Donald Trump assailed as “absolutely false” the allegations by several women that he groped them, and accused Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, the media and lobbyists of engaging in an effort to stop him from winning the White House. With his numbers dropping in opinion polls ahead of the November 8 election, the Republican US presidential nominee told supporters at a rally in Florida that his campaign was engaged in “a struggle for the survival of our nation.” With the allegations behind the second US presidential debate Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump has reinforced the feeling that as we look back, this may well be the dirtiest election campaign in American history. The question on everyone’s lips is: Was the 1928 presidential campaign between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams dirtier than this or does this one take the cake in below-the-belt hits and distasteful jibes. In 1928, Andrew Jackson had a number of skeletons in his closet. For one, he had a fierce temper. His violent life included a number of duels, one of which, in 1806, ended with the death of his opponent. For another, General Jackson, during the War of 1812, had ordered the execution of six men in his militia who were accused of desertion. Jackson’s marriage was another weapon Adams used in the election. Jackson was accused of adultery and living in sin and his wife Rachel was accused of bigamy.

In the current contest between Hillary and Trump, a cornered Donald Trump went so far as to  threaten to put behind bars his opponent Hillary who he called “the devil” if he was elected to the presidency. Hillary said it was “awfully good” that someone with the temperament of Trump was not in- charge of the law in the country, provoking another Trump jab: “Because you’d be in jail.” The sparring followed shortly after Trump was asked to address the recently leaked 2005 video which captured him bragging about groping women without their consent. The former reality TV star apologised, saying he was “embarrassed by it”, but brushed off as “locker room talk” the unguarded content that has sent dozens of Republican lawmakers fleeing from his candidacy. Hillary responded that the leaked video revealed “what he thinks about women, what he does to women”. Retaliating against her in reference to former president Bill Clinton who is her husband, Trump said, “There’s never been anybody in the history of politics that’s been so abusive to women. Mine are words and his (Bill Clinton’s) are action” alluding to his much-talked-of dalliance with women. The debate turned even chillier as the topic turned to Hillary’s use of a private email server as secretary of state. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” Trump told his rival, jabbing his finger repeatedly in her direction. Hillary once again attacked Trump for his praise for Russia’s Vladimir Putin and noted the repeated cyber attacks by Russian backed hackers in an attempt to influence the election. “Never in history has a foreign power (worked) so hard to influence outcome of election” insinuating almost directly that Trump was in league with Putin. By no means was the gutter-level rhetoric in the key presidential contest of the world’s lone superpower seen only in presidential debates. People are aghast at how freely Trump has been using vulgar language. Newspapers have been routinely asterixing the offending words in Trump’s speeches. Shockingly, pins and lapels that read “Don’t be a pussy” or “Trump that Bitch” or “Hillary sucks but not like Monica” were all in easy sight and up for sale at the Republican National Convention where Trump’s nomination was confirmed. So crass has been Trump’s rhetoric that there are fears that future presidential candidates would use such expletives to win over such crude sections of voters to whom such words sound perfectly acceptable.

It perhaps speaks poorly of the American electoral system and of lopsided values of a large number of people that Trump has gone so far in the election. Before the recent sexist video surfaced, opinion polls had been showing a narrow difference between him and Hillary though the latter always had an edge. It is a measure of the disgust voters have of governance in the country that so many of them are prepared to elect such an obnoxious candidate as Trump as part of their burning desire for change. The youth in particular question the propriety of first the Vietnam War and in more recent times the Iraq war in which the then president, George W. Bush, sent troops and butchered people on mere suspicion of a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction which was later proved wrong. There is also no mistaking the fact that Hillary Clinton is despised and shunned and that she does not meet the criteria of an ideal candidate in the minds of millions of Americans. This must make the leaders of the US sit up and take notice. They can hardly draw comfort from the fact that their country is a superpower. It is most unlikely that Trump would win the presidential election but the damage he has caused to decency in public life is immense indeed. Clearly, the Americans need to re-discover the values that they were so proud of. The gun culture needs to be reviewed. Moral values need to be emphasised. Americans in general need to shed their arrogance and rediscover their humility.

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