Co-authored by Maithili Parikh, Government Law College, Mumbai
One debate down and two more to go! There has been a lot said about both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton—given the weight of the position that they are running for, the world is watching both like hawks. The purpose of this article, though, is not to review either Hillary or Trump's campaign, or ridicule one or laud the other. Here we want to note our observations on the reasons for the low margin between the two candidates.
The media is only a platform of mass communication and when a candidate is unable to leverage it properly and establish a connection, gaining wide support becomes more arduous.
One theory doing the rounds is where Ezra Klein of the Vox talks about a "gap" between the Hillary that her colleagues vouch for and the Hillary that the average American knows. She is known to be a person who leads by the relationships that she builds and not by the speeches that she delivers. When questioned about the reason for being in this precarious position, Hillary puts the blame on the media. In an interview, she pointed out that even if the accusations are eventually proved to be untrue they end up doing substantial damage to her image. However, while this theory is plausible, most voters expect for there to be some mud-slinging in an election and take this into consideration while making their judgments. Obama, Bill Clinton and other presidents have also been significantly battered during their campaigns by the media. Ultimately, the media is only a platform of mass communication and when a candidate is unable to leverage it properly and establish a connection, gaining wide support becomes that much more arduous.
Now, let's look at Trump. To begin with, he doesn't have any immunity against media bashing. In fact, a section of the media in the US and other parts of the world virtually revels in lampooning him and highlighting why he is a terrible choice for President. But he seems to handle the media with relative ease. He seems to have a more hands-on approach with the media no matter what the story is and this seems to be giving him more face time with the people of America, if nothing else. No publicity is the only bad publicity. He feeds the media; he thrives on their attention.
Getting a Republican nomination is no cakewalk and, neither is managing a business empire as vast as his. It requires some skill and some tact, neither of which he has displayed during his election campaign. From this we are tempted to draw the inference that maybe his behaviour is on purpose. By flaunting ideas like building a wall between the US and Mexico, eliminating ISIS and tightening immigration procedures, he is hitting the right note with the average American because this is precisely what they want to hear. Owing to this, the slew of derogatory comments on various subjects seems to have gone unnoticed. Picking up from the theory by Joanathan Chait of The New York Times, the unwillingness to contextualize actions thereby downplaying ethical and political decisions unto the same playing ground of 'mistakes' of the presidential candidates has unwittingly aided in the normalization of Trump even as it resulted in the abnormalization of Clinton.
Trump seems to have a more hands-on approach with the media... and this seems to be giving him more face time with the people of America, if nothing else.
Trump is not trying to tell people something novel or intellectual. He, in fact, does not even explain his ideas, or how he wishes to execute them. Instead he is using the emotion around him deftly to further his campaign. By doing so he transforms into a "normal" person, and is often "forgiven" by people for his peccadilloes. Clinton, on the other hand, is losing out on the leverage to even commit a minor mistake.
A comparable turn of events took place not too long ago in the UK. The rhetoric and promises of those propounding Brexit were so much in sync with the aspirations of the majority that no matter how counter-productive the idea was, the common person voted for an exit from the European Union.
Back to the US presidential election, what is worrying is that the contest is dangerously close. On the face of it, Donald Trump as the President of the United States is an idea that evokes trepidation in several countries, given the stature of the US in world politics. Most nations do not desire the kind of leadership that Trump promises to bring in. To emerge victorious, Hillary needs to compete with her own methods to make them work better and more effectively, while Trump needs to become more inclusive and composed.
Having said it all, we will miss Barack Obama—his effortless charm, intelligent wit and sass.