Dumb and Dumber

was the name of a comedy movie whose premise, loosely, was that no matter how incapable you are you can "succeed" despite yourself. You'd be forgiven for thinking the American presidential elections are a sequel.

I mean, come on. A misogynistic bullying outsider best known for firing people and not paying his bills, up against a former president's implacably-hawkish wife with more holes in her security nets than an old stocking.

At first glance the only thing they have in common is both chose an old white male non-entity as their running mate, so there'd be no loss of focus on themselves. But Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are reading from the same neoliberal book - albeit different pages.

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For example, both are prone to the "big lie" of sweeping generalisation and quickly turn vicious with anyone who disagrees with their view.

The difference is "the Donald" does it deliberately and doesn't seem to care, while Hillary tries to pretend butter wouldn't melt in her mouth but has to keep her lips pressed tight to stop the flames licking out. Neither apologises.

It's not really a gender choice either. His bad-hair machismo may be almost off the scale, but hers is not far behind; she's been unafraid to "show some balls" as Secretary of State, doubtless thanks to practicing having husband Bill's in a vice since his little incident with the woman in blue.

Of course both are rich, and have unashamedly spent large endorsement fortunes manipulating the convoluted gerrymander-prone Americana of the primary electoral process to come out on top of their respective parties despite, on one side, the establishment being against it and, on the other, an anti-establishment revolt almost derailing it.

Result? Dumb (if she thinks she's believable) versus dumber (just look at his support base).

That bottom line is what will decide it - and the dumber camp has the edge.

Because Clinton's smart "two coasts" supporters are dutiful but depressed, while Trump's bonehead "muscular middle" lot are motivated and freshly-empowered.

When push comes to tick, the latter will turn out in enthusiastic droves while the former slink along and do the business only because they feel they must.

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So: President Trump. Start getting used to it - if you can.

One ray of hope in this scenario is if, as is usually the case, American voters "balance" the party-colour of their president against the make-up of Senate and Congress, the Democrats could reasonably expect to gain control of one or both. Which could make Trump's presidency as fraught and uncertain as Obama's has been, and force him into compromise.

The lesson in this is the same one Britain has just learned with the surprise Brexit vote: if you're going to deliberately stupefy the masses by feeding them pap and circuses instead of fact and analysis, don't expect them to be immune to capture by a charismatic populist promising them whatever they're told they want.

In short, the neoliberals are finding out the hard way that a dumb voter is not a tame voter. Every camp must now be wondering how to manage that fact better in future.

At base, the world's most powerful country is confronted with a self-inflicted educational divide that threatens to split the United States.

The young intelligentsia who flocked to Bernie Sanders are sowing the seeds of revolution, as in their own way are the rednecks backing Trump. Parallels with the downfall of ancient Rome are easy to draw, and the end may prove even bloodier.

If so, that outcome will be the ruling cabal's own fault - for being so dumb.

- Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet. All opinions expressed here are his and not those of Hawke's Bay Today.