OTTAWA—By the time you read this column the United States will likely have picked a new president, and this long, torturous election season will be over. That at least would be a small mercy but perhaps that is too optimistic.
This past weekend I spent in Chicago, Ill. normally a hotbed of all things Democratic. While the city is still basking in the glory of the Chicago Cubs winning their first World Series in 108 years, there seems to be less certainty about post-presidential-election America.
From the cab ride in from O’Hare airport to the numerous conversations I had with different people from the U.S. over the weekend, there was neither a great sense of relief that the election was coming to an end nor a certainty about outcome. Maybe that is a general reaction to the political climate that just seems unhappy about the choices on the ballot, along with the broader state of things. Maybe it was the hangovers talking after the big baseball win. Either way, I found it disturbing.
My expectation when I was in Barack Obama’s hometown was that I’d hear a lot of positive comments or at least a sense of acceptance about an inevitable Hillary Clinton win. Instead I got more of the don’t-discount-Donald-Trump argument. That was eye opening. None of this of course is scientific, it is all anecdotal; but it was unexpected.
While pollsters have been telling us for months that Hillary Clinton is the second-most-disliked presidential candidate in history, behind Donald Trump, I am not sure I really believed that until I experienced it firsthand in perhaps the country’s most Democratic city. The people I spoke with weren’t hesitant to label Clinton a criminal, like Trump has done, or more mildly speak of her and former president Bill Clinton being all about themselves, with an acknowledgement that most Americans are sick of that. It was a Trump message track to a T, and these people claimed not to be his supporters.
Conversations also veered into the sphere of the so-called quiet Trump supporter: the person who won’t endorse Trump in public for fear of being ostracized by their friends, but who will come out and vote for the man on Election Day. Hearing things like that can ruin even the best of weekends, let me tell you. Again, I want to remind you I was in Chicago, not Redneckville, U.S.A.
Polls and prediction models in the closing hours of the campaign suggested Clinton would win. But what exactly will the victory mean? It almost seems that the massive historic achievement of becoming the first female president of the United States of America will be significantly discounted because Hillary’s last name is Clinton. Clinton may inherit a very angry nation and, at least to start, not a lot of goodwill to govern. People will be challenging her win from Day 1, lest she conquer massively on Tuesday.
People will tell you Trump can win too. The stock markets weren’t showing that on Monday based on positive trading, but then again they didn’t get Brexit right either.
Chicago gave me a wake-up call that though the election is over, the tensions and anxieties about the American political system are real. They will linger long past today, despite this battle being done. My fear for America, which is also a concern for us, is a lot of work needs to be done to deal with the multiple lines of discord that are evident in any conversation with a citizen of that great country.
Frankly, neither of the presidential candidates seems up to that task of dealing with America’s multiple angsts. While many Canadians are cheering for a Clinton victory, it remains foggy as to whether anything really will have been won as this campaign ends. Canada may look lots better by comparison, but that will be a shallow glow, as Canada needs an enabled not disabled America.
Tim Powers is vice-chairman of Summa Strategies and managing director of Abacus Data. He is a former adviser to Conservative political leaders.
The Hill Times