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American political circus in full swing

12:11 AM February 17, 2016

HONOLULU—It’s still 10 months before the 2016 presidential election in the United States, but already the campaign has escalated to intense proportions.

Both the Democratic and Republican parties are in the thick of caucuses and primaries in several states to select their respective standard-bearers. The money, personnel and personal resources involved in a presidential campaign are staggeringly enormous. Before the campaign is over, the expenses would have amounted to billions of dollars.

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Meanwhile, the basic needs of the people in America are not being addressed, let alone recognized. Crime, unemployment, poverty, corruption and other problems of society are given short shrift. It’s a very exhausting, frustrating and complex process.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, of the Republican Party and Democratic Party, respectively, are engaged in a fierce struggle to capture their respective parties’ endorsement. The primaries in Iowa (Feb. 1) and in New Hampshire (Feb. 9) done with—in Iowa, Clinton held a slim margin of victory over her closest rival Bernie Sanders, while Ted Cruz won over Trump; in New Hampshire, Sanders and Trump swept to victory by a wide margin —the candidates are now looking to win Nevada.

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Clinton’s strategy is to mobilize and turn out women voters for the election of the first woman president of America—a development long overdue. Her latest book, “How Women are Changing the Way America Works,” spells out her vision for the future of the United States.

Of course, she has other credentials that strengthen her bid for the presidency. The fact that she has been secretary of state, senator (for New York), and first lady, and has taken on other roles of national prominence, are formidable and constitute excellent reasons for electing the first woman US president. Her experience and qualifications are additional reasons for her being elected president of the most powerful and democratic country in the world.

Trump, on the other hand, claims that he will make a better president even if he has not held any political office and has no political experience whatsoever. The fundamental question: Is he qualified to be president? Considering that the presidency is the quintessence of any society in any country, this question is very important. It goes without saying that the one who holds that critical position possesses the needed qualities for a president.

It is certainly arrogant of Trump to keep insisting, in his usual blunt language, that big money—and his being a billionaire—is preferable to a political animal. But as repulsive as he is perceived, it’s a reality that he can easily access, not only his billions, but also big corporations that find in him a champion of their power.

The irony of the whole issue surrounding Trump is that voters find him an “anomaly.” He is seen as a buffoon, a demagogue, and somewhat of a clown. But he is also an object of national entertainment, is a bundle of contradictions, and is unrealistic in many senses of the term. For just two outrageous examples, he wants to build a high wall at the US-Mexico border, and to bar Muslims and other people of color from entering the United States.

Yet people feel that they know Trump. So even if he behaves like a petulant child at times, they tolerate him because he supposedly embodies part of the national character. His distaste for politics in the traditional mold resonates with the typical voter’s preference for humility in candidates for public office.

To summarize in a word what is happening in the American political scene at the moment, it is unpredictable. And part of the reason is the slew of intervening possibilities. Much is due to what is happening in the primaries. As the American political system goes, a candidate needs a certain number of votes for the critical number needed by the Electoral College. It will also depend on the extent of the voter turnout. One needs a certain number of votes to lock in the party nomination. And this is not known until the votes are in. It all adds up in the air.

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Finally, the candidate who will prevail will probably be the one who can address domestic problems clearly and resolutely. Foreign policy issues are not really as important as the more fundamental concerns of the majority of voters with domestic issues. This is not to imply that foreign policy is not important. But the bottom line has been that domestic concerns are more essential to those who will be voting in the elections.

Pundits predict that Clinton and Trump will probably be their respective parties’ standard-bearers. Whatever the results will be, the challenges in the post-Obama period are sure to be of foremost importance for the two candidates in the election.

Meanwhile, the political circus is going down to the wire. More antics and even dirty tricks will emerge as the campaign continues. That Clinton and Trump will end up slugging it out appears to be the next episode in this political contest of shaping the future of America.

Dr. Belinda A. Aquino is professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she served as professor of political science and Asian studies, and founding director of the Center for Philippine Studies.

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TAGS: Elections, politics, United States
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