that Hillary Clinton, during her tenure as United States Secretary of State, had exclusively used her family’s private email server for official communications, rather than official State Department email accounts maintained on federal servers. Those official communications included thousands of emails that would later be marked classified by the State Department retroactively.
Some experts, officials, and members of Congress have contended that her use of private messaging system software and a private server violated State Department protocols and procedures, as well as federal laws and regulations governing record-keeping. In response, Clinton has said that her use of personal email was in compliance with federal laws and State Department regulations and that former secretaries of state had also maintained personal email accounts, though not their own private email servers.
After allegations were raised that some of the emails in question contained classified information, an investigation was initiated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) regarding how classified information was handled on the Clinton server. Of the emails on the server, 113 emails contained information which was classified at the time it was sent, including 65 emails deemed “Secret” and 22 deemed “Top Secret”.
In May 2016, the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General released an 83-page report about the State Department’s email practices, including Clinton’s. On July 5, 2016 upon concluding its investigation, the FBI stated that Clinton was “extremely careless” in handling her email system but recommended that no charges be filed against Clinton. On July 6, 2016, Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that no charges would be filed.
Wall Street Connection
Liberals accuse her of being too close to big business, conservatives says she is more liberal than President Obama.
She has always had one steadfast group of supporters though - Wall Street.
The 2016 presidential election is proving a trying time for this longstanding relationship. Wall Street-hating and banker-bashing has been a theme raised by Clinton’s Democratic opponent and Republican rivals.
Public disapproval of Wall Street connections is placing her between a rock and hard place; to turn away from money she needs to run her campaign, or risk losing voters fed-up with the Washington-Wall Street bond.
Visiting the United States in the 1830s that prescient French political thinker, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote “I think I can see the whole destiny of America contained in the first Puritan who landed on those shores.” Was he right? Do contemporary Americans still exhibit, in their attitudes and behavior, traces of those austere English Protestants who started arriving American shores in the early 17th century?
The answer - a very emphatic no - is, my friends, blowing in the wind.
Take the level of presidential debates — a fixture since the first 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debate. There was Donald Trump calling Hillary Clinton the “devil,” a person filled with “tremendous hatred” whom he would jail if he were president. There was Clinton’s icy nod at Trump upon their greeting — no handshake — and her almost immediately declaring Trump “unfit to serve.” Discussions about policy frequently vacillated into personal attacks. And at the end of the night, when an audience member asked each candidate to say something nice about the other, they hardly hid their reluctance.
The lowest point in this debate — and any debate since the first one in 1960 — was when Donald Trump vowed to prosecute Hillary Clinton if he wins the presidency and then said she should be in jail already. Declaring yourself the judge and the jury is what autocrats do, not presidents who have to abide by the Constitution and the common law.
But otherwise, the debate was eminently predictable: Trump was Trump: bombastic, aggressive, arrogant and eminently quotable. Clinton was typically Clinton: rather wonkish and defensive, but effective when she emphasized how central tolerance of differences is, to a working democracy.
In Good Company
Why on earth do Americans make all the song and dance of the sexual peccadilloes of their Presidents. Look at the wise French. They choose to turn a blind eye on such innocent, personal matters.
Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, president from 1974-81, was rumored to have as many mistresses as Paris has salons. In the infamous “Milk lorry” case of September 1974, d’Estaing was at the wheel of a borrowed Ferrari driving through Paris with a mysterious woman in the passenger seat, when he hit it in a collision with a milk lorry at 5am. The woman’s identity has never been confirmed, but she was rumored to be a famous French actress.
For many years, the last Socialist president of France, François Mitterrand, led a double life with his wife, Danielle, and lover, Anne Pingeot, with whom he had a daughter, Mazarine. Although the existence of Mitterrand’s second family was an open secret, nothing was ever published until Paris Match obtained photos of Mazarine, then aged 20, and got the president’s permission to publish them.
François Holland came into the presidential election with public knowledge that he had left his never married partner Ségolène Royal, after 30 years together and four children.
Scandals, however, have plagued the American presidency almost since the founding of the Republic. There have been major and minor scandals during the administration of many, if not most of the presidents. Here are a few to refresh your memory.
Thomas Jefferson’s alleged relationship with Sally Hemmings was the first presidential sex scandal in the United States and prompted a discussion that continues to this day. In 1802 Jefferson was charged with having an affair with his slave, Sally Hemmings, and in fact fathering a child. Jefferson denied the charges and remained as president for another 7 years, however the debate about the truth of the matter continued until 1998 when DNA testing proved that Jefferson more than likely fathered at least one of Sally Hemming’s children.
Ma, Ma, Where’s My Pa
Grover Cleveland is best known as the only president in history to be elected for two non-sequential terms. During his first electoral campaign in 1884 information was released that he previously had an affair with a widow named Maria C. Halpin who had given birth to a son. She claimed that Cleveland was the father and named him Oscar Folsom Cleveland.
Cleveland agreed to pay child support and then paid to put the child in an orphanage when she was no longer fit to raise him. Unusual for a candidate mired in such a scandal Cleveland admitted guilt in the matter. Chants of “Ma, ma, where’s my pa? / Off to the White House, ha ha ha!” became popular throughout the country, but it did not stop Cleveland from getting elected. He was honest about the entire affair. This helped rather than hurt him, and he got elected again in 1892.
The list of extramarital dalliances in John F. Kennedy’s black book is impressive: Marilyn Monroe, Angie Dickinson and Blaze Starr. Frank Sinatra, leader of the Rat Pack and a strong Kennedy supporter, fed the president a constant stream of pretty paramours. But JFK wasn’t only interested in glamorous women. His own White House secretaries, Priscilla Weir and Jill Cowan (referred to as Fiddle and Faddle behind the scenes), were among his bedmates.
Most intriguing was his affair with Judith Campbell, a fetching beauty who also happened to be sleeping with others. J. Edgar Hoover, the ruthless head of the FBI, used his knowledge of the president’s infidelities to keep JFK in line and make sure that whatever Hoover wanted, he did get.
Some apologists for Kennedy’s behavior have pointed to the medication JFK took for his Addison’s disease as the cause of his woman-chasing. Despite the fact that the press was certainly aware of his escapades, it remained silent on the subject.
Marilyn Monroe was perhaps the most star crossed lover in history. On one hand was her dazzling success in tinsel town and on the other, her volatile and highly secret relationships with the President of the US and his brother. Monroe’s name was linked to both John F Kennedy and Robert F Kennedy.
Although many in the political circles knew of the affairs, they were carefully hushed up so that the public had no clear facts to chew on. Monroe however was becoming a public embarrassment and had even threatened to go public about the President’s infidelities. But her plans were short-lived as she was found dead in her home under mysterious circumstances. Although official reports say she committed suicide, there have always been rumors that the Kennedys had her ‘removed’ to protect their political image.
Johnson’s Lady Loves
Lyndon Johnson who followed him to the White House competed with John Kennedy. Referring to JFK’s sexual voraciousness, LBJ once claimed, “I have had more women by accident than he has had on purpose.” It might have actually been true. A woman named Madeline Brown claimed to have had a 20-year affair with Johnson, which she said was purely physical, and produced, she says, her son. If so, LBJ was working her on the side, as he also, according to Johnson biographer Robert Caro, was conducting a 30-year affair with another woman named Alice Glass, beginning in 1937. Alice was the wife of a newspaper magnate who owned papers that strongly supported Johnson. The affair ended in 1967, apparently because Alice was vehemently antiwar. It seems the war ruined more than Johnson’s political career.
Perhaps no other scandal in presidential history can equal the Monica Lewinsky affair for pure sensationalism and absurdity. Hillary’s dear husband, Bill Clinton was implicated in a couple of scandals, the most significant for his presidency was the Monica Lewinsky affair. Lewinsky was a White House staffer with whom Clinton had an intimate relationship. He had previously denied this while giving a deposition in another case which resulted in a vote to impeach him by the House of Representatives in 1998. The Senate did not vote to remove him from office but the event did mar his presidency as he joined Andrew Johnson as only the second president to be impeached.
Who’ll Make It
Sex scandals therefore don’t really matter much in American Presidential elections. Who then will make it, you wonder? So do I.
Clinton could win because, all said, moderates constitute an important segment of America’s voting base. Since Trump’s message is especially alienating to those in the middle, moderates are more likely to go for Clinton.
On the other hand, certain elements give Trump an edge. His anti-establishment platform is the bread and butter of blue collar Americans spanning party lines, and his primaries yielded an unprecedented turnout that cannot be ignored.
Helen Keller, who despite her grim disabilities asserted her inalienable right “to feel at home in the great world”, summed it up well. “Our democracy is but a name. We vote? What does that mean? It means that we choose between two bodies of real, though not avowed, autocrats. We choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.”
So why all this extravaganza? Just toss the coin.