“The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails.” The words of Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary debate a year ago are more relevant and piercing than ever. The FBI’s reopening of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails has created a diversion from Donald Trump’s own scandals and flailing campaign. Trump launched a new hotel last week, maximising on the election publicity to boost his equally floundering business empire. It attracted some eccentric supporters who could easily have been extras in a Shonda Rhimes political thriller. RANJENI MUNUSAMY reports from Washington.
Last week, Donald Trump and an assortment of his synthetic family members gathered in Washington DC for a ribbon cutting at the newish Trump International Hotel, situated tantalisingly close to the White House. The luxury hotel at the coveted Pennsylvania Avenue address opened its doors in September but, like other Trump businesses, has been suffering as a result of the bad press besieging its owner. After all, who in their right mind would want to stay in the five-star establishment of a self-declared crotch-grabber who offends humanity every time he speaks?
The building itself is a historic gem, with the façade of the century-old post office retained – apart of course from the trademark gilded Trump lettering at the front. For some reason, the old clock tower building now has a phallic quality in the midst of Washington’s iconic strip, the veneer of history masking the garish ostentation inside.
Photo: The old clock tower building now has a phallic quality. (Photo: Ranjeni Munusamy)
If you do venture into the gold, marble and velvet carnival beyond the front doors, a “Trump Tower” platter of lobster, oysters, shrimp and blue crab at the Benjamin Bar & Lounge will set you back $120. A disclaimer on the menu warns: “The consumption of raw or undercooked ingredients may increase the risk of food borne illness”. Sadly, it does not caution about the dangers of exposure to Trump’s unadulterated bigotry.
Outside the hotel for the big event were about 200 Democratic Party protesters who did warn about the dangers of Trump’s bigotry being trumpeted from the White House, a few hundred metres up the road. The launch also attracted criticism that Trump was abusing his high-profile presidential campaign for financial benefit – maximising on the non-stop media coverage. As a result, some news networks did not broadcast his speech live, only showing snippets relevant to the campaign later. Some of the 263 rooms are reportedly being priced at $500,000 each for the presidential inauguration in January – small potatoes of course compared to the cost to the nation if Trump is the president being sworn in.
While the launch was relatively low-key, it did attract some die-hard Trump supporters who hung around outside long after the last of the camera crews packed up. Among them was Kathy Davis from Tennessee, who would be returning home to vote for Trump next week. Davis did not mind that her hero did not come out to shake hands with his supporters or that she would never be able to indulge in the $120 Trump Tower inside.
Through Davis, I venture down the Trump rabbit hole. “He’s a smart business man,” she confides, her bright pink lipstick gleaming. “He’s not a politician, I like that. He can’t be bought, bribed or bullied,” she says, for some reason repeating “bought, bribed or bullied” slowly to herself like Brick Heck from The Middle.
Then she leans in. “I really think he cares, y’know. He really can make America great again.”
What that means exactly, Davis cannot explain. But she believes it.
So I ask whether Trump’s recent scandals and outrageously sexist comments have made any impression on her. “He loves women… Men say those things in their own time,” she says. I involuntarily glance at the man she is with, holding court with some other Trump supporters. No judgement, of course.
“Mr Trump is friends with people from all countries,” Davis gleams at me. “He likes people of all races.” Possibly because I cannot hide the incredulous look on my face, she adds: “We all say things we regret. Nobody is perfect.”
The same indulgence is not afforded to Hillary Clinton, apparently “She is a liar. She is crooked. She is self-serving.” Davis looks like she might do the Brick thing again. She doesn’t.
Davis does teach me a new word. She is going to become a “prepper” if Clinton wins. A prepper for the end of days. She will be collecting food, clothing and emergency supplies. I should too, she advises.
It is difficult to believe that this woman was not made up by someone as an extra in The Fixer or House of Cards. The only reason I know she is real because there are more like her.
Kelley Ann Finn is from northern Virginia and is wearing a giant foam cowboy hat. She carries two signs – “There is a NEW sheriff in town and his name is Donald Trump” and “Dogs for Trump”. She at least caught a glimpse of the “new sheriff” as his car whizzed by. He apparently gave her the thumbs up. The second sign is intriguing, so I ask. “My dog is a Jack Russell and he is for Trump!”
Why involve the dog in this, I don’t know.
But the truly special person outside the Trump hotel is 20-year-old Haitian Eli Brown. He is wearing a red “Make America Great Again” Trump campaign cap. Clinton is “not honest”, he tells me, somewhat diplomatically.
Then the clincher: “Mr Trump can make us great again by taking us back to the time of Abraham Lincoln,” says Brown. Slavery notwithstanding, Brown believes that America was a great place in the 1860s. Finn jumps in to help Brown explain what he means, and makes it worse.
“Really.” The word is not from me, although I was screaming it repeatedly in my head. A young black woman recording the messy scene on her phone sighs and walks off.
Photo: Kelley Ann Finn is from Northern Virginia (Dogs for Trump), and Eli Brown from Haiti. (Ranjeni Munusamy)
Thanks to the FBI director James Comey, the Trump campaign bounced back from the preserve of the loonies to a full-blown media circus this weekend.
Comey might not be Shaun the Sheep, but he certainly could give South Africa’s National Director of Public Prosecutions Shaun Abrahams a run for his money for involving the justice system in political battles.
Comey is in the eye of the storm after making himself a player in the most polarised, messy elections battle in US history. He is being lambasted for abusing his powers by writing to Congress 11 days before the election, declaring that the FBI had obtained additional information of potential relevance relating to the investigation into Clinton’s e-mails.
In a slimy plot twist, the e-mails were discovered on the computer of sex-pest former congressman Anthony Weiner as part of an investigation into his sexting with a 15-year-old girl. Weiner is married, now separated, to top Clinton aide and the campaign vice-chair, Huma Abedin.
Comey’s letter breaks the protocol of justice officials not commenting on anything political within 60 days of an election. But like Abrahams, Comey’s manoeuvre was against better judgement and the advice of others in the Justice Department. And as with Abrahams, the move by Comey, once a registered Republican, is effective career suicide.
Clinton, her running mate Tim Kaine and the Democratic National Committee slammed Comey, demanding that he release whatever information the FBI has. Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta said Comey’s handling of the matter was “inappropriate”.
It is not yet known whether the data on Weiner’s computer contains new or classified Clinton e-mails. This close to the election, it does not matter. The FBI director’s letter was enough to flare up media coverage of the e-mail saga that has plagued the Clinton campaign and allowed Trump to make a proverbial mountain out of a molehill. Since Comey’s letter was leaked on Friday, there has been wall-to-wall coverage on American news networks and it has dominated newspaper front pages and editorials.
Trump, who had fallen behind in the polls, has been revelling in the revived e-mail scandal. “We have one ultimate check on Hillary’s corruption, and that is the power of the vote,” Trump told supporters at a rally in Las Vegas on Sunday. He also tweeted: “We are now leading in many polls, and many of these were taken before the criminal investigation announcement on Friday – great in states!”
Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway told CNN in an interview that Trump would win because Clinton aide Abedin and “her perverted husband” were “again putting this nation’s security at risk”.
As it lurches into the home stretch, the 2016 US elections campaign is turning out to be a sickeningly real political thriller. What would have been a romp to the finish line for the Democrats has turned out to be a windfall for Trump, his surrogates and supporters who all rotate on their own illogical axis.
The campaign with all its plot twists and messiness has left Americans scandal fatigued and punch drunk. And it’s not done yet. Just how much more stupid and utterly outrageous can it get in the next few days? DM
Main photo: Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump (3L), with sons Eric Trump (L) and Donald Trump Jr. (2L), daughters Ivanka Trump (R) and Tiffany Trump (2R) and his wife Melania Trump (3R) participates in the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC, USA, 26 October 2016. EPA/SHAWN THEW
"Man is by nature a political animal" ~ Aristotle