STEPHEN GLOVER: Thank God, for all their faults, that our leaders have not descended into the gutter like America’s

These are gloomy times. Our country is painfully divided. Some people love Boris Johnson, others hate him. His detractors sometimes compare him to Donald Trump.

But, my goodness, having watched the fractious 90-minute debate between Trump and Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden, I rejoiced in our country’s more seemly politics. I felt grateful to be British.

For all his weaknesses, which have been on particular show these past few days, Boris is about as far from being like the U.S. President as it is possible to be. Trump is a malign twister and a cunning braggart with a limited vocabulary. Even the PM’s severest critics don’t accuse him of that.

Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer is Cicero compared to 77-year-old Biden who, while showing no obvious signs of suffering dementia as his enemies allege, appeared intellectually plodding and bereft of interesting ideas.

Abusive

This was an unedifying tussle between two septuagenarian bruisers in which Biden sank quickly to Trump’s level, trading insults as though to the manner born. Although Trump interrupted and spoke over his opponent more — in fact, for most of the time — Biden was freer with his insults.

At various times he called the Republican President a ‘liar’, a ‘racist’, a ‘fool’ and a ‘clown’. During chaotic and acrimonious exchanges that would have shamed a school playground, he instructed his adversary to ‘shut up, man’.

Our country is painfully divided. Some people love Boris Johnson, others hate him. His detractors sometimes compare him to Donald Trump (pictured)

With jutting chin and glowering expression, Trump watched Biden with a mixture of astonishment and contempt. His most cutting observation was that there was ‘nothing smart’ about his opponent. It was one of the very few truthful things he said.

The President sought to damage the Democratic candidate not so much through crude epithets as nasty commentary. For example, when Biden brought up the subject of his deceased son Beau who served with distinction with U.S. Forces in Iraq, Trump switched the subject to his other son, Hunter.

‘Hunter got thrown out of the military,’ asserted Trump. ‘He was thrown out, dishonourably discharged for cocaine use.’

It’s true he was discharged, though not dishonourably. These attacks on Biden’s family were mean-spirited and low.

Some have accused moderator Chris Wallace, from Right-wing Fox News, of being ineffectual. But how is it possible for the most determined referee in the world to separate two angry, writhing pythons?

What a terrible example such peevish and abusive conduct is to millions of younger Americans! Rulers were once enjoined to set a standard of rational debate and civilised behaviour. These two acted like dysfunctional children.

I realise that American politics has always been rougher and more rumbustious than our own. More violent, too. Four U.S. presidents have been killed in office, and there have been more than 30 attempts to kill incumbent presidents, former presidents, or those in waiting.

There have been sex-mad leaders, and incompetent and corrupt ones. Andrew Jackson, who occupied the White House from 1829 to 1837, even killed a man in a duel in so brutal a way that he was ostracised by his peers.

But I can’t think of any president or challenger in recent times who behaved as disgracefully as these two brawlers. Even the liar Richard Nixon — ‘tricky Dicky’ — who left office in disgrace in 1974, was a gentleman by their side.

The two contenders are supposed to be politically far apart. What struck me, though, is how alike in some ways they are. They are both street fighters with unsavoury reputations, though Trump’s is much more chequered.

He has been accused of 26 incidents of ‘unwanted sexual contact’ and 43 instances of inappropriate behaviour. There is a notorious video in which he talks about women in the most sexually demeaning terms.

For all his weaknesses, which have been on particular show these past few days, Boris (pictured) is about as far from being like the U.S. President as it is possible to be

Eight women have accused Biden of touching them inappropriately or invading their personal space in ways that made them feel uncomfortable. Most seriously, Tara Reade, a former political aide, has alleged that he sexually assaulted her in a Capitol Hill basement in 1993.

Both men have been accused of nepotism. Trump has shamelessly employed his daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner in important White House roles.

As for Biden, though it’s hard to convict him of nepotism, in 2014 his wholly unqualified son Hunter became a highly paid director of the largest natural-gas producer in Ukraine. Was this because Biden was U.S. Vice-President at the time? This is one of Trump’s favourite subjects, and he raised it during the TV debate.

Detestable

The fascinating question is how a great country like America could have produced two such low-grade candidates for the highest office in the land — and the leadership of the free world.

Why do tens of millions of normally sensible Americans still support Donald Trump even though he is plainly a thoroughly detestable and self-serving human being with no regard for the truth?

And how can the Democrats — the party of J. F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt — have chosen Joe Biden, who, whether or not he is suffering from dementia, is a slippery mediocrity?

Perhaps Americans are just unlucky. Or are these two coarse characters, squabbling in their juvenile way, in some way representative of modern America? It is a dreadful thought, which is hard for any admirer of the United States to accept.

Trump is of course the more dangerous of the two. There were two clues in the debate. One was his refusal to condemn ‘white supremacists and militia’. All he would do was criticise violent protesters on the Left. Why not both?

The other alarming note was his reluctance to say whether he would accept the outcome of the election. He is obsessed with the alleged iniquities of ballot papers, and claims that many bearing his name have been found in ‘creeks’, ‘rivers’ and ‘wastepaper baskets’.

With jutting chin and glowering expression, Trump watched Biden (pictured) with a mixture of astonishment and contempt

Fraudulent

Unlike Biden, he refused to rule out declaring victory before all the votes have been counted, stating that ‘this is not going to end well’. He appeared to mean that the Supreme Court, which has a Right-wing majority that may be bolstered by a further nominee before the election, could rule in his favour in the event of a disputed outcome.

So in what is supposed to be the greatest democracy on earth there is the prospect of a contested result, and of Trump refusing to budge from the White House on the spurious grounds that missing ballot papers will make it, in his words, ‘a fraudulent election’.

That is why, when I finished watching the debate — and I don’t suppose the next two before the November 3 election will be any more uplifting — I felt such relief that, for all their faults, our own leaders have not yet descended into the gutter occupied by Trump and Biden. Thank God for that.

But then I reflected that the U.S. is still supposed to be head of the w estern alliance, which with the rise of China, the resurgence of Russia and numerous other problems is threatened more than ever.

In the end, America’s tragedy is our own, or at any rate we can’t be divorced from it. Whether Trump or Biden emerges as victor, America will remain an unhappy and divided country, and a very inadequate leader of the free world.

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