Sunday 26 March 2017

Crazy sub-plots of US election outdo anything Broadway could dream up

Mandy Johnston in New York

'Even if she were in a coma, she would still be better than Donald Trump". The response from a T-shirt wearing, sticker-clad Hillary supporter in Times Square when I asked if his backing would waiver if her reported health problems were eventually proven to be true.

My first encounter with an American voter since landing in JFK Airport was to prove reflective of a city waiting to exhale.

Until today, like many Irish people, I have observed the American election from the comfort and safety of my own armchair. As a keen observer of current affairs and having managed communications in several Irish election campaigns, I have watched more than a reasonable amount of late night TV debates and overtly biased American news discussions. Often slacked jawed with incredulity and bemused with a mixture of mirth and amazement, I thought that I had grasped the epic bizarreness of the US Presidential Election 2016.

I had no idea. Not until today have I truly understood just how polarising these two candidates are, or just how intensely divisive this election campaign has become. Viewed with anxiousness, the US presidential campaign is a menace they want done with - and many fear what will happen next.

This sprawling metropolis of magnetic rock remains an irresistible destination for all those who insist on being where things are happening; a city where naked ambition and racial conflict live side by side.

The frenetic pace of New York remains constant, that is not new, but today the ardent nervousness of America is palpable.

Populated with a cultivated intelligentsia borne out of class envy and greed, New York has manifested the clash of political titans into a battle to end all battles.

Broadway bristles with an anxious energy as always, but the show stopping drama playing out in real time is continually outdoing creative art, as culture tosses up figures outstripping the creative mind of any novelist or writer. Enter stage right supreme showman, agent provocateur and native New Yorker, Donald J Trump.

In speeches which simplify and stab at the heart of American establishment, Trump has from the outset crafted a crusade against all political norms. Single-handedly he has dismantled any notion that political correctness is a basic requirement in modern democracy. He has lied and insulted his way through this campaign with the gay abandon of a locker room jock one play away from a Super Bowl touchdown.

The scandals and sensationalism thrown up in the election have been rich beyond belief. FBI investigations, tax evasion, bankruptcy, leaked emails, profane recordings, racial insults, threats of impeachment, misogyny, plagiarising, rape accusations, former husbands, current wives, pussy bows, pants suits, body doubles, Mexican walls, Julian Assange and Russian leaders.

Good God what writer of any Broadway production would dare dream up such crazy stuff and then ask you to suspend your disbelief?

This is a performance with two villains, the other Hillary Clinton. The first ever female presidential candidate who was it not for Donald Trump, would be breaking records herself for unfavourable ratings. Who knows when her personal plans for the Oval Office commenced; perhaps as she stood by Bill Clinton like Tammy Wynette, November 8, 2016 was always in her mind!

In 2000, she made Chappaqua, New York her political base by purchasing a house there and became eligible for election. The first First Lady to ever run for office. Accusations of carpetbaggging eventually fell by the way side and while she will never be seen as a native New Yorker, one person told me he believed she has been embraced by the people here "because she is as tough and hard as the city itself".

They share a defiant ambition and there is a grudging respect that she will not go down without a fight. Others point to the proliferation of media and money as her motive for locating here.

Imperfect but solid, she should be a slam dunk for every female voter in the way Obama was for ethnic minorities - not just in America but the world over. But she is not. If Obama came out swinging for ethnic minorities like a modern day Mohammad Ali, Hillary might be compared to Serena Williams. And that's okay. Her trophy cabinet is stuffed to capacity; she is as capable at her game as any man but still emotions and words fail her.

Few females can identify with Hillary, but that does not mean they do not respect her. She is admired rather than liked. Charisma unlike celebrity cannot be bought or manufactured, it is easy to identify but difficult to define.

The gift for imparting inclusive intimacy simply eludes her and she can't buy it. Unlike some politicians, she has not mastered the art of faking it, and it is unlikely she ever will. Lacking the charisma and oratory skills of some of her predecessors, she is even trumped by her nemesis in that regard, but no one can question that she is able for the job. Moreover, her feminism cannot be doubted - she genuinely cares about our progress and if she is elected it will be a positive development for women the world over.

So as New York voters head for the polling booths today some opinions are diametrically opposed and vehement, others just want it to be over. The city that never sleeps remains captivated if not consumed by this election. It is here to New York both candidates will return this evening for their final outings.

NO matter who is victorious, the status and structure of American society remains random, chaotic and divided.

The only consensus to be found on the streets of New York is that no one can predict the outcome.

There are no more words left to be written, no more votes left to play for, all will be settled today.

In Times Square, screaming electronic billboards flash the names of the two most unpopular candidates in American history, Clinton vs Trump. Looming figures writ large.

New York provides a vulgar milieu, a gaudy fitting backdrop to the ugliest campaign we have ever seen.

I love it, and yet I am minded of home and the words of our own George Hamilton.

A nation holds its breath.

Irish Independent

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