Whatever the outcome on 8th November, this year’s presidential election has already been a major event in the life of the United States—an electoral crisis, as the candidacy of Donald Trump has lurched from the anomalous to the anarchic. Every presidential election is a test of “the system” by which a very large nation, now numbering some 320m people, with 130m likely to vote, decides who will fulfil the multiple roles of head of state, top administrator of the executive branch of government, commander-in-chief of the military, along with all-purpose television star and home entertainer. Trump, the Republican nominee, has spent most of his adult life perfecting the last requirement. It’s the rest of the job for which he seems historically ill-suited, “woefully unprepared” and “unfit to serve,” as President Barack Obama pronounced him on 2nd August, in one of the campaign’s many surreal moments. It’s not just Obama and the Democrats: 50 Republican national security experts, including Michael Hayden, former Director of the CIA, recently signed a letter stating that Trump “would be the most reckless President in US history.”
The strongest case against Trump has been made by the candidate himself in a dizzying cascade of tweets, intemperate outbursts, insults and defamations. In one 24-hour-span in early August, Trump perpetuated his attack on the Muslim parents of a decorated war hero, Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq in 2004; suggested Americans might withdraw their retirement accounts from the stock market; and declined to endorse several top Republicans up for re-election in November because they had not shown him proper deference. He capped this, on 9th August, with a speech in North Carolina in which he said that “Second Amendment people”—that is, advocates of gun rights—might be the last line of defence against his opponent, Hillary Clinton. This was read by the Clinton campaign and a good deal of the “mainstream media” as a threat of violence against Clinton, though one tinged with desperation since polls showed her steadily increasing her lead.
Meanwhile, establishment Republicans have been bracing themselves for a battering. Elections for the Senate and House of Representatives will take place on the same day as the presidential vote. “If we fail to protect our majority in Congress, we…