Nearly 25 years ago, Hillary Clinton, the current Presidential candidate, advised her husband on his 1992 presidential campaign strategy — “it is the economy, stupid – just focus on the economy.”
Clinton won the race that time. Hillary’s current opponent in the Presidential race, Donald Trump, is also following the same advice. His theme, addressed primarily to the white Anglo-Saxon American based in American suburbia, focuses on issues like factories being transplanted across the border to Mexico, American jobs fleeing to China and elsewhere in Asia, the escalating costs of Obamacare (health insurance), the stagnant economy, the burgeoning trade deficit and national debt. His promise is to "make America great again". Going beyond the economy formula, the direct pitch also prescribes elimination of Islamic State, throttle illegal immigration, and make “America safe” again. No doubt the formula is somewhat short on specifics and a credible action plan — hopefully he will improvise one, once he becomes president.
All previous elections included allegations and charges against presidential opponents. For example, the ad paid by John F Kennedy featured a stubbly Nixon, with the legend “would you trust this guy to sell you a used car”. Gone are the days of such niceties in personal attacks. The present candidates' vicious debates were liberal with accusations of "you are a liar", "you are unfit for any office in the country" and so forth. Trump went as far as to venture a loud stage whisper to describe his opponent: “What an unpleasant woman!”
Trump was openly charged as being contemptuous of women, with allegations of "groping". His response were: "I am being misquoted for 'boys' talk; the charges are untrue, I will sue my detractors; indeed the shoe is on the other foot, her husband has a proven record of talking to presidents, prime Ministers and senators from the blue room of the White House while in a compromising position with an intern." How much lower can public debate descend to?
As for Hillary, there are allegations about Hillary’s "illegal" and cavalier approach to state secrets by using a private server for classified information. Hillary is again on the defensive on this issue. A fresh FBI inquiry is looking into the matter. Is this going to have an important bearing on the final result? Peeping into the future, assuming the unlikely possibility that the investigation proceeds further, can she be indicted, before or after polling day — if the indictment takes place after she assumes office, will she have Presidential immunity — these are intriguing potential questions. Oddly enough, Bill Clinton had immunity from prosecution during his presidential days for his peccadillos.
Then again, there is a history of litigation regarding the poll process in the past (recall Bush vs Gore "hanging chad" Florida controversy in 2000). Astonishingly, hundreds of related cases were all taken up nearly simultaneously, and with impressive judicial and legal acumen and sagacity. The legal issues were resolved in the month between polling day and inauguration. Can there be a greater tribute to a judicial system than this? Now imagine a similar scenario in India — the issues will drag on for decades in various stages in a variety of courts from the district to the apex level, and with hundreds of interlocutory orders. No final verdict would be available till all concerned have finally left the scene, and every two-bit politician had had his petty say on every aspect, relevant or otherwise. In passing, let us also note that Trump has expressed reservations on the probity of the electoral voting process, and has kept his options open to challenge them in the future.
While so much has been written and spoken in the media on the present campaign, there is hardly any focus or attention on one unique aspect of this election campaign. Trump has openly challenged Hillary’s credentials for the Presidential post. His implicit, and in many situations explicit argument is that she is just a "politician", a full-time political hack with no expertise in any field of human endeavour. Trump also called her a purveyor of promises who lies to the common man come election time, with no intention of fulfilling them thereafter. Seen differently, Trump attacked the political class, and its competence to be entrusted with governance and welfare of a nation. The Westminster model of democracy, followed with wide variation in much of the western world, and increasingly in developing countries, entrusts the task of governance and management of public affairs to the political class. This has been questioned by Trump — this is the new remarkable take from the present campaign. Indeed his implicit thesis is that the politician is not best suited to govern a country, whereas, as a businessman and an entrepreneur he has hands on experience in delivering results and is best suited to serve the people. He has debunked totally the much vaunted "experience" of Hillary. In the American context, one can recall the tenure of General Eisenhower who was president following the Second World War, otherwise, right from the days of Benjamin Disraeli or William Pitt, one hasn't seen any European or American President or Prime Minister from outside the political class.
Is there a lesson for India here? The average state chief minister or minister is a "politician" with all the pejorative connotation that the term can command. With hardly any exception, a politician in India sees his main occupation as one of "winning elections", and amassing wealth to last a few generations – public service is never a relevant issue, to distract him from his main objectives. Even in the Government of India, where possibly the situation is different, most ministers have no qualification to perform any meaningful task. If Trump wins the 2016 US Presidential Election, will it trigger a discussion in India about the need for professionalising our political class? One would surmise that whatever happens in US, this issue needs a sensible new approach in India.
We will know in the next week or so as to who the next US President will be. But considering how the Brexit results surprised everyone — the elderly suburban British resented the presence of the upwardly mobile young East European in his neighbourhood, and tilted the results in the favour of an exit — the white Anglo-Saxon suburban American, who possibly resents the alarming influx of Chinese, Indians and Mexicans in his neighbourhood, his schools and universities, may tilt the balance, and produce a surprise on 8 November.