Wounds from toxic and divisive US presidential battle may never heal - Bill Carmichael

Is America irredeemably broken? I ask the question in all seriousness and without any relish.

I love the United States and its people. Since its foundation – less than 250 years ago let’s not forget, a mere blink of the eye in terms of global history – it has undoubtedly been a force for good in the world, promoting individual liberty and playing a leading role in the defeat of those twin authoritarian evils of communism and fascism.

It has championed free market capitalism that has seen a rapid and precipitous decline in extreme poverty and lifted tens of millions of people in the developing world out of destitution. It has offered a home to the world’s poor, persecuted and dispossessed with wave after wave of immigrants – Jews, Italians, Irish, Latin Americans and Asians – settling there and going on to find freedom and prosperity and to live the American Dream.

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It has spent many billions of its citizens’ tax dollars protecting the security of prosperous people in Western Europe and many other parts of the world, and it has provided a vital bulwark against vile dictators from Hitler and Stalin, to Saddam Hussein and Ayatollah Khomeini. Anyone who doubts for a moment the contribution the USA has made to world peace should visit the American military cemetery close to Omaha Beach in Normandy, where lie the remains of almost 10,000 young men who gave their lives to liberate Europe from genocidal Nazis.

Donald Trump and Joe Biden during the final presidential debate. (Photo by Morry Gash-Pool/Getty Images)Donald Trump and Joe Biden during the final presidential debate. (Photo by Morry Gash-Pool/Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Joe Biden during the final presidential debate. (Photo by Morry Gash-Pool/Getty Images)
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The lessons from history as Donald Trump and Joe Biden prepare for US Presidenti...

And throughout this time American democracy has rolled forward and strengthened as presidents both Republican and Democrat have built on the legacy of their predecessors. In my lifetime alone Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, the two Bushes, Clinton, Obama and the present incumbent Trump.

That’s not to say American politics – and particularly US Presidential elections – is anything less than vicious. The US is the birthplace of both ruthless “machine politics” and of the savage attack ad, and we have witnessed some brutal electoral battles down the years.

But eventually, after the dust settled and the votes were counted, Democrat Jimmy Carter handed over the reins of power to Republican Ronald Reagan, with some degree of grace and dignity, and, after the wheel of fortune had taken another spin, so did Republican George HW Bush to Democrat Bill Clinton.

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Will Donald Trump be elected President again next week? (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)Will Donald Trump be elected President again next week? (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Will Donald Trump be elected President again next week? (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

And the American people accepted the result, put aside petty party political differences and decided what united them as citizens was more important than what divided them. But looking at events across the Atlantic today, I have fears this famous tradition is under serious threat. The current presidential battle is so bitter, toxic and divisive that wounds are opening up in the body politic so deep they may never heal.

Things have got so bad that whoever triumphs in next Tuesday’s election, a substantial proportion of the American public will simply refuse to accept the result, and will work to undermine their president who takes the oath of office next January. The idea of putting aside differences, and working “across the aisle” for the good of the country has never seemed more remote.

Of course many will blame Donald Trump for this state of affairs, and it is true he is a polarising figure who seems to be either adored or hated in roughly equal proportions. But at least some of the blame can be laid at the door of those who in 2016 refused to accept Trump’s victory with the trending hashtag #notmypresident. Hillary Clinton, like Joe Biden today, was the red hot favourite to win, and some people simply couldn’t accept defeat, unlike generations of Americans in the past.

In the UK we experienced something similar with the Brexit vote. Instead of accepting the result, Remainers went on a four-year foot-stomping tantrum like a spoilt toddler denied a lollipop. The wild and sinister conspiracy theories – for example that the results were fixed through “Russian Collusion” – turned out to be a big fat “nothingburger” on both sides of the pond. You lost a democratic vote. It happens – just get over it.

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I’m not going to predict who will win next week – I am too long in the tooth for such foolishness. But I hope and pray that against the odds US voters will somehow overcome their differences and come together to back their president, whoever it might be, for the sake of all Americans and for liberty loving people in the rest of the free world.

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