The announcement on 28 October by the director of the FBI, James Comey, that he was reopening an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, was a godsend for Donald Trump. The Republican candidate’s support has slumped since his disastrous performance in the presidential debates and revelations about his predatory conduct towards women. The email scandal was “bigger than Watergate”, Mr Trump claimed. As with so much he says, this was nonsense. “Watergate was about a criminal Potus [president of the United States] and 48 aides/co-conspirators found guilty,” noted Carl Bernstein, one of the reporters who broke that story, on 29 October.
Fortunately, the contest that has afforded Mr Trump so much airtime ends on 8 November, when the United States votes for a successor to President Barack Obama. Although the polls are still close, Mr Trump is on course for defeat. Never before in American history has someone so manifestly unfit for office run as a candidate for one of the two main parties. On its own, Mr Trump’s lying should have been enough to disqualify him from securing the Republican nomination. Yet that is just one of his many unpleasant traits of character.
Mr Trump has repeatedly insulted black people, Hispanics and Muslims. His appalling sexism and misogyny are now well documented. Numerous women have accused him of inappropriate behaviour. Mr Trump has accused them all of lying and said that he will sue them. The response is typical of the pride he takes in his bullying behaviour.
Beyond his own vanity, there is no sense of why Mr Trump even wants to be president. Unlike many billionaires, he has little interest in philanthropy. He regards tax avoidance as a sign of intelligence. He has no record of public service and is ignorant of foreign affairs. His solution to the problem of terrorism in the Middle East is to bomb America’s enemies into oblivion and torture their relatives. Among the leaders he admires is the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, a warmonger whose operatives are believed to have hacked into Democratic Party servers in an attempt to influence the election result.
Mr Trump’s anger, narcissism and incoherence are most evident on his social media feeds, where it often appears as though a 13-year-old had obtained his password. Mr Trump cannot bring himself to call his main opponent by her name, preferring “Crooked”. He says that if he is elected president, he will jail her, and he has warned of rigged voting; he also says that he does not yet know if he will accept the election result. In allowing Mr Trump to make such statements and for the most part staying silent, the leaders of the Republican Party have brought disgrace on themselves.
That Mr Trump has been able to attract the support of many white voters says less about him than it does about the polarisation of society in the United States. His candidacy has given licence for xenophobia, anti-Semitism and misogyny to infect public discourse, and if he fails to be elected president it is unlikely he will retire from public life with grace and dignity. There may be very dark days ahead in America.
Mrs Clinton is not the perfect candidate; far from it. As the email scandal shows, her penchant for secrecy is a weakness. She is too close to the financial industry. However, these are small flaws compared to the failings of Mr Trump.
This article appears in the 01 Nov 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The closing of the liberal mind