MAKE no mistake, this presidential election has been the darkest hour American politics has known since the Civil War.
In a campaign of improbable rises, vicious abuse and a new scandal seeming to emerge on a daily basis, we are faced with a situation in which Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are virtually tied in the race to succeed Barack Obama.
Far from it being the end of an ugly chapter in history when the polls close on Tuesday, the problems of the United States will only just be beginning.
This pantomime of a campaign has been the politics of fear on steroids from the outset and demonstrated that America is now a helplessly divided country. The race has been defined by Trump’s never-ending capacity for the absurd.
The Republicans, the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, are now represented by a man who is an unabashed misogynist, bully, bigot, demagogue and an out-and-out liar.
Despite protestations from many GOP grandees that the billionaire does not represent them or their base, the reality is the party has been fertilising the muck which has given birth to Trump for decades.
Decades of failure to appeal to minority voters, to employ a reasoned foreign policy and deliver the Founding Fathers’ vision for an inclusive economy has created an army of disenfranchised voters brainwashed by Trump’s simplistic and dystopian view for the country.
Politicians such Marco Rubio, John Kasich and Jeb Bush, boasting decades of experience, cowered before him, failing to call him out on his obvious falsehoods and ignorance.
The wall to keep out Mexican immigrants, the ban on Muslims entering the country, the threat to impose tariffs on China are all utter folly but they could not convince voters otherwise.
Even after definitive evidence was made public of Trump’s despicable attitude towards women, in which he made clear references to his having sexually assaulted females, the GOP refused to banish him.
In any other election, this clown would not have come anywhere near the nomination, let alone the White House, but this is no ordinary election. And part of his success is down to his opponent.
Whenever Clinton has been in elected office, she has overseen reform and displayed competency, but she has also hammered home political own goals with dismaying frequency.
When asked why she was so vocal when her husband Bill was running for the White House in 1992, she alienated hundreds of thousands of women by asking whether she should have “stayed at home and baked cookies”. Allegations of financial impropriety during her political career are spurious, as repeated investigations determined, but at their heart was a carelessness that has created suspicion.
The latest scandal to beset her surrounding her emails is case in point. Search the internet for hours and you will fail to find a single substantive allegation of criminal wrong-doing on this matter but, for a politician with a trust problem, she allowed herself to be placed in a position where once again her conduct was viewed as suspect.
Out of all the 16 people that sought the Republican nomination this year, Trump was by far the easiest to for her to beat. But, despite his campaign being mired in scandal after scandal, we go into polling week with the polls neck-and-neck.
A politician of any decent standing should have been able to condemn Trump to a 50 state wipeout, but Clinton has gone about this campaign in such a manner that she, like those Republicans who wished to face her, has failed to stand up to him.
Compare this with eight years ago when war hero and political maverick John McCain went up against Obama, a campaign of hope and ideas. Obama’s valedictory ‘Yes we can’ speech in Grant Park in Chicago on the night of his victory served as a modern-day high point for the nation’s politics and created a wave of optimism that swept the world.
Sadly, no matter who wins on Tuesday, we will see no such scenes.
If Clinton hits the target she needs to win the Electoral College, she will almost certainly not be called the President Elect come Wednesday. Trump will unquestionably refuse to concede. His narcissism will not allow him to follow conventional political mores.
Like Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, he equates well-attended rallies and passionate support with a mandate for government. His fantasy of a “rigged election” will be repeated ad nauseam. Congress will be slow to ratify his presidency and markets will crash as the uncertainty sets markets into a jitter.
When Clinton does enter the White House, she will face an uphill battle from day one. The Republicans are almost certain to retain control of Congress.
Now facing 12 years out of power – the longest the party has seen in peacetime history – it will oppose everything Clinton wants to do and almost certainly confine her to a one-term presidency.
If, God forbid, Trump wins, then all of a sudden George W Bush is going to look like a safe pair of hands.
The wall, ban on Muslims travelling, the pledge to stave off globalisation and return to splendid isolationism will quickly crumble to dust. A total lack of political experience versus the refracted mirror of deals and back-channels that is Washington, coupled with his proven track record to alienate and offend those with whom he disagrees, will add up to the most disastrous presidency in the country’s history.
For a nation which from birth has placed democracy and freedom at its heart, it is now a worldwide laughing stock, although the joke seems less and less amusing with each passing day.