I wouldn’t bother. They’re all as bad as each other.” This was the sage advice given to me by my Nan in 1987 after I wondered out loud who I should vote for in my first ever UK general election. Growing up working class in an economically depressed Liverpool in the 1980s, there’s no prize for guessing I didn’t vote for the Conservatives. To my shock and surprise, Margaret Thatcher was re-elected as prime minister in spite of my valiant efforts at the ballot box. Three years later I was living over here, where I don’t have a vote, and where my fate lies in the hands of Catalan and Spanish voters – as good an explanation as any for the nervous tic I’ve developed over the years.
As the US election campaign rumbles to its destination like a locomotive with no brakes (I am writing this before we know the result; check our coverage on page 18), I wonder whether my Nan, who showed about as much interest in politics as the family dog, may have been right. I hear Trump will destroy America if he’s re-elected, although I’ve also heard that Biden in his own way will do the same if he gets into the White House. By the time this is published we’ll know, and you could well be reading this sitting in rags on a pile of rubble wondering if boiling it might make it more edible. I hope that’s not the case, but the thought that you might have to eat my words tickles something dark and sardonic inside me.
Returning to the US presidential election, I had a fascinating insight into how political leaders think when listening to a podcast featuring an interview with Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg (he’s now 89). Episode 35 of the Science History Podcast (it’s usually about science) punctuated the interview with recorded clips of private phone calls between the then-president Richard Nixon and his close advisers and aides. Much more important to Nixon than the threat posed to national security or the wellbeing of the American people by Ellserg’s leaking of the damning secret report on how the US government had mismanaged the Vietnam War, the president’s main priority was protecting his image and credibility and that of his government.
I don’t know much more about politics than my Nan, or the dog, but I’m guessing that over the years, democratic politicians and parties have adapted – as humans do – and learnt how to skirt safeguards, manipulate rules and take advantage of loopholes. In short, how to play the game. They are locked into a system and their priority is playing that system to ensure continuity through reelection. Obama never got round to closing Guantanamo and Trump’s wall is still not built but the former won a second term and the latter is on the verge of doing so (again, at the time of writing). If it is the Democrats who get into the White House I doubt they will solve America’s public health crisis or drive the economy into the ground; they’ll be far too busy spinning plates (and the media) trying to stay where they are.
So Trump or Biden? I’ll go out on a limb and predict it won’t matter much in the grand scheme of things. As my Nan would say: “they’re all as bad as each other”.