Monday, 30th October 2017

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An election season like no other

By his misogynist attacks on Hillary Clinton, writes  Jael Silliman , Donald Trump has made Republican women support her

  • Published 3.11.16

It has really been a very long, devastating and brutal campaign for the American presidency. The Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, has repeatedly faced and mostly overcome attacks because of her strong and loyal support base that is an outcome of almost 40 years of public service and work in the Democratic Party. Her supporters have stood with her in spite of decades of right-wing attacks to vilify her. They stand even stronger in the face of what they see as misogynist attacks by her rival, Donald Trump.

In the primaries she faced the wrath of Bernie Sanders and his constituency which saw Clinton as the Establishment candidate. Sanders was first elected to the House in 1991 and has been a senator from Vermont since 2007. He is the longest serving independent in the history of the United States of America. His campaign to challenge Wall Street, make college tuition free, and address climate change strongly resonated with US youth. Sanders demonstrated that it was possible to have his campaign financed by small contributions. He and his supporters railed against Clinton and her ties to Wall Street and the funds that fuel her campaign.

Sanders did capture the youth vote. Many felt the "Bern" and threatened, "Bernie or Bust". Right up till the votes were counted in California, they were sure he would win, and felt cheated by the Democratic National Committee that had shown signs of favouring Clinton. It took a while for Sanders to come around. He made sure that his key issues were included in the Democratic platform, making it the most progressive platform to date. Even then he could not stop some of his supporters from booing Clinton at the Democratic convention.

Since then Sanders has nudged and cajoled his supporters to accept the primary results, and started to campaign for Clinton to bring his supporters on board. In spite of his efforts to corral them, some of his die-hard adherents are set to place his name on the ballot as a write-in candidate for the election on November 8.

Sanders and his campaign stole the Democratic limelight and left Clinton a winning but very bruised candidate. On television news he was portrayed as the quintessential political outsider. His popularity was feted and contrasted with Clinton's whose 'unfavourability ratings' were covered widely in the press and made to dominate talk show discussions.

Yet, Clinton, featured as the most unpopular candidate and vilified in the media, was able to defeat the "most popular candidate", Sanders, by 3.7 million votes. Clearly, in spite of what the media pundits suggested, she was much more popular than he. Democratic Party stalwarts embrace Clinton as one of their own. She has a wide swath of votes from people of colour, especially African Americans and older women. Her win against Sanders did not come easily - she fought hard for each vote and her well-organized campaign prevailed.

Clinton won the primaries decisively because her supporters see her as experienced, as someone who fights for women and families, has an excellent grip on domestic and foreign policy, and is a tough woman who has made it in US politics against great odds. Her admirers see her as a woman politician who has been treated unfairly and defamed by the Republican Party for more than two decades. She has been hounded and been investigated but has always been able to ward off the attacks of her politically motivated opponents who have made every attempt to define her as a criminal. While her supporters acknowledge that she made a mistake by using a private email server, they do not see her as having been motivated by criminal intent. They see the timing of the WikiLeaks revelations as a nefarious attempt of the Russians, Putin in particular, to interfere in US politics.

The most recent announcement of Federal Bureau of Investigation director, James B. Comey, 11 days before the election, to review thousands of emails found on the devices of the ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner, sex offender and ex-husband of Huma Abedin, who is currently the vice-chairwoman of Clinton's campaign, has sent shock waves through the system. It has cast suspicions on Clinton without revealing any facts. Clinton supporters and some members of the department of justice view it as an unfounded attempt to sway the elections in favour of Donald Trump, who had been losing to Clinton by polling margins of between 5 and 11 per cent. (Trump edged ahead in at least three popularity rating charts after Comey's announcement.) While the press underlines that she has approval ratings of slightly less than 50 per cent, it fails to point out that in a time of polarized politics those ratings show she is well received by Democrats where she has almost 90 per cent support.

While it is still too early to determine what impact this recent investigation will have on the election outcome, Clinton and her campaign are standing firm. Early elections so far have favoured Clinton in North Carolina and in Nevada where, if she wins as is expected, she would win the election even if she lost Ohio, Arizona and Florida, where she and Trump are locked in a tight race.

Whereas this very long election cycle has given her 'unfavourability ratings' second only to Trump, it has belied her strength as a candidate. In spite of years of malignation by the Right, particularly by Fox News where Hillary bashing is standard fare, the infidelities of Bill Clinton, her email server woes and the WikiLeaks disclosures that are set up to undermine her candidacy, Hillary Clinton most likely will prevail.

It is her steadiness of purpose, her refusal to back down even when she is hit hard and bullied, and her strong base of support, especially among women voters who can identify with her troubles, that will see her through this sordid campaign. They have been even more fired up as Trump bullies and tries to demean her. In the demeaning of Clinton they see the demeaning of every woman.

Younger women, who could not identify with Clinton earlier, too, are beginning to come out to support her. They may not identify with her attempts to drill through the American political establishment's resistance to a strong woman candidate. (She had stood up against such attempts from the time she was First Lady of Arkansas, through her tenure as First Lady when she engaged with the knotty policy issues of universal healthcare and failed.) But they increasingly see her strength as she fends off misogynist attacks from Donald Trump. They are horrified by the violent anti-woman attacks by Trump supporters attending his rallies which include attacks on her body that reduces her to a number of body parts. Slogans such as "Lock up the b***h!" and "2 fat thighs, 2 flat breasts" - comparing her to a carton of Kentucky Fried Chicken - are repugnant. Women know that these appellations would never be used against a male candidate.

The repellent treatment of Clinton has given rise to a new phenomenon - Republican women who support Clinton. Apparently these secret support groups meet virtually to build support for Clinton, while their husbands publicly tout their support for Trump and shake off his derogatory remarks about women as "locker room" talk.

I believe it is Clinton's popularity and her wide support base that will see her through one of the ugliest election cycles I have ever witnessed. It will be a triumph for the women of America who are doing all they can to ensure her victory.