In the United States, particularly in Washington DC, the nation’s capital, it is impossible to escape the current elections by the Republican and Democratic parties to choose a candidate to represent them in the contest for a new President later this year.
Today, in a DC restaurant, I could not help but overhear the conversations around me. At three tables between which my table was sandwiched, the conversations turned at some point to the election primaries that are now being conducted, and in every case, alarm was expressed about the possible choice of Donald Trump not only as the Presidential nominee for the Republic Party, but as President of the United States.
Washington DC of all areas of the US is the most political. And, the political discourse is informed. DC after all is the home of the White House and Congress. Every day it is invaded by lobbyists, representing all manner of companies. It is also abuzz with journalists, broadcasters, political pundits, diplomats and academics – all of whom regularly analyse and speculate on political developments.
It seems that they have all become extremely worried over the popularity of Donald Trump, the fact that he had the second largest number of votes in Iowa and that he romped to first place in New Hampshire. Their worry is that the domestic agenda he advocates is rooted in repulsive anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican, anti-immigrant policies, and that these policies fly in the face of traditional US values; those that proclaim the country as “the land of the free” and prides itself on being “the home of the brave”.
Indeed, it is difficult to discern what Trump’s domestic agenda is beyond his anti-almost everything policies. On the economic front, he has been most vocal against China and more recently, Japan, as the
cause of decline of the US economy. The fact that the economy is today better than it has been for decades and that unemployment is reduced simply gets in the way of his argument that the country is being given away to China especially.
As for his foreign policy, this seems to comprise “victories”, building a wall on the border with Mexico, carpet-bombing ISIS, unilateral action against other states, and marginalisation of the United Nations and other multilateral organisations. He encapsulates all that in the phrase he shouts most often:
“America will be great again”, as if it has stopped being “great”.
It is precisely because the US is great and is powerful that people all over the globe are anxious about who is or could be the President of the country. The US President, despite all the doubtful rhetoric, is still the world’s most powerful single person and can affect the fate of the entire world.
That is why Donald Trump fills people in Washington DC and across the US and the world with consternation and trepidation. He seems to stand for America with a big stick abroad and a big truncheon at home.
Among the Republican contenders he is the most extreme, but Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are not far behind. The main difference is that where Trump’s utterances are blunt and sometimes vulgar, they dress their policies in less obnoxious though no less confrontational packages.
These three are so extreme that they make Jeb Bush appear reasonable, level headed and mature. Many people may never have thought that they would welcome another Bush as a Republican Presidential candidate, but as Trump, Cruz and Rubio escalate their rhetoric, Jeb Bush looks increasingly appealing.
On the other side of these election primaries, the Democratic Party is now focussed on Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Of the two, Hillary is clearly the most qualified and capable to be President of the United States. She has experience, knowledge and politically savvy. The policies she has been advocating, both domestic and foreign, are attractive. Most of all, they speak to a steady America responsible abroad and caring at home.
And then there is Bernie Sanders. He is a phenomenon. Seventy-four years old, he will be 75 if he is elected President. Yet, despite his age he is the firebrand of these elections. His policies, remarkably, have attracted the youth of America, leaving Hillary Clinton and her campaign team scratching their heads for ways that would bring more young people into her camp.
Sanders has taken on Wall Street and big business fearlessly, unmoved by the large sums of money that could be invested in crushing him. He has made it clear that they will be taxed not only to pay back the middle class for their tax dollars that went into bailing out the bank bosses in the financial crisis, but to pay for the social welfare schemes he would implement.
“The top one-tenth of one percent”, he declares “owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent”. No one has disputed his figures.
He also wants to change income inequality, pointing out that: “The real median income of male workers is $783 less than it was 42 years ago; while the real median income of female workers is over $1,300 less than it was in 2007. That is unacceptable and that has got to change”.
He has promised that he will raise the Federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour by 2020 and to expand social security benefits by raising the cap on taxable income beyond the $250,000 per annum at which it now stands. He has also pledged to make College tuition free and debt free.
Sanders’ well-articulated social and economic policies have found resonance throughout the US, and there is a courage and fearless in him that people seem to admire and trust as demonstrated in his popularity ratings.
He is the opposite of Donald Trump. Between them they represent the extremes of American society, but from an outsider’s point of view Bernie Sanders is a better choice.
If the Presidential election ends up as a contest between Sanders and Trump, the rest of the world will wait to exhale.
(Sir Ronald Sanders is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States and a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London and Massey College, University of Toronto. The views expressed are his own).