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Gerry Caplan's blog

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Gerald Caplan has an MA in Canadian history and a Ph.D. in African history from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. He is an author, teacher, media commentator, and social and political activist with a lifelong commitment to African development. He is preoccupied with genocide and genocide prevention, particularly the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, about which he has frequently written. He has been a consultant on African development issues to many United Nations agencies as well as to the African Union. His latest book is called The Betrayal of Africa. He writes a weekly online column for the Globe and Mail.

The mysteries of the U.S. presidential race still run thick as thieves

| March 15, 2016
Image: Flickr/T.J. Hawk

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Readers of this weekly offering will have no doubts about my almost extreme humility. As I have made clear, when it comes to political punditry, none of us knows anything.

Wasn't it only last week that I was pointing to the imminent collapse of Justin Trudeau's political honeymoon? Don't blame me. The world expects people who comment on the news to know what we're taking about, so we talk and people take it seriously.

But I sometimes get it right on the money. Here's what I wrote way back in January, when there were still hundreds of Republican candidates and before the Bernie revolution had hit its peak:

"Trump has an excellent chance of winning the Republican nomination, and then has a pretty good crack at defeating Hillary Clinton."

At the time, most pundits believed Donald Trump couldn't possibly win the nomination, being too crazy, crude and offensive even for the Republican Party. And most also believed, then as now, that Trump was the best thing that could happen to Hillary Clinton, who of course would trounce Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination.

The last remains true. Despite Bernie's reprieve last week in Michigan, he cannot finally beat Ms. Clinton in delegate votes. But among the many lingering mysteries of this campaign, Bernie's weakness among Black Americans rates high. America's democratic socialist is going down on the black vote, which splits overwhelmingly against him.

This seems unfathomable, since Bernie's platform would be of great benefit to black Americans. Yet African Americans trust Hilary Clinton the way they trusted her husband, which is to say for no rational reason whatever. Black Americans were clobbered by Bill Clinton's neoliberal policies, yet he's adored by them.

But not all mysteries are mysterious. Both Bernie and Trump's supporters know what they're doing. The latter are those nihilistically angry, white working-class Americans who have been clobbered over the past several decades by globalization, neoliberalism and the cult of free trade, and who won't forgive the political classes for abandoning them to their un-American fate. They want vengeance.

Of course, some good old-fashioned American racism plays its usual role here as well.

Bernie's people are the children of Trump's supporters, not so much angry as anxious about the limited future they see before them. Bernie offers them the active state that has deserted them for so long, social policies that would keep them afloat as the economy continues to betray them. And he was a very early civil rights activist.

Yet young Black people, who would benefit dramatically from Bernie's program, had barely heard of him before the campaign and still pay him little attention. Somehow, he seems to have been selling his revolution only to white Americans. How can he and his team have ignored that?

It's no mystery why the Republican party -- once upon a time a great American institution -- is imploding before our eyes. It's been committing slow-mo suicide since Barry Goldwater moved it far to the right in 1964. Yet Goldwater was progressive compared to his successors, just as, yes, Donald Trump carries real progressive strains compared to all his Republican rivals.

There's no point belabouring Trump's destructiveness, or Ted Cruz's repulsiveness. Cruz is, by universal agreement, the most unpopular senator among his peers in the U.S. Senate. Anyone who knows that knows there's a cornucopia of odious members to choose from, so being the most hated reaches truly majestic heights.

Cruz is unable to open his mouth without invoking Jesus. Yet even evangelicals are supporting Trump rather than Cruz, while many non-evangelicals want to throw up their dinners listening to Cruz impose his personal religious dogmas on any and all subjects.

Finally, for me, among the great mysteries lies Marco Rubio -- you know, the "moderate" Republican challenger. I confess I go squirrelly every time another reporter describes Rubio that way, even when they add "relatively" before moderate. Rubio looks sweet and ordinary. But by any sane measure he's an extremist, and a deeply frightening one.

Mr. Rubio denies that human activity contributes to climate change. He believes marriage is only for a man and a woman. He would allow certain businesses to reject gay customers. He's fiercely "pro-life," but didn't deny Jeb Bush's accusation that he wouldn't allow abortions even for rape and incest. He would dramatically reduce corporate taxes. He would permit Americans to torture their enemies. He's uncertain about evolution. He accuses Barack Obama of "undermining the U.S. Constitution," coming, as Esquire magazine put it, "within an inch of accusing the president of treason."

And on foreign policy, as summed up by Huffington Post, "If you want more foolish, costly, and unnecessary wars, vote for Rubio."

This, in terms of American conservatives, describes a moderate. This is the man Republican wheeler dealers hoped could become the rallying point against Donald Trump. But like Ted Cruz, it's not at all clear Rubio would be a lesser menace to civilization than Trump.

So, yes, there are many outstanding mysteries left to play themselves out, not least the impact of the recent violence at Trump rallies. And you can expect us pundits will make up something definitive to say about every one.

Do yourself a favour -- binge on House of Cards instead until it's all over.

This article orginally appeared in The Globe and Mail.

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Image: Flickr/T.J. Hawk

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