After 18 months of debates, rallies, conventions and scandals, the 2016 US Presidential Election comes to an explosive conclusion next Tuesday. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump may be the names on the ballot, but there are a sizeable number of significant figures who have impacted on this campaign- in ways both good and bad.
He may not be moving into the White House in January, but nobody won the American public’s hearts this election season quite as much as Bernie Sanders, the gruff Vermont septuagenerian who won 23 of 57 contests against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries, an extraordinary feat for a candidate without a Super PAC or half of Clinton’s name recognition. Upon conceding to Clinton, Sanders impacted YUUGELY on the Democratic election platform, and on attitudes to socialists and democratic socialists in the US moving forward.
In the 2016 Election, there was one wife of a Democratic president who really got America’s attention as an inspiring, passionate, intelligent and honest speaker. And, no, we weren’t referring to Hillary Clinton. First Lady Michelle Obama was a highlight of July’s DNC and continued to make headlines campaigning for Clinton as she attacked Trump’s misogyny with grace and strength. As Hillary cynicism reached a high point, many of us asked ourselves: why can’t Michelle Obama be our candidate?
When Khizr Khan pulled out a pocket Constitution onstage at the DNC, he awoke thousands of Americans to a simple fact: that a Muslim could be just as, if not more, patriotic as them. Khan was speaking, alongside his wife Ghazala, about the death of their son Humayun in the Iraq war, and criticised Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the US. Trump’s cold attack on the Khans was one of his biggest mistakes of the year, and they soon became figureheads of dignity and bravery in the face of Trump’s bullying.
Providing the 2016 election’s single most emotionally-affecting moment, Larry Sanders declared the delegate count for Democrats Abroad at July’s Democratic National Convention, sending love to his brother Bernie and referencing their parents’ love of Rooselevelt’s New Deal. His speech was sincere, personal and reminded us all how important public service is when it’s done right.
Dropping new episodes with lightning speed, the hosts of the NPR Politics podcast spent 2016 making the best of an ugly election: presenting the news in an entertaining and enlightening way and contextualising the campaign in political history.
The Voices of the Left
As the election became more and more terrifying, only a handful of smart, cynical and reliably funny figures managed to keep our spirits up. Bill Maher and John Oliver‘s weekly HBO shows demonstrate the power of comedy in broadcasting honest ideas in an accessible way. Meanwhile, veteran leftwing truth-teller Michael Moore delivered two excellent films this year: documentary Where To Invade Next– which explores many of America’s current social problems in a pre-election context- and TrumpLand, in which he delivers a moving tribute to Clinton from the perspective of a Bernie supporter.
For some time, Senator Ted Cruz– the first major candidate to launch their campaign for this election- was the only apparent alternative to Donald Trump. A psychotically power-hungry science-sceptic with a laughably weak character, Cruz’s best quotes included “We’re gonna carpet-bomb the hell out of Syria. I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re gonna find out” and “Donald Trump may be a rat, but I would not copulate with him”. After losing the nomination to Trump and initially refusing to approve of the nominee, Cruz’s worst moment of all was his shining endorsement of the man who previously accused his father of killing JFK. Cruz, in many ways, could’ve been a worse president even than Trump.
Weeks after the Brexit vote, which he takes credit for, destroyed British diplomacy forever, Nigel Farage headed Stateside to help his American counterpart sell his message of extreme xenophobia and immigrant panic to the public. Farage, and fellow outspoken Brit Piers Morgan, should really mind their own business.
When it became clear that Rubio and Bush weren’t up to the job, Paul Ryan was offered a door to launch a last-minute campaign a snatch the GOP nomination at July’s Convention. He didn’t. Later, he was given ample opportunity to disavow Trump and- hence- lead a party revolt against the fascist aiming to sabotage them. He didn’t. Only the release of the “pussy” tape caused Ryan to step back his support for Trump.
The last remaining network late-night host to invite Donald Trump onto his show, Jimmy Fallon did the worst thing imaginable: he humanised a monster. Playing silly games and ruffling Trump’s hair, Fallon was a disgrace to comedians and the embodiment of pop cultural sellout.
Though at first seeming like a tolerable alternative to Trump’s hate and Clinton’s dishonesty, the pro-weed, anti-war Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson ultimately emerged to be a blabbering fool with no knowledge of foreign policy and horrendous positions on welfare and guns.
While his contemporaries pledged their support for Clinton, the long-term uber-conservative Jon Voight proved himself a man of no integrity as he campaigned for Trump, defended Pussygate and attacked Robert DeNiro on Twitter.
Governor Mike Pence was hired as a diluent to Trump; a popular conservative who would reassure the Republican base with his stony stare and calm oration. Maintaining his tone of civility throughout the campaign, Pence did the impossible: he gave the Trump machine legitimacy and consistency, abandoned all his personal integrity standing behind a monster and set himself up as a potential 2020 candidate in the process.
As chairperson of the DNC during primary season, Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz manipulated the party’s internal system to deny Bernie Sanders any real chance of defeating Clinton. Clinton’s appointment of DWS as honorary chair of her campaign’s “50-state program” was an embarrassingly obvious gesture of thanks to the woman who lied to help her win.
Of course, there were two fairly important figures in this election that we didn’t include on the list. Clinton and Trump’s characters speak for themselves: we’ve certainly seen enough of them both over the past 18 months. Trump, obviously, belongs firmly in the “Villains” camp of this list. Clinton… you’ll have to decide for yourself.