If the series of events in the build-up to next month’s United States presidential election were written as fiction, they would challenge even the most determined reader’s ability to suspend disbelief. Just when it appears that the campaign can’t take another improbable turn, it does – and it becomes clearer that American voters are facing a choice between two damaged candidates. What is not so clear is whether either the Democrats’ Hillary Clinton or the Republicans’ Donald Trump is truly suitable to hold America’s – and the world’s – highest political office.
Over the past few days, the focus has been on a leaked tape revealing crude sexual remarks made by Mr Trump to television host Billy Bush in 2005. Without going into sordid detail, Mr Trump said in graphic terms that he leveraged his position as a star to force his attentions on to women. While some have dismissed the conversation as “locker room banter”, it has – quite rightly – prompted a storm of outrage. Many Republicans have distanced themselves from their presidential candidate, and some prominent figures in the party have withdrawn their endorsements of him.
The timing of the Trump bombshell has taken the heat off Mrs Clinton, whose hacked emails were released by WikiLeaks on Friday. Some of them suggest that she has had a very close relationship with Wall Street bankers, while others reveal her dream of “open trade and open borders”. These are positions from which she tried to distance herself during her primaries battle with Senator Bernie Sanders. They underscore the image the Trump campaign has painted of Mrs Clinton as a “self-serving Washington insider”. That both the Clinton campaign and US Department of Homeland Security are blaming the hacking on Russia adds yet another layer to an already complicated scenario.
There will, no doubt, be more commentary on the past actions and associations of both candidates. This is, of course, important. But while the focus remains on the misdeeds and missteps of the past, precious little is being said about policy and what the contenders would do in office. Their positions on many important domestic and foreign issues remain muted and unexplored.
Whatever happens in America on polling day, November 8, will not only affect that country, but will also reverberate around the world. We all have a stake in this, and we have reason to be concerned that whoever becomes “leader of the free world” will not be adequately prepared for the job.