If you have been following the Democratic and Republican primaries in the United States, you will know that yesterday was dubbed “Separation Tuesday”, the day on which five major delegate-rich states vote, and which should allow the leading candidates to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. And so it came to pass: from the way it looks now, the November general election is shaping up to be Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton. It could of course change, but it would take a pretty astonishing reversal to do it; and the number of delegates stacking up seems to indicate only one eventual result. The American political landscape, meanwhile, is littered with the bodies of those who have been defeated by Trump, Marco Rubio being the latest of these candidates with a great future now safely behind them.
The American election concerns us all, but not all of us get a vote. If I did have a vote in America, how would I use it if faced with a choice between Trump and Mrs Clinton? They are both polarising characters in different ways, but the likeability or otherwise of either candidate should not be decisive. After all this is an election, not a beauty contest. Policies should count, rather than character, though character cannot be discounted. Serious ethical questions hang over each candidate: these are rather more low key in the case of Mrs Clinton (those emails, for example), but rather less hard to miss with Trump, a man who seems racist, misogynistic and violent in his language. As for policies, Mrs Clinton has lots of those, but what are Donald Trump’s policies, apart from building a wall along the Mexican border?
The truth is that on the question of policy, Mrs Clinton reveals herself as a true politician, one with a carefully honed stance on virtually everything. Trump reveals himself as an anti-politics politician, one who is clearly fighting against certain things, while not quite telling us what he is for, except in the most generic terms.
We live, we all know, in an era of steep decline for the Church; but, and this is perhaps what we have not all acknowledged, we live in a time of steep decline for almost every other institution, which includes political parties. Trump is not so very unusual. There is a Trump-like politician in every democracy these days. Some are even in power. Their emergence is a sign of the decline of the democratic process. Their rhetoric is the sign of the collapse of the national conversation into a shouting match. Have you noticed how Trump always shouts?
I am glad I do not have a vote in the American election. If I did, I am pretty sure I would abstain in November. I think Trump represents a lamentable development. I fear Mrs Clinton will win; I fear a Trump win too. Catholics should vote, of course, but sometimes a conscientious abstention is the only option.