Whatever happens in the US on Tuesday, Eddie the pit bull will still get doughnuts
Ruth Dudley Edwards assesses the electoral mood in Indiana and finds little enthusiasm for either candidate
While I enjoy famous bits of the United States of America, it's to Indiana, where for about 20 years I've been attending Magna Cum Murder, a crime convention, that I go most often. Afterwards, I spend a few days with Magna's presiding genius, Kathryn Kennison, in Muncie, which has a population of around 70,000 and helps me understand the American heartland and its reassuring sense of community.
Kathryn's house is filled with rescue animals. The other week, Eddie, a strong and energetic pit bull terrier who on first acquaintance looks fiercer than her Doberman Pinschers, escaped from Kathryn's car and invaded the dry cleaners. Having careered through the establishment checking out every room, he applied his mighty jaws to consuming a plateful of doughnuts and was eventually retrieved and shoved back in the car. There was no panic, and when Kathryn returned the following day bearing an apologetic box of doughnuts, there was much merriment.
Muncie people don't scare easily.
Indiana is a conservative state whose governor, Mike Pence, is Donald Trump's running mate, and while I can't stand Hillary Clinton, Trump frightens me. Along with his grossness, ignorance, arrogance and goldfish-like attention span, he's too thin-skinned and emotionally immature to be put in charge of a nuclear arsenal. This was a good place to be asking people - both locals and writers and readers at the convention who come from places as far apart as New York City and Texas -why they might vote for him.
I found plenty of people who were simply sickened by Hillary Clinton. There's a reason why people cheer when Trump refers to her as "Crooked Hillary": as people in the UK believe Tony Blair has traded on his charitable foundation to make him rich and globally influential, they think that as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton peddled influence for money for the Clinton Foundation. They loathe everything they feel she represents: corruption, cronyism, knee-jerk liberalism, slavish obedience to vested interests, mendacity, mediocrity, a sense of dynastic entitlement and a contempt for national security demonstrated by her bizarre handling of her email correspondence. They think her a hypocrite for attacking Trump for being sexist after her record of rubbishing women with serious claims against Bill.
And then there's her clear contempt for those outside her circle.
For a woman trying to shake off an elitist tag, it was foolish of her some weeks back to have publicly described half of Donald Trump's supporters as a "basket of deplorables… Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, you name it". She recommended her supporters to "just "eliminate… the deplorables from your thinking, because we've always had an annoying prejudicial element within our politics".
She tried to make up for this by saying subsequently that she shouldn't have said "half", and explained kindly that the rest of Trump supporters were people deserving of empathy because of their economic anxiety.
As Governor Pence pointed out at the time, there are millions of people supporting Trump who are "hard-working Americans, farmers, coalminers, teachers, veterans, members of our law enforcement community, members of every class of this country… They are Americans and they deserve your respect". Trump at least gives the illusion of feeling at home with ordinary people and his refusal to be muzzled by politically-correct conventions is a great relief to many.
I found no enthusiasts for either, but plenty who saw Trump as the lesser of two evils and thought there was a sporting chance he might shake up Washington and drain its corporate and lobbyist swamp. Defenders said in public he was a showman but in business was a leader who surrounded himself with smart people, listened to them and delegated well. Others shared his opposition to, for instance, abortion, the Iran deal that many think is appeasement, Obamacare, which is proving alarmingly expensive for many, and free trade policies that hit US jobs.
Every time I go to America I am appalled once more by the sheer awfulness of the media, and the scandal-mongering and the dreadful diet of negativity this time was sickening. Most people I talked to were ashamed by the low calibre of the candidates and the rancorous and squalid tone of the debate and fearful of what's going to happen after the elections, now on a knife-edge.
The American constitution, which was designed to encourage cooperation, has proved incapable of developing a system that works today. It costs huge fortunes to run for office, the presidential job is too big for one person, and a Democratic president stymied by a Republican-controlled Senate and House of Representatives has caused paralysis in Washington, which could happen again if Hillary Clinton wins narrowly. Trump could end up with the White House and control of the House, but his own party is so split that there would be little guarantee of peaceful political advancement. Neither of them is a healer. The Supreme Court, which has far too much power and gives its justices tenancy for life, is split 4-4 between liberals and conservatives because Obama was too politically weak to appoint a successor when a judge died in February. Yet if there's a dispute over the election, it will be referred to the court, and the next appointment will be a key determinant of the future direction of the country.
It's a bleak future. There's a good chance that Hillary would be impeached, and there's plenty of dirt to dig on the Donald.
Vladimir Putin, who may or may not have been involved in the leaking of the emails, is licking his lips.
But Americans are resilient, and, as Kathryn says, what's important is kindness.
Unless my worst fears about Trump are realised, one way or another, they'll get through the next four years and Eddie - who is a sweetheart - will still get doughnuts.