All attention has been riveted to the United States presidential election this year; all eyes glued to the sensational headlines that seem to mark this particular election. The daily headlines that scream for attention make it seem this is a race like no other; when in fact, this is just one more US presidential election and something that happens like clockwork every four years.
A number of things make it seem different.
The first, of course, is that for the first time in US presidential history, one of the candidates is not male. Considering that the US has held presidential elections since 1789, 227 years ago, the presence of a female presidential candidate endorsed by one of the two major parties is no small feat.
But, gender alone does not make this presidential election “different”. Each candidate is “different” in all the 58 times that the US has held this election. Barack Obama was “different” because he was not so white. George Washington was “different” because he was elected unanimously.
So no, I don’t think this year’s elections are that substantially different when it comes to the candidates.
The second reason why this election is touted as different is because the latest headlines would have us believe that the Republican Party has completely abandoned their candidate. The recent slew of news’coming out is that many in the Republican Party are, to put it politely, turned off by their candidate’s sexual bragging.
But, the Republican Party is by no means an absolute collective, and not everyone thinks and feels the same way. One of the high profile Republicans who have come out to say that they will not support Donald Trump is House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan.
Then again, Ryan’s dislike of Trump borders on the personal. When Ryan wanted to secure the Republican nomination to continue in the House for Wisconsin, Trump backed his challenger, Paul Nehlen, leaving Congressman Ryan out in the cold. Turnabout is fair play, after all.
A more sensational piece of news, if it ever comes to pass, is if the majority of the Republican Party decides to drop Trump completely. This can only be done through another Party convention. If I were Ted Cruz, this would be the time to rue the decision to exit the campaign in favour of Trump. Had Cruz not conceded defeat, he might have been a feasible alternative for the party.
The third reason why young and eager political pundits are marketing this year’s US presidential elections as “different” is because these are two personalities who seem so literally opposed to one another. In fact, it’s amazing that they can even stand to be on the same stage.
What people may have forgotten is how competitive the race for the White House can be. Who can forget the politically-charged and hate-steeped Burr-Hamilton duel in US vice-president Aaron Burr’s race to the White House? Anyone who caught the 2000 presidential debates would have seen the loathing that Gore had for the seemingly unknowledgeable Bush. There is certainly not a whole lot of love lost between presidential candidates.
Given the amount of money that is poured into the campaign, can you really blame them, though?
Nov 8 is important in US politics, yes. But, not for the reasons we think. The president will be chosen by the electoral college, not by direct or popular vote. Americans actually have less individual power in choosing their president than most other republics.
What is more important for the average voter is that the date will also see all 435 seats in the House of Representatives up for grabs. Republicans hold the House and Senate, making them a strong Congress against the Democratic president.
Come November, this may change. Democrats may control the House, and choose to put through some of those executive orders that Obama has had to put in place. Among these Orders were the normalisation of relations with Cuba and Iran, making progress irreversible.
Nov 8 will also see normal ordinary Americans cast their vote for 33 Senators.
Again, Republicans hold Senate. Will these seats being contested matter? Perhaps. Republicans will have twice the number of Democrat seats up for election.
Of the 67 seats not up for elections this year, 35 are held by Democrats, 30 by Republicans, 1 by an independent senator who aligns himself with the Democrats, and one seat (California) has already been won by the Democrats without election.
So, the bigger picture to me — and definitely the more important one when it comes to American politics — is not the race to the White House. It is the wrestle over which party controls Congress. The most powerful of people are those who hold a nation’s purse strings. In the US, it is Congress that determines the budget.
For all their talk and their posturing, their promises and their insults, the presidential hopefuls have together managed to divert people’s attention from the real power play in the country.
Yet, what an interesting diversion it was.
Dr Shazelina Zainul Abidin is a foreign service officer and research fellow at the University of Sheffield. Her passion for international affairs has kept her grounded in her career, and interested in her job