IT has become a cliché that this was the most important presidential election in modern American history. It isn’t even true. Richard Nixon’s victory in 1968 determined the future of the Vietnam War. John F Kennedy’s opened the way for civil rights for black people. But there’s little doubt it has been the craziest election in modern times – a suitable climax to the craziest presidency.

Donald Trump was an accidental POTUS, a joke that went wrong. He didn’t really expect to win in 2016. Like the opinion pollsters he thought Hillary Clinton had it in the bag. He was largely in it for the publicity and because the presidential campaign provided a global platform for his vanity.

Building a wall to keep out Mexican immigrants, and getting the Mexican government to pay for it, was a ludicrous promise that could never be honoured. As was locking up Ms Clinton and banning Muslim immigrants. He surfed far right conspiracy theories and recklessly alienated the press at his notorious mass rallies, accusing them of lying and promoting elite contempt for the ordinary Joe.

The Republican Party has been in shock ever since. Democrats like to claim that Republican rightists used the madness of the Trump presidency as a distraction while they pushed through key policies on the sly – like tax cuts, withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change Accord and reform of the Supreme Court. But at what cost?

The Republicans will take decades to live down the Trump years. A delinquent president, whose administration became a by-word for chaos at home, has done massive damage to America’s prestige and interests abroad. The Chinese couldn’t believe their luck. Here was the world’s policeman behaving like a clown, sucking up to dictators if they said something nice over dinner.

His racist remarks have dismayed America’s allies. Mr Trump launched pointless trade wars and destabilised the Nato alliance. He has behaved like a petulant child blundering and blustering through international summits. Getting a couple of extra places on the Supreme Court is small compensation to the Republican Party for shouldering the blame for making the US an international pariah.

Mr Trump’s stupid remarks and cack-handed handling of the Covid epidemic caused dismay amongst scientists and the few Republicans in his administration who still had a grasp of their own sanity. The Donald stoked America’s debilitating culture war which has left the country at war with itself on social media and on the streets. This president lacked the emotional intelligence to reassure black people that the police are not their real enemy. In many American cities, civil order itself has broken down and vigilantes are taking over.

I do not believe Mr Trump was entirely to blame for all this. Antifa extremists have been as militant as the Proud Boys. America’s weird anarchist sects have made the most of the urban chaos. The Democrats too inflamed passions recklessly during the Trump years, not least by obsessing about unfounded allegations of Russian interference, and by associating themselves, some of them, with the campaign to defund the police.

In many American universities, Democrat-supporting academics have all but abandoned freedom of speech on the grounds that Mr Trump has been introducing fascism in America and that conservative ideas must therefore be suppressed. Mr Trump is a right-wing populist but he is not Adolf Hitler. Nor are American conservatives Trump clones. But intellectual discourse has become so polarised that language itself has become a battleground.

The US media has in some respects succumbed to the very bias and partisanship that Donald Trump accused it of in 2016. As the Pulitzer-prize winning investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald, formerly of Intercept, has pointed out, the press has been so desperate to see the end of Mr Trump it has refrained from legitimate criticism of the Democratic candidate, Joe Biden.

Mr Biden remains an unknown quantity at the end of this campaign. He has been handled with kid gloves by a media who were clearly afraid that he might shatter under pressure. He may not be suffering from dementia, but he is certainly showing his age. His many gaffes and confusions – such as calling a female audience member “a lying dog-faced pony soldier” and saying “the US had good relations with Hitler before he invaded Europe” – have been politely excused.

Mr Biden clearly has questions to answer over his son Hunter’s activities in Ukraine. He appeared to use his father’s name to promote his interests there and in China. No corruption or wrong-doing has been established, but there is apparent conflict of interest. A Special Prosecutor, Robert Mueller, spent two years and $32 million trying, unsuccessfully, to confirm collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. The media has not shown the same enthusiasm for Mr Biden’s connections.

If Biden policies are obscure it is because few have been interested in examining them critically. Mr Biden does not actually support the Green New Deal promoted by prominent figures in the Democratic Party, like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. His policy on health care is opaque and he does not support universal provision or “medicare for all”. He would continue severe restrictions on immigration, as did his former boss Barak Obama.

Mr Trump is a symptom of the despair of the industrial working classes at the loss of their well-paid jobs. He is seen by many provincial voters the antidote to the political correctness of the coastal elites. He expressed the patriotism of the middle Americans who still believed in their country. Unfortunately, he has damaged them economically and demeaned their flag.

Mr Trump revived American exceptionalism in his slogan’s “America First”. That is not going away any time soon. Like a barking dog, he served notice on the world that America is no longer a magnanimous overlord, a dignified and cooperative ally. It is a world power on the decline, no longer secure in itself, economically or militarily.

Americans had to choose between two elderly and confused men with limited intellects and little time ahead of them. That rather sums up the state of the nation in the 2020s.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald

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