Codes of behaviour

Nov 3, 2016·Alasdair Macleod

Observing America’s presidential election from afar has been a curious experience for foreigners.

The next President will be the de facto ruler of the advanced nations, unelected by them, but subject to his or her overreaching strategic commands. On the one hand, we see the establishment candidate accused of criminal behaviour, and on the other we see an anti-establishment candidate having made outrageous promises to get the Republican nomination.

It is however only a matter for American voters and the Electoral College. The voters’ choice appears to be confined between for the establishment or its rejection, its arch-representative or its arch-nemesis. The Electoral College comes later.

In recent years it has become obvious to discontented Americans that its government is no longer the servant of the people. Instead, the people have become servants of the government, and have even become regarded as its property. The Wall Street establishment has prospered while ordinary Main Street businesses and citizens have lost out. Ordinary people are taxed and the state does not appear to do anything for them. It is a tension between electors and the elected that’s as old as democracy, only conquered by a less interventionist establishment, determined to control spending and not promise the earth to special interests. This sense of public duty that drove politicians in the past appears to be absent today, to the point where politicians who believe in public duty are branded as naïve.

Underlying the art of politics is an Anglo-Saxon code of human behaviour. Manners maketh man was the dictum from the early fifteenth century, driven into the minds of privileged schoolboys who would become Britain’s leaders. America inherited the same ethos at Independence, and generally continued to live by it, until more recent times. In an Anglo-Saxon democracy, a country’s leaders are as much subject to the law as ordinary people, and they are expected to behave accordingly. Codes of behaviour are the necessary civilising force in the rough and tumble of politics.

This point seems to have eluded Mrs Clinton’s camp entirely. She stands accused of various breaches of the law, which may or may not be true. But when a case is reopened by the domestic intelligence agency, having received further evidence that may be incriminating, a Democrat of former times would have been expected to exercise judgement and put personal ambition aside. Instead, Mrs Clinton has chosen to bluff it out.

By using private email servers in defiance of security regulations, she has committed an offence. That is unarguable. Whether or not this matters will be determined by the FBI’s investigation. By fighting on she risks breaking the common code of reasonable behaviour. She seems to have also retreated into a sisterhood of feminism, understandable perhaps for the woman who would be President, but amounting to an implied accusation of chauvinism against moderate male voters. A combination of these two considerations could easily lose her majority public support. And in case she hasn’t got this message, it appears the establishment itself, which she seeks to represent, is at this late stage now ditching her for Donald Trump. Those are the smoke signals from the FBI.

Establishment support for Mrs Clinton appears to be melting as rapidly as a hailstone on a hot pavement. This is not yet understood by the media, which habitually takes its copy from the Clinton office without much further consideration. It inexplicably overlooks the illegality of Mrs Clinton’s alleged actions, while being ready to condemn Mr Trump for the attitude he appeared to hold towards women long before he considered standing for public office. It has been a dirty, propaganda-driven, captivating fight. Winning political battles such as this requires dirt to be dug and dished, and both sides are wielding big spades. The shock and horror over The Donald’s alleged dalliances many years ago has even caused Republican congressmen to swoon in horror, exposing their apparent naïveté about politics and more worldly matters.

The role of the FBI

James Comey, the FBI Director who dropped the bombshell that he was reopening the case against Mrs Clinton with less than a fortnight to go, claims to be only acting on the information presented to him as his duty demands. There are stories circulating that he was under pressure from his subordinates, horrified that he dropped the original case. The reality is that departmental politics is often involved and in the case of the security services there is in addition nearly always a loftier agenda as well.

It seems likely therefore that the intelligence establishment, comprised of both the FBI and the CIA, has adopted a view as to who it wishes to be President. If so, the decision appears to have been taken at a very late stage to torpedo Mrs Clinton. And to seal the deal, the FBI has also chosen to release details of their 2001 investigation into the Clinton Foundation, and President Clinton’s pardoning of the fugitive financier, Marc Rich. The establishment is now dishing dirt, and the switch against Mrs Clinton appears both deliberate, definite and on-going.

So now, Mr Trump has become the preferred candidate, the one who will be accommodated best by the establishment. Furthermore, mature consideration reveals that Mr Trump is no fool, he only said foolish things to gather votes. It is therefore a reasonable bet that he will be as keen to establish good working relationships with the important departments of state as they will be with him.

The proof or otherwise of Mr Trump’s political nous should become more apparent in the coming days. If he backs off from his earlier extreme rhetoric and takes a more moderate line on most issues, we can say he understands he must work with the establishment. And if the polls continue to swing his way in the last week, as now seems likely, he would be well advised to mend his broken bridges with upset Republicans in the Electoral College, and reassure the more moderate Democrats in order to secure sufficient support to provide him with an absolute majority. If, as we suppose, the establishment is now backing Mr Trump, it could also bring its influence to bear on the Electoral College, which actually elects the next President. It will still be close, despite the apparent sinking of the Clinton dynasty, but it can be done. Democrats who will be solidly behind their candidate are estimated to be about 40% of the Electoral College, the rest being Republicans or theoretically persuadable. The rest of the world will watch the final week of the presidential race with increasing interest, and will continue to do so as the issue progresses through the Electoral College. First Brexit, and now this. What’s next? At least Brexit didn’t bring the threatened economic consequences. And if Mr Trump becomes President, perhaps the establishment will survive and adapt. So ditching the old for something new may be not turn out to be such a bad thing after all.

Another benefit of a Trump win is the anti-Russian rhetoric should diminish, and the prospects for international peace therefore improve. That Mr Trump has expressed a grudging admiration for Mr Putin suggests the two can work together on better terms than Mr Putin with Mrs Clinton, who has demonised him during her campaign. But the benefits of a Trump-Putin relationship should not be exaggerated, because geopolitical strategy is mostly the preserve of senior figures in the CIA and Department of Defence.

In conclusion, it is becoming apparent that the worst outcome for the establishment, and possibly for the American electorate as well, would be for Mrs Clinton to secure the required nominations from the Electoral College. Mr Trump has wisely left the possibility open that he will not necessarily accept the outcome, if the result is close. However, it is increasingly likely that Mrs Clinton’s naked ambition, overt feminism and her apparent assumption that she is above the law will be her undoing.

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