Americans are going to the polls today, but they've still got no idea what they're voting for

This election hasn’t been a battle of ideas – it’s been a narcissistic and self-damaging clash of personalities

Nash Riggins
Tuesday 08 November 2016 14:24
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Today is the last day that Americans can cast their vote in the 2016 presidential election
Today is the last day that Americans can cast their vote in the 2016 presidential election

This is it. After months of getting kicked, battered and dragged through a never-ending sea of partisan muck, polling day has finally arrived. As with any regime change, we’re standing on the edge of endless possibilities. And if the better candidate wins tonight, we’ll finally be able to shatter a seemingly impenetrable glass ceiling that has for too long been permitted to marginalise the true worth of America’s mothers and daughters.

This should be an electrifying time. It should be exciting. But after the endless stream of attack ads, grandstanding and insurmountable negativity we’ve been forced to endure, the unbridled hope and optimism that has long categorised America’s changing of the guard is virtually non-existent. Why? Because nobody has a damn clue what there is to hope for.

Over the course of the last 11 months, broadcasters have spent a combined 32 minutes covering the substantive policies of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Evening news programmes in the US have spent three times longer dissecting Clinton’s emails than they have talking about what she would actually do if elected president. Meanwhile, Trump has earned himself billions in free airtime by furthering conspiracy theories, denouncing the democratic system and slagging off former beauty queens.

Pick anybody off the street, and they’ll be able to tell you in a heartbeat which of the two candidates they most despise and how they’ll be voting today. But you can bet your bottom dollar that nobody could name a single, meaningful policy that either candidate supports. This election hasn’t been a battle of ideas – it’s been a narcissistic and self-damaging clash of personalities.

And despite the blockbuster nature of America’s presidential election cycle, this utter lack of substance is unprecedented. Even when millions of Americans were justifiably swept into the cult of personality surrounding Barack Obama in 2008, a vast majority of the electorate could have pointed out where he stood on at least one or two of the issues that mattered. We all know Obama wanted to close Guantanamo Bay, repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and implement universal healthcare. He wanted to pull out of Iraq, rein in Wall Street and create a new immigration system that upheld that increasingly arbitrary concept we used to call “the American dream”.

The benefit of hindsight tells us that agenda was a pretty tall order. It’ s a miracle Obama was able to cross off a third of his lofty ‘to do’ list. But at least the guy went into the Oval Office with a clear set of well-communicated objectives. Love or loathe him, all Americans knew what they could expect.

Eight years later, voters haven’t got a clue what they’re getting themselves into. If Clinton is elected tonight, Donald Trump has convinced his supporters that the hell fires of Satan will swallow up their guns, raise their taxes and open our borders to scores of suicide bombers. On the flip side, Democrats are expecting a Trump victory to ring in a generation of bloody race riots, sexual discrimination and imminent nuclear war.

The truth is a little bit more complicated than that. We might not hear about it much, but both candidates do have relatively detailed policy agendas that would beget progress in some shape or form. Today, America’s crucial final decision-making will be guided solely by the combined powers of hatred and fear. No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, you’ve got to admit that’s a pretty toxic combination. It’s bad for democracy, bad for America and bad for the planet.

We deserved better than this – and with any luck, the disappointment and embarrassment many of us are now feeling will help bully us into demanding a better-informed policy debate the next time round.

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