In Tennyson’s epic poem describing the Charge of the Light Brigade on October 25, 1854 at Balaclava in the Crimea against highly fortified Russian artillery positions, the “immortal 600” actually numbered about 680. Roughly half were killed, wounded or taken prisoner and only 195 riders survived with their mounts. Tennyson’s line “the world wonders” was meant in praise of the heroism of this desperate and miscalculated attack. As a French general observed, “It was magnificent. But it was not war!”
Today, the world may be indeed wondering about American politics and the extraordinary political campaign for the presidency that is dominating media reporting literally around the globe. Donald Trump is more or less perceived with a mixture of scorn and horror by most foreign observers. Bernie Sanders is seen as an old man who has passed his sell-by-date, and Hillary Clinton was last century’s news. At a time when American leadership has surely come into question in many important world capitals, and as events continue to deteriorate in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen for example, the world wonders about what lies ahead for it and for the United States.
And the current state of America’s presidential sweepstakes that has turned into a national game show but with few winners is not alleviating these worries.
Less than a month ago, pundits were predicting a contentious and explosive Republican convention in Cleveland. The “Stop Trump” movement was gaining strength. A floor fight would be vicious. And the Republican Party would be ripped asunder by competing and irreconcilable factions. Yet that did not happen. Donald Trump’s two competitors withdrew. While the Bushes and Romneyites continued to say ‘hell no’, Trump will be the GOP nominee. And forecasts of a shattered Republican Party have proven wrong. Obviously, winning the election trumped Republican principles. And the party has fallen in line to support if not advocate for the nominee. Wow!
Meanwhile, it is the Democratic Party that to many observers is in disarray. Sanders refuses to quit. Clinton is torn between finally winning the nomination and turning fire onto Trump. The convention in Philadelphia now seems to have inherited all the centrifugal forces that only a few weeks ago threatened to divide Republicans. Further, the Damoclean Sword of Hillary’s private e-mail server persists. Trump’s lawyers have delayed the trial over charges of fraud brought against his university until after the election. So the Republicans may have gained an advantage there. Meanwhile, the campaigns have become even nastier.
Democratic political action advertisements are going for Trump’s vulnerable jugular concerning the fairer sex voicing over his particular slurs on images of women wearing provocative tee shirts highly critical of the Republican candidate. Sanders’ rallies in California have turned violent and threats over assignment of delegates filled the media. And Clinton is turning her attack dogs loose.
Likewise, Trump is on the counter-offensive. Aside from reminding the public of Bill Clinton’s past indiscretions, Trump has capitalised on using misdirection to confuse and confound Mrs Bill Clinton. Releasing the names of eleven potential Supreme Court nominees and declaring a willingness to meet with North Korea’s Kim Jung Un would, in normal times, be dismissed as nonsensical. In this election, however, everything Trump has said, no matter how ludicrous or unserious, is being taken seriously.
Polls — notoriously wrong at his juncture — now put Trump a few points ahead of Clinton. While the Financial Times of London released a survey showing that businesses and business leaders favour Clinton by over a two to one margin, and reflect worry and concern over a Trump victory, on the home front what should have been a Democratic blowout appears to be far more problematic. And many observers and media cognoscenti who dismissed Trump as a joke or obscene political presence unelectable at any speed, let alone capable of winning his party’s nomination, are now rapidly changing their once steadfast rejection of
In the different setting of war torn Iraq, then General David Petraeus frequently would ask observers to “tell me how this ends.” The same point could not be more relevant to the presidential elections. Assuming Clinton wins the nomination and the e-mail sword does not descend, is she capable of defeating Trump? Statistically, Democrats have presumably 240 or so of the necessary 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. Behind with women and minorities and possibly much of the business community, Trump clearly has many obstacles to overcome. Yet, Clinton has proven to have a political glass jaw. While it would seem a rout in her favour, as quickly as the looming end of the Republican Party transformed into what might befall the Democrats, the electoral landscape could become as or more volatile.
The stunning fact is that both Trump and Sanders have energized a considerable segment of the public who are frightened and fearful of the future largely because of a government that seems incapable of governing. Trump only promises he can repair that government. Sanders mutters platitudes about taxing the rich and breaking up villainous banks while providing free public college education for all. And Clinton offers 10-point action plans that are cautious and most likely will have only marginal if any effect.
The campaigns have turned into grotesque game shows with the almost certain outcome that no matter who wins in November, America’s government will remain broken for a long time to come. Should that dysfunctionality persist, the defining words of the Declaration of Independence cannot be ignored: when government becomes destructive, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it and establish a new one.
The writer is UPI’s Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist. He serves as Senior Advisor for Supreme Allied Commander Europe, the Atlantic Council and Business Executives for National Security and chairs two private companies. His last book is A Handful of Bullets: How the Murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Still Menaces the Peace. His next book due out next year is Anatomy of Failure: Why America Loses Wars It Starts