Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? The Independent view on who should win the US presidential election

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

Sunday 06 November 2016 00:55
Ms Clinton in Detroit, Michigan, for the final week of the campaign
Ms Clinton in Detroit, Michigan, for the final week of the campaign

As long-time readers will know, The Independent has no affiliation to a political party or other partisan standpoint. We have taken stances on a great many issues, of course, based on the available evidence and in light of its analysis by our editorial staff: when new evidence emerges or situations change, we reconsider our positions as appropriate. When political elections have come around – particularly in the UK – we have urged readers to consider the key issues for themselves and to exercise their right to vote. We have sometimes, but not always, given an indication of which party we believe offers the most compelling manifesto for government.

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. For that reason alone, and because our readers have asked us, it seems only right that we should address the question of next week’s presidential election in America, just as we would a general election in Britain.

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 to expect from the US election

But that does not imply the two are similar. The Trump and Clinton visions of America and its role in the world are radically different. For Americans, Britons and everyone else on the planet, the outcome will be momentous, with consequences for the very fabric of the international order.

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.

He has, it must be said, rendered two signal services with his campaign. He has exposed the hypocrisy that runs through much of today’s Republican party, and he has brought to national attention the fact that millions of his countrymen have lost faith in the system. Trump voters certainly include an unpleasant and ultra-nationalist “alt-right”. Far more of them however are ordinary middle- and working-class people, mostly white, who have seen their jobs and prospects vanish, and feel ignored and betrayed by their natural champion – a Democratic party that can give the appearance of being more concerned with minority rights and political correctness than in reviving Rust Belt America.

But Mr Trump’s virtues end there. He 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.

Hillary Clinton is anything but perfect. A fixture in national politics for a quarter of a century, she is the embodiment of an insider elite – so much so that the truly historic fact that she would be the first woman to occupy the Oval Office is often taken for granted, if not completely overlooked.

She 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. Nor is she an inspiring campaigner: opportunistic, sometimes paralysed by caution and lacking any compelling vision.

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, even if only as the perceived lesser of two evils.

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