Voters in the United States and the Bahamas are facing a similar depressing choice between candidates they distrust the least, Richard Coulson says . . .
I repeat what every reader has already learned from every conceivable source: tomorrow’s US election will be the strangest the nation has ever known. Both major parties are losers.
The Republican Party, founded by the Great Emancipator Abe Lincoln and continued by such popular moderates as Ike Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan, is being led by Donald Trump, who has lost - indeed spurned - the support of the traditional leadership of the ‘Grand Old Party’. Its core has been shattered beyond repair by a candidate, win or lose, whose bombast inspires the extremes of loathing or adulation.
Meanwhile, the Democrats, heirs to the great traditions of Franklin D Roosevelt, Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, march under the banner of Hillary Clinton, enjoying the most lukewarm support of any presidential candidate in recent history. Even for diehard party loyalists, the great potential of being the first female candidate, with unmatched practical experience, has been eroded by her obsessive habits of deception, concealment and financial avarice.
Worse, as shown by a recent poll, eight of ten voters have lost faith in the electoral process and cast their ballots doubtful that any national unity will be achieved, and in some cases threatening to revolt against the official results as “rigged”.
So who will emerge as the American victor tomorrow? Any columnist should make a clear distinction between what he would like to happen, and what he honestly believes will happen. In the early pre-Trump days of the Republican primaries, I was a firm Republican, supporting Jeb Bush or possibly Marco Rubio, congenitally negative towards Hillary’s brand of economic liberalism with its disdain for capitalist free enterprise.
However, once Trump spurted to the nomination, I reversed field, with no great enthusiasm. I decided that Hillary, with all her baggage, was preferable to the incoherent, often racist and sexist rantings of Trump, mouthing impractical policies capped by the meaningless platitude “Make America Great Again”. Surely he would be the loosest cannon ever ensconced in the White House, bringing incalculable risk and disrepute to America’s security and prestige.
But will he win? I have consistently accepted the majority view of polls and pundits: not likely. His millions of wildly enthusiastic fans will simply be outnumbered by even more millions of tepid Hillary backers, particularly in electoral-heavy states like New York and California.
Thirty-three million votes have already been cast; will the remaining estimated 90 million be swung towards ‘The Donald’ by the bizarre revelations (actually, non-revelations) issued ten days ago by Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Comey? Probably not, but in this peculiar climate of sudden change, I may be wrong.
Yesterday afternoon, Mr Comey announced nothing serious had been found in the e-mails, lifting one cloud at least from over Hillary’s head.
I can well understand - and even sympathise with - many of the Trump partisans. Blue-collar workers left behind by the hi-tech revolution, residents of decaying rust-belt towns in the coalfields of West Virginia or the oil-soaked coastal swamps of Louisiana, their interests and their aspirations have been long ignored by the smarty-pants Republican leadership, the elite “intelligentsia” housed in Congress and in the think-tanks, universities and corporate offices of elegant Washington, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. The United States has become two nations, beer v wine, divided not mainly by race but by radically different levels of personal opportunity and life-style, sharing little in common.
Unfortunately, the Republicans at the top of the heap could find nobody better than Trump to represent the downside of the economy, and are now reaping the consequences as they are reviled and rejected by his populist rhetoric, and his brash intolerance drives his followers ever deeper into bitter opposition. There is plenty of ignorance and bad judgment to share at both ends of the spectrum.
The certain prospect of unappealing victory by either major US party sends messages to the Bahamas. Of course, conditions are not parallel - we have, thank the Lord, no politician to match the crude, unapologetic insults of Trump. Whatever Mr Christie’s failings may be (and they are legion), he is a warm-hearted gentleman impossible to dislike at the personal level.
However, with our election now looming only six months away, voters here are beginning to face the same depressing dilemma as in the US: whom do you distrust the least?
As must be admitted by all but Cabinet ministers, Bradley Roberts and party “stalwarts”, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) is in deep trouble, despite its history as our dominant party with deep roots in the electorate. Perhaps the near unanimous views of editorial writers and columnists, and the predictable opposition of White (and some Black) Knights from Eastern Road, do not represent true national opinion, but this year the malaise runs much deeper. Conversations, short of a formal poll, with many Bahamian workers and residents of “Over the Hill” constituencies suggest a rolling wave of disillusionment with the PLP and its leadership by Mr Christie.
Of course, the alternatives are hardly appealing. The Free National Movement has not recovered from its recent split between competing leadership, and Dr Minnis, while a tactically successful victor, does not appear to have the gravitas and wise temperament of a national unifier. Many citizens admire the energy and imagination of Branville McCartney in creating the Democratic National Alliance, but do not find it, yet, with enough backing for more than a “spoiler” role. Maybe in a few years ...
The PLP is still the party to beat, but its profound errors and deceptions since May, 2012, linked directly to Mr Christie as ‘Maximum Leader’, give it a heavy burden. Thanks to ever-improving media and telecommunications, our citizens are far more aware of public events and are alert to the following flops, among many others:
• Rising cost of living caused by the unnecessary and regressive Value Added Tax, bringing no reduction in public debt, just the opposite.
• Complete failure to improve our electric power supply after Mr Christie’s grandiose promises in August, 2013.
• Total collapse of government’s chosen solution for managing our massive garbage dump on its ever-smouldering landfill and its frequent Vesuvius bursts.
• No visible evidence of any work to get Baha Mar open, despite Mr Christie’s boasts that a new operator has been found, after 18 months of closure.
• National Health Insurance - still talk and no results.
As long as Mr Christie remains in office, his custom of grandiloquent words followed by careless execution will repeat these consequences of failure. Whether any of his present ministers would be more competent as leader is an open question, but clearly none of them has the nerve to openly contest him. The only change within the PLP comes from Alfred Sears, the personally respected lawyer who returns to the political fray after a few years’ absence. His direct challenge to his old friend Perry faces two major hurdles: first, persuading the official PLP delegates, many firmly entrenched, to vote for him as party leader at next year’s convention; second, assuming success, convincing voters at next May’s general election that he can truly create a “New PLP”. At least, he is the only politician so far to produce a manifesto giving a detailed road map of his policies.
Observing the manoeuvres of him, Mr Christie, Dr Minnis and Mr McCartney over the next few months will provide a diverting spectacle, with more open and vigorous debate than in the past, and possibly creating new structures in our political scene.
The apocryphal Chinese curse goes, “May you live in interesting times”. We are now in the midst of them.
• Richard Coulson is a retired lawyer and investment banker born in Nassau and from a long line of Bahamians. He is a financial consultant and author of A Corkscrew Life - adventures of a travelling financier. Comments and responses to firstname.lastname@example.org