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A Tolkienesque look at the U.S. election

By Jim Creskey      

It felt like ‘Mount Doom, here we come,’ after last week’s Republican convention. But then there was a ray of sunlight.

Virginia Senator and Hillary Clinton's running mate Tim Kaine, pictured in June. Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Education
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OTTAWA—Watching the Republican National Convention from Canada was like gazing at the ominous distant mountains of Mordor from a peaceful round doorway in Hobbiton.

The brew of hate and fear woven into grim nationalist sentiments was so potent that it got many Canadian hobbits worrying that this sunny Shire might one day have to defend itself from a Donald Trump-led Washington. How to prepare?

It would be a good start to reject the idea that all Americans, especially all Republicans, are soulless foes.

Though orcish talk dominated the Cleveland presidential convention, it was reassuring to note that not every Republican who filled the floor of delegates thought and behaved like one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s orcs.

Jim Wallis, who for decades has been a voice of Christian evangelical social justice for America’s poorest people, wrote in his blog that he was receiving messages from inside the Republican convention.

They came, he said, from “friends who are Christian, conservative, and Republican—feeling almost distraught about all three of those core commitments. One friend wrote me to say, ‘I am close to losing it. The spirit is so angry and hateful here.’”

The real danger is that Trumpism could easily and quietly slip across the border, because it already has something of a foothold.

Canada, too, is at risk of having “politics treated as entertainment; cynicism about the political process and public institutions,” wrote the CBC’s Aaron Wherry.

He also included, “a diminished media industry challenged to hold politicians to account; a political system that seems unresponsive to the concerns of the public; a political culture that rewards polarization and extremes [and] the spectre of exaggerated threats.”

Not exclusive to the Trump campaign, the politics of fear have to be challenged wherever they are found.

But it was an especially dark cloud that spread out from Cleveland following the Republican convention. Trump’s reality-TV marketing genius felt poised to defeat the stiff and pedantically rational Hillary Clinton. Clinton’s inapproachability factor remained stuck in the red zone. Even Michael Moore believed that. Trump could win because Hillary Clinton could be beaten.

Back in Hobbiton, it seemed like a case of “Mount Doom, here we come”—until Tim Kaine showed up on Saturday, speaking the Spanish he learned while volunteering with the Jesuits in Honduras.

As Hillary Clinton’s newly announced running mate, Kaine did in his Miami speech what Clinton rarely accomplishes on her own. He got the crowd chanting, “Hillary! Hillary!”

So likeable is the senator from Virginia that, in a speech impressive for its comfortable and believable story telling, his good vibes quickly rubbed off on his ticket mate. Standing slightly behind him on his right, she even appeared to grow more relaxed and approachable as he spoke.

Clinton, in her introduction of Kaine, had to present him not only as an accomplished potential vice president but also as a man who could make a competent president. There may be more truth in that than even Clinton might care to admit.

Of course not every Democrat thinks that Kaine is the saviour of all things wholesome and civilized.

Two hours before Kaine gave his Miami speech the “Bernie Delegates Network” began sending out emails, calling Kaine “a loyal servant of oligarchy.”

But anyone one who would take a gap year from Harvard law school to teach trades like carpentry and iron working in Honduras, as Kaine did, is a cut above the ordinary rich man’s lap dog.

Honduras is now one of the most dangerous countries in the world. When Kaine worked there in the 1980s it was caught up in the militarization fostered by the Ronald Reagan White House’s war against the neighbouring Nicaraguan Sandinistas. Today, more than 60 per cent of the population lives in poverty and violence reigns.

No, Kaine may not be the dream vice-president every Sanders supporter is looking for. Politically, he’s not Elizabeth Warren, but he brings a sea change of approachability to the Democratic ticket.

Hillary Clinton’s likeability reserve was running on near empty before Kaine arrived. Overnight it has improved to the degree that she may now be able to beat the Trump brand of slick negative marketing.

Marketing almost always outsells rationality and logic. That is why we eat so much junk food and buy so many things we don’t need. But in politics, as elsewhere, marketing also has its limits. There are times when a crappy product can’t be sold, no matter how slick the marketing.

The likable and comfortable story telling in English and Spanish that Tim Kaine has brought to the race can help overtake the marketing of Trump’s crappy product.

In the meantime Canadian hobbits have just cause to worry and hope—to worry that Trump might get elected, and to hope that he doesn’t.

Jim Creskey is the founding editor and the publisher of The Hill Times.

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