Speaking in the middle of a crowded room, standing on a stage adorned with more American flags than I could count, Hillary Clinton is the picture of good health. Smiling, and delivering a well-rehearsed speech, promises are made and hands are shaken. A few days later and she has been caught up in another scandal. Forced out of the game by pneumonia, Donald Trump surges back in the polls, cutting the gap between them to only a few points.
I am on a year abroad in Tampa, Florida. Florida is projected to be a swing state in this election, as it has been in the previous four, so both Clinton and Trump are focusing much of their efforts here. Both have now spoken at the University of South Florida campus, directly to students. Before arriving here, I assumed all of Trump’s support would come from the more sparsely populated rural areas, which are known to have less ‘liberal’ mindsets and more conservative educational trends. Yet there are students here that proudly wear Trump merchandise around campus. The reason they give for voting Trump? He’s not Hillary. It appears neither candidate seems to have captured the electorate’s imagination in quite the same way Obama did in 2008 and again in 2012.
there are students here that proudly wear Trump merchandise around campus.
The Clinton Roadshow came to town last week, with news cameras, reporters and heavy-set security guards forced to endure the sweltering late-summer heat. While most people queueing outside to see the former First Lady speak were trying their best to find shade and avoid the sun, a small band of anti-Hillary protestors shouted obscenities about her and her record as Secretary of State. A similarly small group of people were capitalising on Hillary’s presence in a more positive way. Towing carts full of unofficial merchandise, selling t-shirts, hats and badges, this group of people follow Hillary’s campaign around the country, selling their wares to the latest rally attendees. Thanks to modern technology they are even able to take card with their iPhones. If that is not the American Dream in action, I don’t know what is.
After passing through airport-style security overseen by the Secret Service, we were allowed into the amphitheatre (converted basketball courts). The room was filled with about 1,000 people, and huge placards shouted out Hillary’s campaign hashtag (#strongertogether). These placards hinted at a larger theme that ran throughout the speech, that Donald Trump is the divisive candidate while she is the only person that can bring the United States together.
It’s no secret that Americans take their nation’s defence very seriously. Several members of the audience were wearing hats proudly showing they were veterans of different wars. Clinton demonstrated her commitment to the troops by being introduced by a veteran of the Iraq War, who spoke in no uncertain terms about the need for destroying ISIS. This continued through into Hillary’s speech. Hillary seemed out to prove that despite being the Democratic candidate, she is committed to the eradication of international terrorism by any means necessary. She discussed, in detail, the night that led to the death of Osama Bin Laden. The end of that particular anecdote probably received the loudest cheer of the afternoon.
In general Clinton’s words were, for the most part, typical of most politicians. Peppered with large promises, it will remain to be seen how much she actually delivers. One such was promise was her pledge to increase taxation on the top one per cent of Americans to help the other ninety-nine percent. Easy to say, yet Clinton’s words ring somewhat hollow to me. With a personal net worth of $62 million and amidst a campaign that will end up costing north of $1 billion, she’s had significant help from the one percenters over her twenty-year career in politics. This did not stop some of her supporters from showing their enthusiasm, however. It became a realised stereotype that Americans are more expressive than us Brits; during the rally, Clinton had to stop several times because of whooping and cheering from the crowd. They were equally willing – enthusiastic even – to boo whenever he-who-must-not-be-named was mentioned. Pantomime politics at its best.
Peppered with large promises, it will remain to be seen how much she actually delivers.
For me, Clinton’s stand-out policy commitment was a three-year moratorium on student loan repayments. She talked at length and with passion about the crippling effect student debt has on new graduates. Average university debt in England now exceeds £44,000, and is even more in the United States, with their higher tuition fees. This moratorium on repayments, according to Hillary, will stimulate the economy through the increased disposable income new graduates will have.
Almost as quickly as she appeared, Hillary was ushered out of the building by the Secret Service and back onto her bus, ready for the next city and her next passionate speech. An event that was suitably Presidential then, but it remains to be seen whether Clinton can weather the various scandals that have plagued her campaign almost since it began. Hillary is certainly on the march, but the road ahead is treacherous.