American politics

 It isn't easy assessing American politics. 
Some may say that it's impossible from overseas.
It is currently difficult for stay at home Americans.
Whether the situation is unique or just unusual is also hard to say. However, substantial numbers of Americans (60 percent of each party by one survey) are unhappy with their choices.
What may be seen as extreme views see one candidate resembling Hitler in his appealing to the lowest of racist sentiments, and the  another candidate at the top of the sleaze index where all politicians score somewhere in their tendencies to mislead the voters, and concern themselves more for personal aggrandizement than concern for public welfare.
Extreme or not, it's easy to find such sentiments in the traditional media without dipping into the unedited blogsphere. 
One can blame a number of social and institutional candidates for the situation.
  • Party primaries, which put a premium on theatrics
  • Worsening conditions in the rust belt, and other places suffering from job losses due to lower wages and impressive technology in China, South Korea, and India, with investors from those countries active where wages are even lower
  • Combinations of racism and sexism, with racism somewhere in the mix that abhors Obama and sees Trump as savior of the Old America, and sexism among those willing to overlook Hillary's faults for the sake of putting a woman in the Oval Office
  • A failure of American politicians to balance free enterprise with social policies, or a failure of inventiveness that would keep the overall economy growing while protecting the weak from free enterprise and free trade
  • Trump also benefits from conventional fatigue with the party in power. Only once since World War II has the same party won the presidency three times in a row
A neuroscientist provides a political-medical explanation of Trump voters, as shown here.
Currently Hillary seems in the lead, but a post-convention surge has shrunk, and there is still time for candidate flubs, national or international events to affect the outcome.
Both the Greens and the Libertarians have fielded candidates in the hope of getting some mileage from leftists who can't stomach Hillary and rightists who fear Trump. However, two-partyism is deeply entrenched in American culture and institutions. 
State laws with respect to candidate registration and the division of electoral votes hinder Third Party candidacies. 
One has to go back to 1912 to find an election where a third party affected the outcoms. Teddy Roosevelt lost the Republican Party nomination to William Howard Taft, ran under the label of the Progressive Party, split the Republican vote, and put Woodrow Wilson in the White House.
There have been Third Party candidacies that have won some electoral votes since then, but only in a candidate's home state or region.
  • Robert LaFollette and his Progressive Party won Wisconsin's electoral votes in 1924
  • Strom Thurmond won Southern electoral votes in 1948 as a Dixiecrat, the candidate of the States Rights Democratic Party split-off, and George Wallace did about the same in 1968 under the banner of the American Independent Party. 
Wallace was the last third party candidate to win any electoral votes.
Predicting what will happen after the election is its own puzzle.
It's easier for Hillary than for Donald. She has a track record in politics and government. One can find much to quarrel with, but some of the loudest quarrels appear to be the most trivial. Management of an embassy's defenses and personal email are both below what should be expected from a Cabinet Secretary. She may bear formal responsibility, and may have been sloppy with respect to emails, but campaigning against either does not produce high points of electoral rhetoric.
She has mended the party fences that typically show gaps due to primary competition. Sanders' support compares favorably with what Trump got at the convention from Ted Cruz, and suggests that she'll do well with Democrats in Congress. Her political skills may also get her a few votes from Republicans in the House and Senate.
Predicting the actions of President Trump comes up against two major problems. 
One is interpreting his one-liners into something that looks like a workable presidential program. 
Another is judging how he will do with members of his own party in Congress, and his capacity to attract enough support from Democrats to make up for what he can't get from Republicans.
Trump's extremism has attracted unusual language from establishment figures elsewhere.
"Divisive, stupid and wrong," was David Cameron's description
From the Pope, “A person who thinks only about building walls . . . and not building bridges, is not Christian.” 
The French President said that the prospect of a Trump presidency made him want to retch. Marine Le Pen, in contrast, endorses him.
Israeli polls have found more support for Trump than Clinton, due perhaps to his theatrics, or to the more fulsome support for Israel heard from the Republican twosome than its Democratic equivalent. Yet a number of Israelis express fear or ridicule when asked about him.
Bibi has asserted that he's staying out of the race, perhaps in response to criticism for his getting too close to Mitt Romney.
Bibi's patron, Sheldon Adelson, has promised $100 million to Trump and urged him to visit Israel. The country's leftists, and many others might be wishing--against its likelihood--for silence from an old man who makes blatant use of gambling profits for political control. 
One can wonder about the capacity of former British Prime Minister Cameron, French President Hollande, the Pope, or Sheldon Adelson to influence American voters. 
Israelis may be tempted to tell American Jews that there is a. Zionist solution for their problem, but this place is already crowded, and currently it is French Jews who feel more pressing needs.
Comments welcome
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem