MELBOURNE, FL - A week before fateful elections for the American presidency, no one is talking about ISIS, Syria, Russia or China. Hardly anyone seems interested in the economy, social welfare or education and health only gets a nod because of the Obamacare label. Culture wars are obsolete, no one is skirmishing on abortions, climate change is gone and crime rates have been pushed to the sidelines as well. What we have instead are emails, lots of emails, that no one seems to know anything about: what’s in them, what does it mean, and will they change anything.
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Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump aren’t at center stage, either, even though in about 150 hours one of them will be chosen to lead the free world. Instead, all eyes are on a 55-year-old Catholic lawyer from New Jersey, James Brien Comey, who was appointed by Barack Obama in 2013 as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations. In this insane election campaign, the ambiguous word of a cop could determine outcomes, and if he decides to explain what the hell he was talking about in the first place, might very well seal fates in the other direction as well.
It’s yet another surrealistic peak in a campaign that already seemed like a demented reality version of Alice in Wonderland. The fault lies with two candidates who are so intensely disliked by the public that they have no choice but to play up their rivals faults while hiding their own hopes and aspirations. And with Donald Trump, a patently absurd candidate for the Presidency who is tapping dark and invisible undercurrents in the American public. And with the media, that prostrated itself for many months before Trump’s ratings-rich obscenities and the profits that came in their wake.
Even the so-called mainstream media can no longer cope with the waves of hysterics rising up from the whirling cesspool of social media. It doesn’t have the instruments to withstand the tsunami of lies, distortions and evil spins that self-proliferate at astonishing speed on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and all the rest. In this regard, the 2016 elections could go down as a watershed event, after which Western democracies will find themselves defenseless and prone to an onslaught of populism, fascist in some case, just as they were almost a century ago, in the analog past.
The storm, one must admit, seems to have skipped the semi-tropical shores of Central Florida. In one of ten early voting stations in the city of Melbourne, on the Atlantic coast, the voting is proceeding at a leisurely pace under a hot noon sun. About a dozen voters, all white, are waiting for their turn, most probably to vote for Trump: Conservative Brevard County south of Orlando gave Romney a 55-43 percent victory over Obama in 2012 and preferred Trump over local boy Marco Rubio by a 46-23 percent margin in the 2016 GOP primaries. When I ask one of the prospective voters about Comey’s letter, he replies that he didn’t need it to know that Clinton should be in jail.
Comey is now coming under a concerted attack by Democrats that “unprecedented” is the exact word to describe it. He is being accused of gross interference in the campaign, up to and including a violation of the 1939 Hatch Act that forbids federal officials from using their office to sway elections. Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accused Comey of withholding potentially explosive information about the ties between Trump and some of his advisers and the Kremlin. In any other election campaign, the mere voicing of such an allegation would have created a world class ruckus, but in this bedlam it only merits a ho-hum.
Veteran Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings, who heaped effusive praise on Comey in July when the FBI director decided not to pursue a criminal investigation of Clinton, now accuses him of having a double standard and of hiding information about Trump’s Russian Connection. He says Comey was subject to unimaginable pressures from Republicans in Congress. Like former Attorney General Eric Holder, who published an article critical of Comey in the Washington Post, Cummings also says that he has the utmost respect for Comey, though it may be the same kind of esteem expressed in Marc Anthony’s eulogy for Julius Caesar, when he bitingly referred to Brutus, the assassin, as “an honorable man.”
The Democratic rage is not for show. It’s genuine, and bursting forth from their guts. That’s completely separate from the question of whether it’s also politically wise and whether it does more harm or good to their candidate. Stoking the rage of the Democratic base could bring more voters to the polls, but that’s true of Republicans as well: Even if Clinton survives Trump’s last minute surge, Comey might have saved the Senate for the GOP. Invigorated by the prospect that their candidate might actually win, Republicans could come out in droves and salvage their party’s control over both houses of Congress.
The assault on Comey, sincere as it may be, retains the email affair, which is damaging to Clinton, under the spotlight. It also doesn’t seem such a great idea to pit the Democratic candidate against America’s top cop: contrary to most politicians, the FBI, along with NASA and the Center for Disease Control, still enjoys the support of most Americans. The U.S. may be following in Israel’s footsteps, but it hasn’t reached the point where denigration of law enforcers helps politicians achieve victory.
The new polls, that include interviews conducted after Friday’s email mayhem, fail to give a clear signal whether it is influencing the outcome. Trump was surging as Clinton plateaued even before Comey’s letter was made public. In battleground states Clinton still has the upper hand: her road to the White house still seems paved, while Trump’s is littered with obstacles and pitfalls.
But when I saw the blue line approaching the red line on Monday Morning’s Real Clear Politics graph of the presidential race, I was reminded of my meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu eight days before the 1996 elections. He was trailing Shimon Peres by eight points and being prematurely buried by all the pundits and the pollsters. How can you make up such a gap in such a short time, I asked. Netanyahu raised his hand, pointed his fingers upwards in a 45 degree angle, and said that the only thing that matters is the trend, and the trend is on his side. Within a very short time, we all found out how right he was.