Under the fixed-date American election system, voters across the 50 states will go to the polls on November 8 to elect a successor to Barack Obama, the first African American president who is barred from seeking re-election because he has served the maximum two terms allowable.
Meanwhile, the country is nearing the end of the primary stage of the election process in which presidential hopefuls, from the two mainstream and other fringe parties, engage in an open contest, unveil their policy agenda, and fiercely debate the merits and demerits to enable registered party voters to make their choice.
Hillary Clinton, the wife of former president Bill Clinton, who successfully served as a senator for New York after leaving the White House before quitting to become secretary of state in Mr Obama’s first term, is the clear front runner for the Democrats.
However, Bernie Sanders, her main challenger who some analysts initially did not give a ghost of a chance, has made a surprisingly strong showing preaching a rather unusual political message in the context of America. He is espousing a socialist agenda, and makes reference to a revolution –– something which would be anathema to the strictly capitalist United States up to a few years ago.
Receptivity to such a message has come about because many disenchanted American voters have seen their quest for an improved life suffer major setbacks under the neo-liberal version of capitalism, which has been in vogue since the early 1990s. They have seen, for example, good-paying jobs leave America for elsewhere under the guise of global market liberalization.
In Mr Sanders’ message, such voters clearly see a ray of hope through a “dirigiste” or state interventionist approach to running the economy, instead of sticking to the discredited “laissez-faire” approach which advocates that it is always better to leave everything up to the market. Mr Sanders can be seen, therefore, as the symbol of resistance to neo-liberalism.
On the Republican side, the biggest surprise has been the meteoric rise of real estate mogul Donald Trump, a political neophyte. With a populist message, Mr Trump has been resonating with conservative voters who see their way of life threatened by several factors, including immigration. Hence, Mr Trump’s proposal to build a wall to keep out Mexican immigrants. Such voters believe America’s position in the world has significantly weakened. Hence, Mr Trump’s rallying crying to “make America strong again”.
Although Mr Trump has swept the primaries in key states and is the front runner, his abrasive style of campaigning has done more to divide than unite the Republican Party. He has also alienated many female voters with his rhetoric. As a result, there are moves within the party to block him from becoming the eventual standard bearer.
Barbadians, who have been closely following the process, have been weighing in on the issues. However, what many find baffling is the spectacle of candidates from the same party slugging it out at each other in full public view.
Accustomed to our British-modelled system where any heated debates are usually confined within the party away from the prying eyes of the public,
many Barbadians see the United States approach as a negative.
However, it can equally be seen as a positive –– that can actually improve our system –– because voters would get to see first-hand what each candidate stands for and, following an evaluation of their positions, would be in a better position to make the best choice. In our system, voters are generally asked to vote for candidates put forward by the parties without knowing what they really stand for. It is akin to buying a pig in a bag.
Barbadians and other Caribbean people need to move away from the view that American presidents are supposed to do something to help the region. As Errol Barrow once said in a true reflection of his nationalist stance, the Caribbean is nobody’s problem but the Caribbean’s. United States presidents are elected first and foremost to provide solutions to American problems.
If we in this region would like American administrations to gain a better understanding of and adopt a more supportive approach to our development challenges, such can best be achieved through effective lobbying of the political establishment by the Caribbean Diaspora, which represents a sizeable voting bloc.
Caribbean people have historically supported the Democrats, but Democratic administrations in the last two decades have placed our economies under unwelcome strain. The destruction of the banana industry occurred under the Clinton administration. The Obama administration is currently going after the region’s offshore financial sectors. Republican administrations, on the other hand,
have tended to be more accommodating.
Current indicators tip the odds in favour of Mrs Clinton against Mr Trump in November. Mrs Clinton’s middle-of-the-road approach will surely endear her to the crucial non-party-affiliated middle vote which can be decisive in determining election outcomes. For them, Mr Trump will simply be too divisive a president