After 25 primary and general election debates in total, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump met on October 19th for the final presidential debate. I will try my best to distill some of the red flags we gather from this extraordinary election campaign.
A Comment by Sylvia Wittmer
When in Doubt, Shout?
Many have pointed out that the debating style from the primaries to the presidential debates has undergone terrible evolution during this electoral campaign. And the last debate was no exception. While surprisingly factual for the first section, the two candidates early on started spinning questions towards the weaknesses of each other and resorted to screaming, claiming that the other candidate was Wladimir Putin‘s puppet respectively.
Although not to this extent, rhetorics containing scare tactics and exaggerations for shock value have made a comeback in the European political scene, with the Alternative for Germany being the most prominent example in Germany. The effects of these statements can in some degree be counteracted by political awareness training and formal and non-formal education. However we have to ask ourselves if parts of the German electorate might not be in reach of mainstream media and scholarship anymore. I’m afraid it is up to us as members of society to try to include them back into the pluralistic democratic discourse we value, before we reach a level of disenfranchisement similar to the US.
Locker Room Talk is Last Week’s News and Democracy is Optional
Much attention has been directed at Trump’s misogynistic statements and as a woman I join the chorus of how appalled I am by this exposure of raw and deep rooted disrespect towards women in general. However, while the latest revelations have even further exposed this disrespect, we have seen this coming for a long time. In one of her strongest moments in this debate, Hillary Clinton found the right words to describe Trump´s view on women and how it feels being subjected to this view.
Without spending too much time apologizing for his misconduct, Trump made yet another statement demonstrating his unfitness to be president. He refused to confirm that he would accept the result of the election in case of his loss and announced that he would keep America under suspense in this regard.
This illustrates a blatant lack of believe in the system he is part of. It is a very sad day when the potential leader of the free world refuses to accept election results which are not in his favour. This statement was just the tip of the iceberg which illustrated Trump’s deep rooted distrust and disgust for the American democracy.
As a legal scholar, I could not help but shudder when I heard him threatening to have Clinton prosecuted once President. This statement and his suggestion that 2nd amendment activists could “do something about it” if Hillary gets elected open a window into the abysmal perception of democracy and separation of powers of Trump and make observers fear for Clinton’s life. In this piece, I do not attempt to endorse Clinton, being well aware of her flaws and misconduct. Yet, seeing a country which claims to be the origin of modern democracy on the verge of becoming an Orwellian state in which official statements are rephrased and misremembered to their opposite at the next occasion and the ‘enemy’ is dehumanized and political opponents are thrown in jail, is something that should have all citizens of the “free world” alarmed.
We have seen tendencies to refuse election results in Europe as well, when the Austrian FPÖ party prepared a lawsuit against the election results if they were not in their favour. This is a development which supporters of democracy cannot ignore and must counteract. The fundamental principle of democracy, the rule of the majority and the acceptance of the leading candidate are principles that have not been contested by a politician with a real power option in our state. It is absolutely unimaginable that Angela Merkel, Sigmar Gabriel or other leaders of the possible coalition parties would utter such a violent rejection of the foundation of democracy and still get elected. Yet, we should not pat ourselves on the back but rather ensure that we strengthen the culture necessary for this principle to work through education and open political debate beyond the ‘Berlin bubble’.
Hillary for the Save (?)
While this comment so far has focused on the many terrifying statements by the Republican nominee, Clinton did not manage to present herself as the undisputed force for good. The debate touched upon some issues, which previously have not been discussed at length such as national debt and expanded on other questions that had only briefly been touched upon in prior debates. Her contributions were not all a straight hit while some of them were clear misses.
But one of the issues relevant for Germany was her stance on Syria. Given the general narrative of this election campaign, this is a subject in which Clinton seemed prepared to be more hawkish than her opponent. Trump has pointed out that a cooperation with Russia should be sought in order to effectively combat the threat of ISIS. Unfortunately, this policy suggestion and Trump’s decent critique of the institutional work of NATO illustrates his lack of understanding of military strategy and the realities of international politics. This would have been a subject for Clinton to shine. However, she took a far more hawkish position than Barack Obama, making a statement which could be interpreted as an approval of the use of ground troops in the fight against ISIS both in Iraq and Syria (“[…] The legality of such measures is highly questionable and even disputed by her VP candidate.
This hawkish position is not limited to Syria and will be difficult to deal with for Germany as Clinton’s ally. Thus, if Clinton gets elected, we might have dodged a huge threat for democracy but don’t know what challenges are ahead. Unfortunately, from this side of the Atlantic there is nothing we can do but watch what happens on November 8th.
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