Eighteen months in America

This was originally published at businesspost.ie.

Ted Cruz was nervous. Repeatedly steepling hands. Uneasy pallor, shiny chin. Quietly laughing where a few unscripted words would have helped immeasurably. Unsecured by a lectern, not entirely certain which way to move, or when, as he spelled out his impression of “the promise of America”.  

The audience stood and chanted his name when, in the 28th minute of a half-hour speech, the Texan senator declared his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. 

It was March 23, 2015, and, with that, the US presidential election campaign had begun. Cruz was the first hopeful out of the traps, and the first of 17 of his party who would be similarly vying. 

The following day, in an event unrelated, I moved to New York City. 

The past 18 months have been stranger than I could have imagined. I doubt that Cruz, as jittery as he might have been on that Monday, could have known he would spend more than a year campaigning to come runner-up to an uncouth political unknown who once threatened to “spill the beans on” his wife, and referred to him until he had pushed him from the race only as “Lyin’ Ted”.

Writing for this newspaper in August, I explained that I initially rejoiced in the drugged-up neon circus of the election cycle (this “phase” lasted for more months than I care to admit). As electoral theatre went, it far surpassed any I had ever taken in. Five stars.

Some of my wayward glee came with the terrain: everything was new to me. The late night television was new, the abandon with which news websites could pull candidates apart on the basis of often spurious, fantastic, nonsensical grievances was new, and the dizzying extent of the bullshit was new. 

While I continue to marvel at the special release the first amendment of the US constitution affords the country’s journalists and columnists, I have grown tired of even Saturday Night Live, for a period a valued Sunday morning tonic, and find the relief granted to me by a once-holy trinity of satire, parody, and hyperbole, has greatly diminished. 

I feel sure I cannot take even another day of election-related headlines, chyrons, Nate Silver, or Donald Trump’s voice. In this I am not alone. For a number of months, there has been very little comedy at all.

Today, Americans are finally going to bring the whole thing to a close. If the state of the race provides us with anything on which to make a projection, the end is likely to be gaudy and uneven. 

In Trump, the country is faced with a style of candidate never before seen. A candidate who, unencumbered by any of the qualities and qualifications traditionally treasured in candidates, has marched ahead to build a devout and shameless following, one born of deepest disaffection. 

Trump, who once accurately suggested that he could shoot somebody in the middle of Manhattan and not lose any support, has lowered the bar into the ground. In following the race a little more closely for the past 12 weeks, I have been guilty of amplifying his position, his words, indiscretions, and mounting inconsistencies. 

Each round-up seems to hinge more tightly on the Republican candidate than the last, a pattern which sits poorly with our understanding of “objectivity”. It sits poorly, too, with the inarguable significance of this election for women and for minority communities in the US. 

But there is nothing close to a 50/50 call to be made on a Sunday night where the preceding week has been 80% Trump bilge, the variety of which leaves you wailing. 

There is no time to weigh the comparative virtue of Hillary Clinton when details emerge about Trump that would have ended the campaigns of others on the spot. Not upon watching the Access Hollywood tape. Not when Roger Ailes is advising him, when we know what we do about Roger Ailes. 

Not when aware he is accepting the backing of a former KKK leader. Not when reporters are cleanly showing him up for lying about charitable giving. Not when his refusal to make public his tax returns may have set a twisted precedent for future presidential hopefuls.

Tonight, the United States of America may well elect its first female president. How wrong it feels, in light of this bright, historic possibility, to have spent months obsessing over the dismal mire of Trump. 

It has been a scarring election campaign. Although America may welcome the end, it would be wrong to think of its era as concluded, or the result of the election as heralding any kind of stability or comity. 

But there is a chance that, for some, tonight brings some brief respite, and somehow validates hope.