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New conventions

New conventions

IT is hardly a coincidence that the home of Hollywood takes global precedence in presenting politics as a spectacle, singularly epitomised by the quadrennial party conventions. The rival extravaganzas invariably tend to be rather similar affairs, but there were significant differences in this year’s shindigs.

The smoothly choreographed Democratic National Convention, which concluded last week, did not stray too far from the norm, but its Republican equivalent somewhat resembled a reality show, thanks in large part to its star performer.

One of the key points of difference between the two was that whereas the runner-up in the Republican race for nomination, Ted Cruz, was roundly booed for his refusal to categorically endorse Donald Trump, his Democratic counterpart, Bernie Sanders, attracted a round of booing when he did quite the opposite by formally nominating Hillary Clinton.

Sections of the left have been unreasonably scathing in their assessment of Sanders’ strategy, roundly berating him for giving up the fight. The fact is, though, that he lost the contest with Clinton. Sure, there was never any doubt that the Democratic Party establishment staunchly opposed and sought to undermine his candidacy. But the likelihood of success was always a long shot. And the extent to which his appeal, as a self-avowed socialist, struck a chord in the world’s most devotedly capitalist nation was both utterly remarkable and indubitably historic.

A Sanders presidency would have been a fascinating departure for the United States, harking back to the Franklin D. Roosevelt era, when progressive ideals were deployed to rescue the nation from the depths of the Great Depression. Opinion polls more or less consistently suggested that Sanders would stand a better chance than Clinton of defeating Trump, not least because both of them draw their support from the vast segments of society disenchanted with the status quo.

Clinton, on the other hand, is very much the candidate of continuity. Although crucial aspects of the Sanders agenda have ostensibly been incorporated into the Democratic platform — from the possibility of free higher education to a public option for healthcare insurance — and Clinton has tempered her enthusiasm for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, she is perfectly entitled to ignore the platform once she is ensconced in the Oval Office. And if it comes to that, she probably will.

It is not at all hard to see why a substantial proportion of Sanders’ supporters resented his endorsement of Clinton, but it’s also fairly obvious why he considered it the decent thing to do. Nor is there any serious chance of him contesting the election as a third-party candidate. Who, after, all, would wish to be to be ladled with the stigma of allowing Trump to sneak into the White House by proxy.

He could, of course, get there anyhow. The recent Trump bump in the polls may have been reversed, but there are three months to go until election day — and that is a very long time in politics.

Trump has, however, lately refreshed evidence of his susceptibility to self-combustion. One of the more unexpected interventions in the Democratic convention was the speech by Khizr Khan, the Pakistani-born father of an American soldier, Captain Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq in 2004.

As a speaker, he was a smart choice for the Democrats, particularly in aid of an abhorrently militaristic nominee. The anguish of Humayun Khan’s parents was undoubtedly genuine, and Khizr Khan’s remarks against Trump challenged his proposed ban on all Muslim immigration to the US in a manner that was clearly heartfelt.

A wiser Republican nominee would have let it go through to the keeper. But Trump does not take criticism in his stride. His intemperate responses, in media interviews and on Twitter, ensured that the story sprouted legs and raced into a second week, with a range of Republican luminaries feeling obliged to disown Trump’s sentiments — particularly in the context of the derision he heaped on Humayun’s mother, Ghazala Khan, for standing silently by her husband — albeit without renouncing their backing for him.

Humayun placed himself between his men and a suicide bomber in a taxi at a base in Baqubah. It was unquestionably an act of valour. It was, though, bravery in the context of an obviously pointless and ultimately counterproductive war. Trump can justifiably be assailed for his prejudice against American Muslims. It does not make sense, however, for those who sent young Americans to die in unnecessary combat — in this context, George W. Bush and his cohorts — to escape censure. But it was Clinton’s show; she backed that war and may be inclined to wage many more.

It is, of course, high time the US had a female president. The thoroughly compromised Clinton is hardly the ideal candidate. But the unpredictable alternative boasts a considerably greater potential to prove catastrophic. And if a Trump presidency can be averted, Khizr and Ghazala Khan will probably deserve some of the credit.

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Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2016

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