DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND – Earlier this month, newspapers rightfully contained coverage of Donald Trump admitting — to a hot microphone in 2005—that he enjoyed taking advantage of his wealth and notoriety to sexually assault women whose physical appearance aroused him.
They also contained figures from a mounting death toll in Haiti, where Hurricane Matthew made landfall on Sept. 30. Among the homes that Haitians inhabit are some uncounted thousands funded by aid money but found to be unsafe and unsound. They were built by the Clinton Foundation. The foundation’s failures — and Hillary Clinton’s involvement — prompted a March New York Times review of Haitian resentment for Clinton, and Haitian incredulity toward her presidential aspirations.
The Haitians quoted in the article had more than their homes to resent: Most have a low regard for Clinton’s Haiti policy as secretary of state, which they consider irresponsibly profligate (to the tune of $4 billion) toward the dysfunctional regime it empowered. This year, Haiti’s president allowed Parliament to dissolve to delay elections. A regime bankrolled by Clinton’s State Department had placed democracy on hiatus.
Also in newspapers recently: Clinton campaign documents published by WikiLeaks indicated the content of Clinton’s richly compensated speeches to Wall Street financial firms. These were the same speeches she declined to make public during a tight primary campaign that included substantial Democratic National Committee hindrance of her opponent, which was naked enough in its intent that the DNC’s chairwoman was forced to resign when a separate leak revealed her modus operandi.
The Clinton campaign’s internal review of her speeches reveal that they contained statements that would have alienated working-class voters, whose support she needed to seal her primary victory. Turning the entire Western Hemisphere into a free trade zone is her “dream,” she told bankers; she assessed that the banking industry was an effective self-regulator, unfairly blamed for the global financial crisis; she also assured bankers that she was capable of taking “both a public and private position” on matters of controversy, attributing this notion to Abraham Lincoln, who, when he conceived it (she omitted to mention) had the abolition of slavery — not the interests of professional financiers — in mind.
In Nigeria, where I work, Clinton and her husband are reviled by politically informed members of the middle and working classes. In 1998, three years after summarily executing Ken Saro-Wiwa (the writer and activist whose work represented the best hope for peace in the Niger Delta), Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha died unexpectedly, and his successor discovered that he had looted the national treasury.
Abacha’s money man thereafter used the stolen funds to purchase influence with the Clintons. PBS did a “Frontline” investigation in 2010. The episode received renewed media attention earlier this year, when email recovered from Clinton’s private server included messages from the same Abacha associate asking her to arrange favors from the Lebanese Embassy, confirming one of several rational conclusions that Trump has reached in his irrational manner: Clinton’s influence was for sale, even when she was secretary of state.
When I spoke to my friends in Nigeria recently, they had heard Trump’s hot microphone comments, but none had changed their mind about the U.S. elections: Trump, they continued to feel, was the lesser evil.
I don’t agree, but I follow their reasoning. It is not unlike the reasoning of American voters who support Trump, or who supported Bernie Sanders, or who will vote for a third-party candidate next month, or who have expressed in a variety of polls their distaste for both Clinton and Trump. Taken together, these groups comprise a majority of U.S. voters, and their sense that they are being asked to participate in a system that is lately incapable of addressing its own worst flaws isn’t inaccurate or naive.
The media doesn’t appear to understand what voters have instinctively grasped. This election was never about whether Trump or Clinton would be president. Trump was never equal to the task of campaigning against a seasoned opponent in the general election; to think otherwise is a form of hysteria. The election is about the extent to which the average voter can now perceive the existential peril to democracy’s moral obligations that the conduct of our leaders has begun to pose.
Clinton will be our next president. She is the willing recipient of money looted from the Nigerian treasury by a bloodthirsty dictator. She has authored a decade of misery in Haiti. She prevaricated about her positions regarding Wall Street and American workers, then worked to cover up those prevarications while her allies in the Democratic Party sabotaged her opponent’s ability to campaign on these issues. She is likely to govern the way she campaigned: without sincere regard for voters’ concerns about the loss of democracy’s moral momentum.
It’s time the media turned their attention to these matters, even if it requires foregoing coverage of Trump’s continuing antics. It remains to be seen if the media is capable of divorcing itself from Trump in a timely manner, of declining to allow him to continue to move the more urgent stories — about our next president’s long history of egregious misdeeds, and how an administration presaged by these misdeeds might be kept accountable — down below the fold.
Voters want from the media what they want from a presidential candidate, and are ruefully aware they will not receive: The willingness to do what America’s two mainstream political parties and their moneyed donors cannot — to call power to account for its failures, and to resist the facile, dangerous gesture of naming anything (or anyone) “a lesser evil.”
Dreux Richard is the author of “Every Human Intention: Japan in the New Century,” forthcoming from Pantheon.