It sounds like the start of a joke, but actually I learned a lot speaking to people from all corners of the United States on holiday last week. The conversation was as good as the steak, and the portions of both truly American. I answered a few questions about Brexit; as is usual with Americans they were shocked at the sheer scale of what Remainians euphemistically call ‘pooling of sovereignty’.
Most instinctively supported Brexit; one asked why I consider the EU federation any different to the US federation of states. The USA was built as a nation, formed as a nation already with a single language, currency, history, geography and legal system. It has been a nation for centuries, and yet to keep it that way required the bloodiest civil war in history in the 1860s. The EU lacks these advantages and was created as an artificial political construct against the will of the people. Fundamentally, the USA is a nation: the nebulous concept of Europe isn’t. But it was a good question, a searching question, the kind of question an intelligent outsider would ask of a British Leave supporter.
I turned the tables, asking their opinion on Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump. Trump, the most unpopular candidate in American political history, is still just about in the race because he’s facing Hillary Clinton, the second-most unpopular candidate in American political history. Hyperbole? Perhaps not.
Let’s just say I’m not surprised that nobody had a positive opinion of either candidate. The Democrat and four of the five Republicans couldn’t support either candidate. Hillary Clinton was perceived as mired in controversy, part of a political dynasty, dishonest and self-centred.
Nigel Farage’s point that he wouldn’t ‘vote for Hillary Clinton if she paid me’ hit the nail on the head. Just because I dislike Trump, I’m under zero illusions about the appalling Hillary Clinton. From her time as First Lady to allegations of a cover-up of the terrorist attack at Benghazi, from the Clinton Foundation scandal to the misuse of a private email address for official State communications, Hillary Clinton has been mired in controversy for years.
As for Donald Trump, well, the list of complaints is too long but ultimately they were terrified of a man so temperamental and utterly inexperienced in anything remotely relevant to the White House having his finger on the nuclear button.
The three couples didn’t know each other, had come from different states, yet five of the six had made the decision to vote for a third-party candidate, libertarian Gary Johnson, in the Presidential election. A plague, they implied, upon both their houses. All of the six were substantially older than me, white and relatively affluent. I’d expected the majority to be Republicans. Yet like the various other Americans I had been chatting to for the last week, not one was a fan of Donald Trump.
Both Trump and Clinton have historically appalling polling numbers. Both are hugely disliked by the electorate as a whole; it all comes down to who voters see as the lesser of two evils. I suspect it’ll be another Clinton in the White House if no further scandal emerges about the emails.
The Republicans have scored a huge own goal. They didn’t have to pick Trump in the primaries. Around this night’s table I suspect amongst the Republicans there were two Rubio, one Kasich, one Carson and one Cruz supporter; all shared my frustration that the straight-talking Chris Christie had failed to live up to his potential and become mired in controversy. The one name which had universal positive approval was Marco Rubio. The Democrat also seemed delighted at the thought: she too would have voted for Rubio above Clinton in a heartbeat. Rubio could have delivered the White House without much fuss (the one argument validly leveled against Rubio is that he’s not tough enough on immigration, though the issue is different there. America’s population density is 85 people per square mile – ours is 679. But then, Trump has recently softened his stance on immigration too.). Yet with Trump at the top of the Presidential ticket, Rubio will have to work pretty hard just to hold his own seat in the swing state of Florida.
If any of them had fallen for Trump’s campaign at first, excusing his divisiveness as though it were just UKIP-style telling-it-like-it-is, they certainly weren’t admitting it. They now all hated him. However bad Trump might be, they all (bar the Democrat, who seemed to hate both equally) agreed Clinton would be worse. The Democrat would have reserved a special place in hell for the pair of them.
My own recollection of Donald Trump, the first time I realised I dislike the man intensely, was long before any of the current controversy. Two true American heroes, medical professionals who had gone to West Africa and found themselves in the midst of a terrible outbreak of Ebola, working day and night to save lives, themselves contracted the disease. The US government flew them home under the strictest quarantine and the pioneering treatment they received was life-saving. Heroes deserve the best.
What did Trump do? He made public pronouncements condemning the decision. Ignoring medical evidence, he whipped up a frenzy of fear, telling the US government to let their citizens die overseas, making false threats that it could lead to a huge outbreak in the USA. It was obvious arrant nonsense, and if Trump didn’t know anything about it he should have kept his mouth shut. That day, well before Trump announced he’d run for President, I realised what the man was like.
I’ve noticed that different people mention a complete spectrum of reasons to dislike him, given his rich and colourful comments of late. Some had liked Trump at first, his blunt and direct style. But it wasn’t long before they started to feel that he was out of his depth, and the crucial question ‘do you want Trump to be the one with the finger on the nuclear button?’ would seem problematic for his campaign.
If anyone can make sense of Trump’s statements on the minimum wage, where he seems to be simultaneously in favour of raising it and not raising it, of a federal raise and of states making their own decisions, then they’re highly charitable. That’s not surprising. Trump used to advocate one of the most hard-left policies possible: proposing that the State should confiscate money from the richest in society. It’s borderline Communism and a complete anathema to UKIP’s belief in the free market.
I just don’t get how some UKIP members will excuse Trump anything, just because he’s straight-talking. Whether straight-talking is good or bad depends upon the message! If the message is wrong, or ineptly delivered, it doesn’t matter how plainly you say it. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’d heard a Trump apologist tell me that I’ve ‘fallen for the mainstream media attacks’ on Trump. No; I disliked him before all that. And those who say so are actually rather patronising: I don’t agree with them, therefore in their view I must have fallen for the media. They never consider that, in fact, I might have made up my own mind.
The man who’s called some women “fat pigs, slobs, dogs and disgusting animals” and then when questioned insulted the interviewer saying that she had “blood coming out of her eyes” and “blood coming out of her wherever”. He later made the somewhat hard to believe claim that he wasn’t referring to menstruation. He’s repeatedly criticised a judge in a legal case where he’s the defendant, publicly attacked John McCain over his military service (McCain was captured fighting for America), and made rather odd comments about his own daughter (“if Ivanka weren’t my daughter perhaps I’d be dating her”). His ‘second amendment’ comments appear to threaten his opponent with assassination. I’m barely scratching the surface and I’ve avoided the ‘usual’ Trump controversies – his ‘rapists’ comments about Mexicans, accusations of bigotry and anti-Semitism: I’ll simply say that a skilled or adept candidate might be able to make their points without providing huge ammunition to their opponents. Comparisons of Trump’s buffoonery to Nigel Farage are an insult to Nigel; a far better comparison would be between Trump and Nick Griffin.
But however bad he is, many Americans will vote Trump to stop Clinton. That’s understandable, but we could also be about to see the biggest vote for a third party candidate for a generation in the USA. In exasperation the dinner table was independently turning to third-party candidates, and no wonder. If there is one thing uniting America politically, it’s that the country seems to share a common exasperation at the quality of candidates on show in November. On the Democrat side, Clinton’s challenger was Bernie Sanders – a far-left candidate who actually believes in something. He is not Presidential in any way. Such is the dislike of Clinton that he proved to be a thorn in her side for months on end during the primaries. Far better Democrat candidates declined to even stand.
I find myself wondering what I would do if I were in their shoes. I couldn’t possibly stomach voting for the odious Hillary Clinton, even to stop Trump. Could I vote for Trump to stop Clinton? I doubt that too. Perhaps I would join the growing ranks of those in the USA who intend to vote for a third-party candidate. Gary Johnson isn’t being squashed in the polls like most third-party candidates at this stage, and no wonder given the appalling choices proffered by the traditional parties.
If, as seems likely, the next US President is Hillary Clinton, many round that table will rue the day they didn’t choose Marco Rubio in the primaries. If my experience is anything to go by, there are plenty already regretting precisely that.