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Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or in Greymouth) for the past 18 months, you’ll be aware that in just over five weeks arguably the most polarising election in US history will take place.
The Republican candidate, Donald J. Trump (aka King of the Deplorables—source: HRC), and the Democratic candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton (aka Crooked Hillary—source: The Donald), will square off against each other bringing to an end months of melodramatic controversy, eye-rolling campaign ads, and frankly exhausting media coverage of an election cycle that has confounded, well, just about everyone in the entire world.
But what has led us to this point? In a nutshell, how is it that come January 20, 2017, one of these two presidential contenders, who are debatably the two most hated candidates in twenty-first century politics, will have direct access to the nuclear codes for over 45 per cent of the world’s functioning nuclear warheads? I will endeavour to unmask the absolute conundrum of the 2016 US presidential election to see whether we all need to readily invest in NASA in order to escape this planet in T-minus thirty-six days.
How it actually works
Before we throw ourselves into the wild worlds of these two candidates, it is best to establish how the US actually picks its president. Just like everything else in America (see: the metric measurement system, the use of Fahrenheit, listing the dates as month/day/year), the presidential election process is stupidly confusing, long-winded, and just a little bit suspicious.
First off, the two dominating US political parties, the Republican Party (like the National Party but with cowboy hats) and the Democratic Party (like the Labour Party but minus Aunty Helen, RIP) hold their primaries where their delegates, members of each party, vote for their preferred candidate at party conventions. Unlike classic NZ, where someone just goes “right, ol’ mate Andrew hasn’t had a go at being party leader yet, let’s give him a run shall we, he can’t be any worse than bloody Phil,” registered voters within the US get to actually vote for their preferred candidate.
Once the candidates are confirmed the general election begins. Now, here’s where things get complicated. Instead of the simple “most votes wins” system, the US uses the “Electoral College” to elect the president. Despite what the name suggests, the Electoral College is not a university or school that both Trumpy and Hills have to attend in order to become leaders (this is what I genuinely thought it was when I first heard the term).
Rather, when registered voters cast their votes in November, they are making an electoral vote, which makes up this bizarre Electoral College. Now there are 538 electorates throughout the US, so a candidate needs to win 270 electoral votes (the majority) to become president. The twist is that the number of electoral votes per state differs on population and federal delegation size and the candidate who wins the majority of the electoral votes within each state receives all of the electoral votes for that given state. For example, California has 55 electoral votes. So if Trump wins 28 of the Californian electoral votes in November and Hillary wins 27, Trump will receive all 55 votes. This means that a candidate can conceivably become the president by winning just 12 states (California: 55, Texas: 38, Florida: 29, New York: 29, Illinois: 20, Pennsylvania: 20, Ohio: 18, Michigan: 16, Georgia: 16, North Carolina: 15, Virginia: 13, Maine: 11. Total: 280).
So even if a candidate receives the majority of the popular vote, but not the electoral vote, they lose the presidential election. (This happened in 2000 when fuckboi George Jr beat out good-guy Al Gore in the electoral vote, but did not receive the majority of the popular vote—and look how well THAT one worked out for you America.)
Now we’ve established just how whacked this electoral system is we can begin our examination of America’s two favourite villains, Hillary and Don-don.
Hilla the Hun
Hillary Rodham Clinton, the democratic nominee, needs no introduction. Having lost the 2008 Democratic primaries to the original-gangster Barack, ya girl Hills is back at it again, leading the charge to become America’s first female president (get on NZ’s level @America, Jenny from the block (also goes by Jenny Shipley) took out our title 19 years ago).
Despite many early predictions in her favour, Clinton’s road to becoming the Democratic nominee was not exactly smooth sailing. Her biggest obstacle came unexpectedly from the far left, bearing the slogan of “Feel the Bern.” Bernie Sanders, age: approx. 105, a senator from Vermont, successfully created a movement which gained momentum among the millennial population in America. This surprised many political strategists and election junkies alike, as on the surface Bernie seemed to be just your regular, disheveled old white dude. You see, from early 2013 (if not earlier), Hillary had already secured the endorsement of many inside the Democratic institutions and donor bases. Her candidacy seemed to be a given and attentions began turning to who’d she’d run against on the GOP side. Little did Hills know, Bernie would get up from his rocking chair, grab his walking stick, and attempt to start a revolution.
And he nearly succeeded. Bern appealed to some voters in ways that Hillary could not: pushing ideas of democratic socialism, championing the oppressed, and challenging the political and economic establishment dominated by Wall Street. Nonetheless, when push came to shove, the Sanders insurgency came a little too late. Whether it was because people believed his policies were too dystopian, or that he’d die of a heart attack while in office (I’ll stop with the age jokes soon, I promise), Hillary won by nearly 3.7 million votes.
Running on a platform focused on raising middle class incomes, expanding women’s rights, instituting and regulating Wall Street, and improving the Affordable Care Act (the current American health system is like, 1.5 stars out of 10 at best), Clinton wants to smash through that irksome glass ceiling and prove to gals (and guys) all over America that they are “stronger together.” Still, she continues to have a polarising effect on American citizens. That pesky email scandal, her role in the Benghazi attacks, that problematic pro-Iraq stance in 2002, previous dealings with Wall Street, and the general perception that she is a “wishy-washy, capitalist liar” are all prominent arguments made in the Anti-Hillary debate. Some people even hate her because she didn’t give sleazy old Bill the flick after he had “sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky” in 1997.
But at the end of the day, Hillary and her running mate Tim Kaine (designated white male of the campaign, smiles with his teeth a lot, looks like he enjoys vanilla ice cream) need to prove just one little thing to the American public in order to win this election: “even if you do hate us, are we really worse than that other guy?”
The rise of “The Donald”
“That other guy,” also known as Donald J. Trump, is the literal elephant in the room ( the national symbol of the Republican party is an elephant, hah). The mystery of Trump is, well, a little hard to get your head around. The first question on everyone’s mind seems to be “how on EARTH did we let it get this far?”
Well let’s hash this out. Trump, a businessman-come-television personality and now the potential 45th President of the US, first tried his luck in politics in 2011 when he considered running as the Republican nominee in the 2012 election. Although he didn’t ultimately seek the nomination, and Mitt Romney (throwback to that guy) got the job, Trump’s enthusiasm for politics was sadly not sated.
Unlike the Democratic primaries, there was never any clear favourite on the Republican side with a total of 17 nominees filing as candidates through the primary race (including the Zodiac Killer, also commonly known as Ted Cruz, whose foreign policies ideas included “carpet bombing the Islamic State.” Hmmmmm, no thanks). GOP institutions, elites, and donors didn’t openly endorse any candidate until late 2015, and once they did finally decide that Marco Rubio was their guy Trump has already “trumped up” too much support to be stopped (bad joke, but you know had to go for it). It was almost as if no one really believed that The Donald would gain any traction on the political sphere so they largely ignored his campaign, thinking that his extremist, seemingly far-right, policies would be faced with widespread criticism and make him an object of ridicule from the American public. Oh how wrong they were.
Speaking of his policies, Trump and his running mate Mike Pence (imagine Voldemort, but with hair and looks like he eats charcoal for breakfast) have what we’ll call an “interesting” policy platform. First of all, climate change? Nope, doesn’t exist. Mexico? Yeah, chuck that wall up would you? (Send them the bill while you’re at it.) Guns? Frick yeah, gung-ho to the second amendment. Some of Trump’s other stances include opposition of birthright citizenship, is anti-TPPA (so Wellington of him), favours repealing Obamacare, and has proposed “across the board” tax cuts, the reduction of regulations, and the raising of tariffs as his economic policy.
So why does Trump have so much support? The easy answer would be to say that 41% of America (Trump’s current polling numbers) are racist, misogynistic imbeciles. This could be true. However I think it goes beyond this. What Trump is offering is a complete reformation of American Politics. Having never served in Congress, Trump is not tainted by “corrupt Washington” and appeals to voters who have become disenfranchised by lack of change previous presidents and politicians have brought. Overall, Trump speaks his mind. Yes, most of the stuff that’s on his mind is overwhelmingly stupid, definitely racist, and almost always politically infeasible, yet it’s mobilising republican voters faster than John fricken Key himself, circa 2014.
So, are we all going to die?
The short answer is no. It is best to remember in these situations that a presidential term is four years, and is constitutionally limited to two terms for a reason. But the long answer is, well, eight years is a pretty long time to cause some ruckus. Previously mentioned fuckboi George Jr had a mere eight years in office and look at all the havoc that he created (invaded Iraq, forgot to ask permission, was generally not a cool guy). Simply put, this election has defied, and will continue to defy, expectations. No poll, survey, or focus group can accurately tell us what going to go down on November 8. All I can suggest is that you strap yourself in, purchase that military bunker in inland South Canterbury, and prepare yourself for nuclear armageddon.