The best and worst country
UPDATE, 10.2.2016: The New Hampshire primary on 9 February resulted in clear wins for Donald Trump (Republican) and Bernie Sanders (Democrat). For details, see here.
The citizens of the US are going through the seemingly never-ending process of selecting their presidential candidates. And the potential candidates seem unsure about whether America is the best or worst country on earth.
Last week, I argued that it is easier to understand the appeal of Donald Trump than most people think — even though I personally find him most unappealing.
And following a recent visit to New Hampshire ahead of the primary on 9 February, it is clear that the stories that the American people are being told boil down to three very simple narratives.
After listening to most of the main candidates — including Republicans Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, Marco Rubio and Donald Trump, and the Democrats HIllary Clinton and Bernie Sanders — this is my executive summary:
- The Republicans all basically have the same narrative: "America is a broken country as a result of seven years of Barack Obama. But fundamentally, we're the greatest country on earth. So if you vote Republican, we'll make America great again." The logic doesn't bear close scrutiny. And the only real argument is about which Republican is best placed to make America — "the greatest county on earth" — "great again".
- Bernie Sanders, who describes himself as a "democratic socialist", is selling an alternative, but equally simple narrative: "The American economy is 'rigged' — in favour of the rich, the banks and other financial interests. Vote for me and I'll fix the system, by taxing the rich, taking on the vested interests and redistributing money to the poor." All very laudable but few believe that Sanders can deliver on his promises.
- Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is selling a "steady as we go" message, not least because she was a member of the first Obama government. She, too, thinks financial interests need controlling. But the fact that her campaign has received large amounts of money from Wall Street — and that she was paid $675,000 for giving three speeches to Goldman Sachs — means that, for many people, her credibility is damaged.
Of course there are many specific federal issues in this campaign, such as immigration, taxation, student debt, health care and the treatment of war veterans. And there is one important local issue in New Hampshire that has received much less international coverage: the rising problem of opiate abuse.
But when you take away all the huffing, puffing and pontificating, the choice boils down to the three narratives above. Frankly, It is not a terribly inspiring choice for the world's leading industrialized nation.
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