A campaign that plunged America into the abyss: can it crawl back out?

A very spooky campaign. Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

The first feeling most American voters will experience on the morning of November 9th, and this sentiment will be shared by people all over the world, will be relief: it’s finally over. It’s been one hell of a long campaign.

An overwhelming majority of Americans are disgusted by the destructive climate of the 2016 presidential race, according to a poll from The New York Times and CBS.

Many say they’ve witnessed the worst campaign in US history, with candidates launching insults and personal attacks in lieu of presenting their ideas, agendas and visions for the future.

The bitter attacks began as soon as the announcements of candidacies had been made – and haven’t ended yet.

It started off badly …

Even in September 2015, comments from Republican insiders showed they had already understood that, with Trump on the ticket, this campaign was not on the right track.

“That bastard is going to make us lose!”; “A misogynistic asshole,” one moans; “A psychopath,” another adds; “Enough already,” another one shouts. “He’s solidly put an anchor around our neck, and we’ll sink because of it,” concludes a Republican from Iowa, as French journalist Philippe Boulet-Gercourt reported.

The venomous remarks were referring to someone that nobody thought would join the race, and who totally blew apart all traditional campaign practices on June 16, 2015, when he called a press conference at Trump Tower to explain why –of course – he would run.

And, he promised, he was going to build a huge wal along the southern border of the country. Why? Because:

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.

And it just got worse

Catchy slogans might have sufficed, but Donald Trump chose another path. Initially, he personally insulted the competitors within his own camp, totally and exclusively, in order to secure a primaries victory: “Ben Carson has a pathological temper”; Jeb Bush “is weak”; Marco Rubio is “unloyal”; Chris Christie is “fat”; Ted Cruz is “lying”; Carly Fiorina is “ugly”.

There was this mad rush, with more provocations and more frank language and no filters, no matter the topic. Trump took on the hero status of war prisoners, openly attacking John McCain, the former Republican candidate.

Out with traditional discussion of societal problems such as abortion, gay marriage or capital punishment, in with Trump-generated content. Not being an establishment Republican, the candidate played the boogeyman, using the spectre of terrorism to gather people around him. With the struggle against ISIS as backdrop, he promised to reinstate torture and create a database on the Muslims living in the US.

In the end, he would become obsessed with an astonishing idea: prohibiting entry of all Muslims into the United States, to the dismay of even hard-line? Republicans.

Democratic supporters pose with a large effigy of U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in Detroit. Lucas Jackson/Reuters

With his misconduct toward women and the disabled showed that in fact Americans were able to countenance many things, leaving behind the same old politics that Trump called “the politically correct one”.

Trump, a New Yorker, read the people’s rejection of Washington well. And it was strong.

A campaign for nothing?

Trump’s campaign could well turn out a total failure. His momentum has made us, now in the final stretch, almost forget that Democrats experienced the same phenomenon in the compelling rise of Bernie Sanders, whose popularity was based on the same mistrust and rejection of politics as normal and the elite class.

The surprising success of the Vermont senator revealed how far this rejection can go. Sanders openly calling himself a Socialist, in a country that waged the Cold War, was no handicap.

Still more astonishing, he captured a large amount of young voters (30 and under), and the female vote.

The view from Europe (hint: it wasn’t good)

To Europeans, it was striking how different Trump and Sanders were from normal US candidates. One succeeded in introducing class struggle into a country of free enterprise and laissez-faire politics; the other set his pace with outrage upon outrage, fashioning an America of rejections, closing in on itself.

That is so very far from the image of the American Dream that everyone on the other side of the Atlantic envisions.

Now, at the end of the electoral season, we are discovering with horror that neither of the official nominees was able to attract the sympathies of the American people. Worse yet, both are seen as dishonest and corrupt.

How, under these conditions, will either be able to unify the people after such an intense campaign?

This is one of the principal stakes of an election. The victorious candidate almost always chooses to lead more from the centre, respecting the two camps while trying to find a compromise between the ideas of some and the aspirations of others.

An atmosphere of violence

Donald Trump continually added fuel to all possible fires, his declarations reaching a paroxysm with assertions of rigged elections and fraud.

Five out of ten Republicans voters subsequently declared that they would not accept the results of the elections if Clinton was victorious. Questioning the legitimacy of the vote even before the election takes place is totally new in the United States.

A very scary Halloween costume. Mark Makela/Reuters

If we take a closer look, these angry voters are not only expressing a distrust of Hillary Clinton – they are often also critical of Donald Trump. Many of them said his candidature was disastrous for their party and remarked on the country’s deep divisions, but still some say they’ll vote for him.

Women are even more critical, saying they are hurt by his campaign, which has often focused on that gender, although not for the right reasons. Some examples are the repulsive accusations against Carly Fiorina during primary educations and Megyn Kelly being unable to control her nerves because she had “blood coming out of her wherever”, at the first Republican debate in summer 2015.

More recently, there was the leaked Access Hollywood recording, in which the Republican candidate revealed a more barbarian nature than we’d thought possible, bragging about sexually assaulting women.

Old school politicians, represented by Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Mitt Romney have not given their support to Donald Trump, nor will they. Kasich, the governor of Ohio, who ran for the Republican nomination, even announced that he would write in John McCain (who’s not on the ticket) for president.

The majority of voters have regularly answered various surveys asserting that Donald Trump is not qualified to be president, and that he lacks the temperament for the job. But, mysteriously, this opinion has not always translated into voting intentions.

America’s reputation in the balance

We will have to question ourselves about this astonishing contradiction in the years to come, because whatever Trump’s or the Republican Party’s future, one thing is for sure: his ideas about race, gender, Mexicans, Muslims, taxes, and the US political system will remain.

Who will be the next Donald Trump? What direction will the Republican Party take? Will it actually stay together? Such are the questions we must ask today.

Even for those who are not interested in the small world that is Washington and its politicians – and many Europeans would put themselves in that category – must be conscious that it does exist, and recognise that it is the drama where their future will play out.

To Europeans, the repudiation of Donald Trump is much, much stronger than the attraction to Hillary Clinton. If the Republican candidate wins, you can bet that we will return to the anti-Americanism that dominated during the Iraq War.

If Hillary Clinton wins, will we see the enthusiasm to go with the historic symbolism of electing the first female President of the United States?

Whatever the result, France – like most of the European countries – will see America with new eyes, although with a tinge of fear.