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US 2016: D-Day for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and th...

World

World, Politics

US 2016: D-Day for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and the rest of the world – so Who decides?

With only a single day left until the American election actually, finally, happens, J. BROOKS SPECTOR takes a look at the dynamics around getting the remaining undecided voters to make a final choice. Finally.

The American national election actually happens in just one more day. On November 8, voters across the nation – from Dixville Notch in the northern reaches of New Hampshire to Point Barrow, Alaska, and from those towns to the rural ranch lands of west Texas or the inner city precincts of South Side Chicago – will cast their votes for president. But they will also chose some 34 senators, 435 members of the House of Representatives, thousands of state legislators, a whole roster of state governors, mayors, city and county council members – and hundreds of other officials. And they will, in many places, vote on long lists of referenda, bond issues and other civic decisions.

Vast quantities of television and radio airtime, ink and newsprint and the equivalent of still more digital page views – for periodicals, newspapers, blogs, newsletters and other internet-based publications – have chewed on the contest, the candidates and the ephemera associated with it. Too often, and alarmingly for many, however, this tsunami of information, disinformation, and opinion has concealed more than it has illuminated in this campaign. The level of invective by some candidates has reached new heights (or lows) for what is usually assumed to be a sober competition of people and ideas, designed for adults, rather than messages much more suitable for parental advisory lemon peels across the bottom of the TV screen.

As the pollsters and fortune tellers have it now, Hillary Clinton is likely to squeak by with a modest popular vote margin – but a comparatively bigger spread in the electoral vote (the population weight of the respective states applied to a total of 538 electoral votes). Such an outcome would generate a victory that would not be a landslide, but would still be a respectable and convincing decision over businessman and blustering bigot Donald Trump. And it presumably would put paid to the Trumpster’s complaint that the whole system is rigged – something that Russia Today television has been happy to repeat.

That is another aspect of this year’s campaign that has been intensely troubling. This is the extent to which Russian activities – including Russia’s apparent involvement in hacking e-mail systems – seem designed to inject a real sense that the American political system is profoundly anti-democratic and that dark forces control it.

Beyond the presidential campaign, it is possible the Democrats will garner a net gain of the four seats needed to give them at least a 50-50 split of the Senate – and where there is a Democratic vice president, he or she serves as president of the Senate, per the Constitution, and those would be positioned to cast tie-breaking votes if needed. Control of the Senate is particularly important for confirming treaties, appointment of federal judges and the confirmation of cabinet rank officials.

The American political party structures are not as rigid as British-style parliamentary models. As a result, members in the Senate and the House, both, historically do not always find themselves bound to adhere to strict party votes in many cases, sometimes choosing rather to vote in accord with more local or their individual principles. Accordingly, a senator may feel compelled to vote against a position adopted by their party – or even their president, so building as big a majority as possible matters.

Now, with regard to the presidency, the various polls, and those polls of polls as well, all seem to be pointing to a close but narrowing margin between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Of course, the vote that counts isn’t that national popular vote, but rather those individual state-level races for those electoral vote totals to get to the magic number of 270.

Many states are reliably Republican or Democratic in their voting historically or in current polling. But, and here’s the really important detail, there are around 10 or so states now being categorised as battleground states. This is where the race remains precariously balanced between the two candidates, even now. There are states with relatively smaller populations like New Hampshire, Iowa, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada; but there are also a number of medium-to-large population states such as Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Again, the key is to assemble 270 electoral votes and, as a result, given the current data, these battleground states hold the key.

Crucially, many people have already voted via advance voting rules in many states, and the experts believe that up to 40% of the total electorate will have actually made its choice by November 7 – although those votes will only be counted with all the others as the polls close on Election Day. Such votes obviously mean that those voters are no longer really amenable to any blandishments by candidates.

The data that is available on advance voting now suggests that larger than expected numbers of Hispanic voters in heavily Hispanic population counties have been filing ballots, while a slightly lower than expected number of African-Americans are doing so in urban voting districts. Importantly, these reported numbers do not reflect actual candidate choices yet and they are only being officially reported in aggregate terms of voters’ publicly registered party affiliations that are already on file.

By many guesstimates, the actual, final results in those battleground states may ultimately be in the hands of only around several hundred thousand voters. This would include those who haven’t made up their minds yet. Such voters are now subject to intense campaigning by the two candidates as they show up for the final round of rallies in the battleground states. (Of course, a key element at this point is also to ensure the maximum turnout of supporters to vote.) On that score, the Democrats would seem to be better positioned than the GOP with candidate stand-ins – surrogates – who can campaign in addition to the presidential and vice presidential candidates. These include the President and Mrs Obama, former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, and several star power senators like Elizabeth Warren, and an A-list of entertainers such as Beyoncé as well.

Not surprisingly, the Trumpster and his minions have called such support unfair, almost illegal, implying strongly it just ain’t fair that wildly popular entertainment superstars and former Republican presidents or their spouses have failed to campaign for him. He gets, instead, former New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani and former Georgia congressman Newt Gingrich. (As a parenthetical note, the three men, together, have nine current or former wives – and various girlfriends while married to others. Great advertisement for family values, that, but, never mind.)

So, what about those half a million or so undecideds and the two frenzied campaigns determined to convert them into votes for either of the two candidates? The two campaigns aren’t really trying to pitch to the broad populations any more – such people have largely made up their minds. The campaigns have honed in on specific target groups and niches where they hope to succeed further, in order to tip the balance, finally.

Consider Pennsylvania for example. Most observers believe the state’s decision ultimately depends on the choice of the inhabitants of well-educated, prosperous suburbs around the state’s two big cities: Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The Clinton campaign already does well with college-educated women, but they need big numbers of such voters to turn out on Election Day.

This would put people like the Lindells of Abington, a few kilometres beyond the Philadelphia city limits, firmly in their sights. Stuart is an IT engineering professional in one of the area’s nearby office parks, while Mary is an intellectual property lawyer at a downtown law firm. They are both deeply concerned about what policies will best encourage economic growth. However, they are also troubled by the misogyny frequently exhibited by Trump, and by the racial and ethnic intolerance in so many of his remarks. But they are also worried about the rising costs of medical care for their young family and the enormous expense that university educations will be for them with three children. They admired the Obama administration, but remain ambivalent about four more years of “the same thing”, even as they appreciate the sustained economic recovery that followed the financial crisis of 2008-9 – especially since they have professions that have continued to do well in the new economy.

Meanwhile, in Akron, Ohio, retired tool and die maker Joe Horvath and his wife, Marilyn, a part-time financial systems assistant in a chain store, have rather different feelings. While Joe Horvath’s pension is safe and their health concerns largely are being dealt with by the government’s Medicare programme, they are thoroughly troubled about the dwindling job growth prospects of their children – especially their older son, James.

He followed his father into the same technical field, only to have to go into retraining programmes after the plant he had worked in for nearly 20 years closed down a year ago. Their younger twins, one boy, one girl, have found work, but it hasn’t been easy for either to finance the purchase of a house, and their daughter’s husband is trying to finish his degree in medical technology through part-time and evening studies, while he continues to work as a pharmaceutical sales rep. He worries that Obamacare will be restricting the market for his company’s drugs, thereby cutting into his future commissions and bonuses.

Over family dinners, the extended Horvath clan often expresses appreciation for Trump’s business-like manner, and his reputation as a man “who tells it like it is, unlike those professional politicians”. Still, the senior Horvath finds it hard to shrug off the feelings of a lifetime as a union member and Democrat in most elections.

Further south, in North Carolina, the Hendersons, a third-generation military family, find it a hard ask to embrace the Trump campaign. Captain James Henderson, a career Marine Corps member, finds Trump’s outlandish statements about surprise attacks in Iraq, those loser generals in charge of strategy, and Trump’s self-evident lack of any military background, disturbing. Both he and his wife, Susan, a librarian in one of the base schools at Camp Lejeune, felt deeply and personally insulted by Trump’s attacks on Senator John McCain and the Khan family. Still, they aren’t convinced Hillary Clinton is tough enough to deal with the country’s enemies, despite her years of service as Secretary of State.

In Florida, meantime, in the so-called “redneck panhandle”, north of Tallahassee, Steven Carswell and his wife Marge manage a family beef cattle “ranch” (and, yes, Florida is a big beef state). They have been strong Republicans since the early 1970s, but Donald Trump’s remarks about women recorded on that “Access Hollywood” video trouble them, given their strong evangelical religious background. But, they just don’t trust the Clintons. They don’t think she (and he) have the nation’s interest at heart more than their own, and they both worry that Hillary Clinton has managed to betray the national security with her lax handling of those e-mails. They listen to significant amounts of conservative talk radio, but they don’t have much time for the crazies of the alt.right on the internet.

Further south, in Boca Raton, Shel and Marilyn Goldstein – retired accountants transplanted from Brooklyn a decade earlier – remain committed to Democratic Party ideals, but they remain worried that neither of the two candidates really has the right kind of emotional background to cope with this stressful job. They campaigned for Bernie Sanders until he was defeated, and have not yet totally bought into the Clinton campaign. They are thinking about doing the unthinkable for their own histories – voting for Jill Stein, even though such votes will not help hold off Donald Trump.

Over on the other side of Florida, in Sarasota, Hector Canossa, a third-generation Cuban-American, is seriously considering a vote for Clinton, even though his father and grandfather have practically threatened to disinherit him if he does so. Their memories go back to the Bay of Pigs invasion and the fact that John Kennedy allowed Fidel Castro to consolidate his rule over Cuba thereafter. But Hector is moving away from those older ideals because of the new opportunities for his business as a hotel renovation and operations specialist, and he sees massive opportunities in Cuba, now that the trade embargo is sliding into history, thanks to Barack Obama’s decisions. He also has an itch to see where his family comes from, beyond the old tales told and retold over dinner.

In South Central in Miami, however, Akeelah and Jamal Jones, a young African-American couple, are still trying to come to terms with their distinct lack of enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton. They first voted in 2012 – for Barack Obama, of course – but despite the president’s strenuous campaigning for Clinton, they are not yet convinced she is really in their corner. Her old remarks about “super predators” continue to rankle and they still want to see more about her plans to rebuild the nation’s rundown inner cities and to fight crime without creating still more victims of police killings. Maybe, they muse, they will just sit this one out.

Finally, in Nevada, Sonia Martinez, a housekeeping manager in one of the big resort hotels in Las Vegas, has finally become an American citizen and has registered to vote as well. While she would normally be 100% for someone like Hillary Clinton, she continues to have concerns that Clinton will not be good for business – and that means fewer jobs in Vegas for her relatives. Still, Donald Trump’s comments about Mexicans and his proposals about massive border walls and deportation forces has struck visceral fear into her and her extended family – some of whom do not yet have their immigrant status sorted out. She is almost certain to vote for the Democratic candidate, but she is still looking for reassurance on that choice she is about to make.

Of course, if one were to go with the flood of media endorsements, one would assume Hillary Clinton was poised to win by a landslide of historic proportions. Papers that haven’t swung to a Democratic candidate in a century have embraced her. And magazines like the UK’s The Economist, usually a stalwart of internationalist Republicanism (it is from Britain but it is widely read and quoted in the US), made up their minds with unusual determination in their current issue.

As the editors of that magazine wrote the other day:

The choice is not hard. The campaign has provided daily evidence that Mr Trump would be a terrible president. He has exploited America’s simmering racial tensions (see article). His experience, temperament and character make him horribly unsuited to being the head of state of the nation that the rest of the democratic world looks to for leadership, the commander-in-chief of the world’s most powerful armed forces and the person who controls America’s nuclear deterrent.

That alone would stop us from casting a vote, if we had one, for Mr Trump. As it happens, he has a set of policies to go with his personality. A Trump government would cut taxes for the richest while imposing trade protection that would raise prices for the poorest. We disagree with him on the environment, immigration, America’s role in the world and other things besides. His ideas on revenue and spending are an affront to statistics. We would sooner have endorsed Richard Nixon – even had we known how he would later come to grief. [Italics added]

Our vote, then, goes to Hillary Clinton. Those who reject her simply because she is a Clinton, and because they detest the Clinton machine, are not paying attention to the turpitude of the alternative. Although, by itself, that is not much of an endorsement, we go further. Mrs Clinton is a better candidate than she seems and better suited to cope with the awful, broken state of Washington politics than her critics will admit. She also deserves to prevail on her own merits.”

Whew! No beating around the bush there.

Still, the campaigning continues until the last moment of Monday, November 7. The polls predict a tight decision is about to be made – and one that is almost certain to generate substantial rancour on the part of the supporters of Donald Trump, if he loses, and some “fear and trembling and the sickness unto death” if he wins, on the part of many Americans – and those beyond the country’s borders as well.

Come the morning of November 9 South Africa time, this writer will be propped up on the sofa in his television study, a double – maybe a triple – espresso in hand, international news channels on the go, computer poised to get the data as it rolls in, and probably a handful of tranquillisers and ant-acid tablets on the side table as well. And all of this will be in the interest of providing Daily Maverick with a story on the results, as soon as one candidate concedes the race. DM

Photo: A supporter of US Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a campaign rally at The Farm in Selma, North Carolina, USA, 03 November 2016. EPA/JIM LO SCALZO

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