US election: The Disunited States of America - whoever wins
"The greatest show on earth" was PT Barnum's claim for his three ring circus.
I'm not sure that is the right description for the 2016 US election campaign, but some variation on that must come close - maybe instead of 'greatest' we could have weirdest, most compelling, unpredictable, disturbing, hate-filled, bizarre.
Maybe all of those things - and a few more besides.
I spoke to a producer in London the other day and he asked whether I could incorporate into my TV piece the standout moments of the campaign. And my mind went into Matrix mode. A thousand different, fractured memories went kaleidoscoping through my brain. A thousand different jaw-dropping episodes. Where would I start?
As I start writing this (it's Sunday afternoon) the FBI director has just sought to wade out of the US election, having waded in 10 days earlier in the most astonishing fashion. So having sent the most unbelievably opaque letter that there might be a whiff ... he now says there isn't.
But what an astonishing state of affairs. James Comey's letter breathed new life into the Trump campaign, and who knows how many senate races he's affected where early voting is taking place. Why did he write the letter in the first place? What was he hoping to achieve? What did he assess the fallout would be? And ultimately why put the FBI in the middle of the election when they are now trying to back out? Astonishing. And yes, I know I've already used that word in this paragraph.
But this election day blog is not about the FBI - more a way of highlighting how at every turn there have been incidents that just boggle, confuse and occasionally fry the brain. Where to start? Well there are the obvious ones - Donald Trump describing Mexicans as thieves and rapists, him mocking a disabled person, disparaging PoWs, wanting to ban all Muslims.
There were the ones that made me laugh. Yes, I just laughed when I read a newsflash saying the Pope goes to war with Donald Trump over his plan to build a wall. The Holy Father, I thought. No, this must be some kind of error. But on a flight back to Rome, he had indeed decided to wade in.
US election: The essentials
- All you need to know
- Who is ahead in the polls?
- Who is going to win?
- Full election coverage from the BBC
- Hour by hour guide to election night
Then there was the Access Hollywood tape - and him boasting about grabbing a woman by the pussy. We have reported on him allegedly putting his hands on a woman's vagina. We have reported on the size of his penis, when that whole subject came up (sorry) during the primary process. Small hands, he said, meaning ... well you know the rest.
So in one election campaign I have been on air discussing male genitalia and female genitalia. After 30 years plus reporting and having covered elections all over the world, this is new territory for me. But give this narrative to a publisher as a book proposal, and they would write back and say 'Dear Mr Sopel, thank you for your submission. Unfortunately it seems too far fetched.'
And it hasn't exactly been dull on the Hillary side either - emailgate, endless Wikileaks, her collapse from pneumonia which her aides just had no idea how to handle.
Somehow we ended up with two presidential candidates uniquely unpopular in American polling history. So many people have said to me on my travels around this great continent, how was it out of a population of 320 million we ended up with such an appalling choice. A choice between death by drowning or firing squad.
All of which brings me to the more important point about this election. For all the fireworks, the whizzes and bangs, the sky lighting up in luminescent colours - the bigger truth about this campaign is that it has shown a deeply polarised America. A Disunited State of America, if you like.
Who knows whether Donald Trump will win or lose - there's no point trying to look into a crystal ball when we can wait a few hours and get the results proper.
But what his campaign has shown is there is a sizeable minority of Americans who are not just disaffected and feeling alienated, they are furious. They feel that America is going to hell in a handcart. They feel that Washington is a corrupt cesspool. They cry 'drain the swamp' at Trump rallies - with almost as much gusto as they shout 'lock her up,' about Hillary Clinton.
Trump draws most of his support from slightly less well educated, slightly older white men - but by no means all. There are a vast number of Americans who've simply had it with conventional, democratic politics. These are people who want America to pull up the drawbridge and stop trying to be the global policeman and global trader. They are people who are demanding radical change - and ideally overnight.
Whoever wins this turbulent, divisive, vituperative election is not going to enjoy any kind of political honeymoon. There is too much anger for that.
There will be no basking in the warm glow of the adoration of the American public. I guarantee you this: over 40% of the American public will not only feel the normal disappointment that their man/woman didn't win, but they will feel that the winner is a corrupt, fraudulent, venal charlatan. The office of the presidency should rise above individuals, but in 2016 it's going to struggle to.
When I was trying to find what word to use instead of 'greatest' at the start of this blog, I should have gone for troubling.