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On bigotry, and the nastiness of American politics

October 21st, 2016

The vigour with which Hillary Clinton is being reviled and despised by much of the population of the United States is to say the least a little troubling. American elections are, as well they should be, fought energetically, but when has an American election been fought with such spite and venom?

A flick through my Facebook feed, including as it does a decent number of Americans of, roughly, my age reveals a quite astonishing animus towards Clinton. The simple, most obvious, reason, is that she is, as you may have noticed, a woman, but there’s a lot more to the bile and hatred directed her way than simple misogyny.

It’s hard to deny that a large part of the hatred directed toward Clinton is, indeed, good old-fashioned sexism. Bigotry has long been the undercurrent that drives much of American society, and it has long taken many forms, but we’ve only really seen it speak its name in the last decade or two. The normalisation of American bigotry started when the Democrats began the process of anointing Barack Obama, and that simply wouldn’t do — the presidency, let’s face it, is the property, the manifestly destined right, of good, God-fearing Christian white men. And then along comes one of them there negroes, thinking he’s going into the White House? That simply wouldn’t do, but then, neither would the out-and-out racism that bubbles under the surface of much of American discourse but which usually has the courtesy, or at least the common sense, to keep quiet. So rather than have the decency to admit that they couldn’t stand the thought of a black president, many Americans started to question another pillar of their expectations for a president — the “God-fearing Christian” bit — and, setting aside the fact that Obama has been a church-goer much of his life, painted him as a Muslim. Because while racist bigots know to keep their mouths shut, while polite American society knows to condemn racial bigotry, religious bigotry is still tolerable in America — them terrrrrists are all Mohammedans, after all, ain’t they, which means, ipso facto, that them Mohammedans ain’t to be trusted now, are they, ‘cos they’re all terrrrists, ain’t they? Toss in some bullshit about him being ineligible for the presidency because he was born in Kenya (wrong on a whole Internet’s worth of levels, starting with the fact that he wasn’t born in Kenya and then moving through the fact that, even had he been, he’d still have been more eligible for the presidency than John McCain, but that’s a whole and entire other story…), and you’ve got a nice little way of discrediting the black man without ever actually having to point out that the reason you don’t like him is simply that you’re a racist. And now that we’ve got bigotry firmly established as a guiding force in politics (hardly new — how the hell did a Catholic ever get elected?), it’s not a huge surprise that sexist bigotry is making a disappointing number of people detest a major-party candidate simply because of one of her twenty-third chromosomes.

But that’s only part of what’s profoundly broken in the discourse surrounding the current electoral fiasco. Much of the rest of the blame has to be placed squarely on the shoulders of the orange-faced gibbon opposing Clinton. Donald Trump, the bizarre, petulant, ignorant manchild that somehow Republican voters thought should be their nominee for president, has lowered the tone of discourse surrounding this election so far down into the gutter that it’s starting to terrify the clowns that usually live in the sewers. He’s a hateful little man, a frustrated little bundle of anger and hatred with very little about which to be angry. A born winner of life’s lottery in many ways, he has one toy he’s still not been given, and he wants it so terribly badly, so he’s willing to fight a very ugly fight to get it, and woe betide any poor bugger who gets in his way. He’s lived a life as charmed as any until now, getting away with, well, not murder as far as we’re aware but a catalogue of other sins. He’s clearly a despicable businessman, and the details of his personal life that are revealing themselves of late show us that his reprehensibility  extends far beyond the boardroom. What should be, and what has been in previous years, a civil and civilised process in which grown-ups challenge each other’s conflicting views in a grown-up way has been turned by a presence so toxic that even his hair looks like it has to be cemented to his head to stop it from escaping. Trump has so lowered the level of the discourse that “I simply can’t agree with Clinton’s policies and I cannot accept that she is the right person for the presidency” has become “I hate Crooked Hilary.” What’s terrifying about this, of course, is not so much that Trump’s rhetoric is both infantile and offensive, and more that he’s managed to set the tone of the national conversation about his opponent at this level.

I have little love for Hillary Clinton. She’s the latest in a long line of entitled famous people and part of yet another American political dynasty. But the campaign that Donald Trump has run lacks even the most basic, fudamental rudiments of polite intercourse. It’s fine to disagree with Clinton, but the profound ugliness of Trump’s rhetoric is less than she deserves, and the spiteful nastiness of his campaign has denied Americans the opportunity to have an intelligent debate about the future of the country. And, having allowed Trump to drag the national debate down to his infantile level, America has embarrassed itself in front of the rest of the world, and it should be thoroughly ashamed of itself.

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