When observing the farce that is the 2016 US Election campaign, I couldn’t help but be reminded of CS Lewis’ remarks in Mere Christianity:
“I feel a strong desire to tell you-and I expect you feel a strong desire to tell me-which of these two errors is the worse. That is the Devil getting at us. He [the devil] always sends errors into the world in pairs—pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them”.
As unsettling as it may be, the 2016 US Presidential Election will be contested between the two most reviled candidates in recent history. In the blue corner is a politician who has come to epitomise the untrustworthiness and cynical self-advancement that has incited record levels of public revulsion at modern politics. In the red corner, of course, is Donald Trump.
Recent surveys show that as many as 40% of Americans have a ‘highly unfavourable’ opinion of the Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton, a figure topped only by the Donald himself (who scores a mighty impressive 44%) since World War II. Whichever of the two is elected on November 8th this year, America will most likely inaugurate the most hated President in its history.
It’s not hard to identify the source of such discontent. Trump’s maniacal ramblings require no introduction. Making Mexico pay for the wall; insulting the family of a deceased veteran; making lewd and somewhat sinister comments about the attractiveness of his daughter. Countless more examples exist. It seems Trump can’t manage to go a news cycle without blurting out something deeply offensive, deeply stupid, or deeply unhinged. No wonder Republican Congressmen and Senators are falling over themselves to distance themselves from him.
His opponent should, without question, be targeting a landslide victory of the scale that Reagan achieved in the 1984 and 1988 elections. Yet such an outcome this year seems highly unlikely. To put it simply, Americans don’t trust Hillary Clinton. Many believe she belongs in prison. Almost half of surveyed Americans believe that she willfully misled the families of the four Americans who died in the Benghazi massacre as to the precise facts whilst she was Secretary of State. She is increasingly viewed as personifying the kind of heartless and self-centered politics that has left Americans feeling worse off.
Selecting the least-worst option has become something of a theme of recent US elections (2008 being an exception before the rhetorical hysteria over Obama evaporated during his first term), and this should be a cause for considerable concern. Are these two characters really the best candidates a country of 330 million people can put forward for the most powerful job in the world?
Thankfully, there may be such a way between the two Clinton and Trump shaped errors. Loitering on the verge of the election hysteria that has engulfed the nation, Libertarian Gary Johnson has been quietly and calmly setting out an alternate vision for America, and has been gradually climbing in the polls as a result. Johnson needs to score 15% from the five certified polling agencies in order for the US Electoral Commission to allow him take part in the Presidential Debates, the first of which will air on 26th September. Currently he’s polling in the region of 8% and 12%. In April he was at less than 2%. Last week he secured the endorsement of the Richmond-Times Dispatch, Virginia’s staunchly Republican second most popular newspaper.
Johnson served as the Republican Governor of the traditionally Democrat state of New Mexico from 1995 till 2003, and scored the highest approval ratings of any Governor in office during this period (from both Republican and Democrat voters). He prides himself on a fiscally conservative and socially liberal platform. He wants to abolish the federal income tax, and he proposes the legalisation of marijuana and the creation of a path to citizenship for ‘undocumented workers’ (Johnson’s preferred term for illegal immigrants).
Indeed, his policies on almost all issues can be summarised by the following quote from his campaign website: ‘Governor Johnson’s approach to governing is based on a belief that individuals should be allowed to make their own choices in their personal lives’. This is reflected in his pro-choice policy on abortion, intention to abolish the death penalty, and belief in stronger Internet privacy protections from government. In international affairs, he describes his approach as ‘non-interventionist’.
In interviews he comes across as calm, considered and, astonishingly for a politician in the modern age, a genuinely honest and reasonable man. This makes a welcome change from the painful condescension Clinton aims at everybody bar the Wall Street banks, or the self-aggrandising megalomania that pervades any utterance ejaculated seemingly at random by the Donald. A couple of weeks ago Johnson was pictured playing chess on his campaign bus with his vice-Presidential candidate Bill Weld, a sign of a reassuring intellect and composure that seems totally absent from the candidates of the two main parties.
The Electoral Commission will determine in the next couple of weeks whether Johnson will be allowed into the debates. In fact, the polls that will determine his participation or lack thereof are most likely already in the field. It must be conceded that his hopes of crossing the 15% threshold are disappointingly slim. Even if he does manage to scrape into the debates of course, his hopes of actually winning on November 8th are almost miniscule.
Yet this writer for one will be rooting for him. Wouldn’t it be refreshing on 26th September to see up on that debate stage, along with the two candidates America has grown to so detest, a reasonable individual proposing a program of government in which he actually believes and is ideologically invested?
Johnson may not be a perfect candidate, but his commitment to individual liberty and thoroughly personable nature leave him head and shoulders above the gruesome twosome. Clinton and Trump, like the Devil’s errors in Lewis’ analogy, should be avoided at all costs. Here’s to hoping for a third pulpit on that stage later this month.