The last US presidential election seems so recent to me. Time has flown by so quickly and now another election is nearing its conclusion. This time, it will result in the coming of a new administration for the most powerful country on Earth. And the 2016 presidential election has been the oddest and the most intense in recent memory. The number of presidential candidates has been the greatest in US history and now it is down to two people, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The contest between them is extremely bitter, on a scale perhaps the most in modern history. Hillary has declared Donald unfit to run for president and he has promised to put her in jail. They make a constant stream of heavy insults against each other. Donald Trump is a very unusual candidate. He is the first candidate since 1940 to have no prior political experience. Instead, he has been a businessman and celebrity all his life. His views, which are on the right wing, are particularly extreme, for example, proposing banning all Muslims from traveling to the United States temporarily and barricading the US-Mexico border. His personal behavior is rather bad. He has made a lot of very bizarre or disparaging remarks. This all may be because of Trump’s lack of experience in politics and instead running businesses and enterprises where he had all the power to himself, leaving him unprepared for a world where he is set up against standards.
The only thing that was perhaps remarkable about the last election was Hurricane Sandy, a very unusual storm on account of its size and timing that ravaged the US east coast in late October and the beginning of November, just before the election on November 8. Like other aspects of the country, Election Day was therefore significantly impacted, chiefly by threatening the ability of large numbers of people to vote and benefiting Obama because of his performance in dealing with the disaster. Hurricane Sandy was a sort of October surprise thrown by nature herself. October surprises are issues that spring up very soon before a US election, typically in the month of October, and their timing influences the election. For instance, a scandal that takes place months before November 8 may die down by the day of voting, but if its closer to election, People’s short-term reactions to issues basically come into play in the ballot.
So what has happened this October? History has in a way repeated itself with another very powerful hurricane striking the United States, Hurricane Matthew. 49 people in America died. However, Matthew has not had much of an impact on the election because compared to Sandy, it occurred in early October, was smaller, affected less of the United States, and struck parts of the country that were used to hurricanes. Most importantly, there is the fact that a sitting president, who had the responsibility of handling the hurricane, was one of the two final candidates in 2012, whereas Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump cannot do as much about the disaster.
While the final month of the 2016 election has not been rocked by the fury of nature and of the various forces that work together to create extreme weather (the Sun’s rays, the Jetstream, the ocean, wind currents, etc.), human affairs have been just as tempestuous. We’ve had several October surprises, or rather, October shockers. The first was the worst. On October 7, NBC released a video of Donald Trump making lewd and disparaging comments about women in 2005. He was going onto the set of the soap opera “Days of Our Lives with Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush and microphones recorded him bragging about trying to seduce a married woman. Just before meeting “Days of Our Lives” actress Arianne Zucker, Trump said, “I’ve got to use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful- I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it, you can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
This immediately became a huge scandal. Trump already had a high reputation of being egocentric and being disrespectful towards women, but the video took it to a whole new height. Donald Trump in fact seemed to be describing himself committing sexual assault. He apologized to the Amreicans for the first time in the election, his poll numbers went down, and many Republicans denounced him. My analysis of the conversation is that it has been slightly conflated. Many think Donald said he grabbed women’s genitals without their consent, but his actual words are that a celebrity can do such a thing and the women will consent. He just described himself as kissing them with their consent. It is unclear whether the consent is given before or after the act, but still. Nevertheless, I think the video is exemplary of Donald Trump’s character as one who thinks of himself as capable of having everything for himself. What Donald Trump said was clearly not right, as Obama put it. There was yet no proof that what Donald said about his conduct towards women he also did. The proof appeared soon.
After the October 9 debate when Donald denied having sexually harassed women, several women came forward accusing him of sexually assaulting them. The total is now 11. It has significantly hurt Donald Trump. Allegations by themselves would not be likely to hurt him much as anybody can say anything, especially when such stakes are involved, but Donald had given credibility to those who accused him of sexual harassment.
By now, things were clearly going to Hillary Clinton’s advantage. However, not long before a long-standing trouble she suffered from resurfaced to take her campaign ratings downhilll. More than a year ago, Hillary was found to have used her own personal email account for official communications, rather than a governmental one. This was considered to have violated government protocols and laws, particularly as her emails would not show up on official records. There were also allegations that some of the emails contained classified information. An FBI investigation continued for a long time before concluding in July 15, 2016, that Hillary behaved badly but no charges needed to be filed against her. However, the Trump camp constantly paraded the email scandal around, saying Hillary was unfit for president.
Then, on October 28, 11 days before Election Day, there came a big surprise. FBI director James Comey’s revealed that in early October, an investigation into an unrelated case surrounding Anthony Weiner found emails on the computer of Huma Abedin, Clinton’s campaign manager, which may be related to the Clinton email case and that the investigation was reopened. This return of the possibility that the potential next president may be criminally prosecuted just days before the election turned things against Clinton. Trump declared the scandal to be “bigger than Watergate.” He is now catching up to her in opinion polls. But in addition to this, Comey also found himself in trouble with government protocol and with the law.
The timing of the revelation, weeks after the event happened and before other officials recommended disclosure, indicates that Comey intended it to be a close October surprise to reduce Hillary’s chances of election. This violates the rule that government employees should not use their work to engage in partisan activity and influence elections. This is a common feature of October surprises. Since they are so good at influencing the outcome of an election, people may deliberately engineer them, such as by timing what they were going to do anyway at strategic times, to influence the election their way.
This is also alleged to be the case with the Accessed Hollywood tape. The NBC executives who released it say it was only shortly before that they remembered what Trump said about women and looked for the video recording in their archives. But others allege they knew of the video long before. Many of those who disbelieve the women accusing Trump of sexual misconduct point out that they never came forward before and are now only doing so in a coordinated manner soon before Election Day. They therefore must be lying for the political purpose of curtailing Trump’s chances in the race. But it is known that victims of sexual harassment and assault often do not reveal their experiences until something happens that nudges them to do so. In this case, the accusers say it was the leaked video scandal. And finally, there is the FBI revelation, coming at the worst time to turn Clinton into a candidate also besieged by allegations of criminal conduct. Comey was a long-time Republican before declaring in July 17 that he was no longer registered with any party. But who knows if he has used his position as a law enforcement agent to secretly campaign for Trump in this way.
But that was not the end of it. At the very end of October came the final October surprise, or rather surprises. They are not as definite as the others but just as wild. Senate Leader Harry Reid made a speech in which he criticized the FBI for a double standard in which they kept allegations against Trump of collaboration with the Russian government under wraps while making the disclosure about Clinton. He then claimed the extensive FBI investigation in the previous several months of Trump’s business links with Russia, his aides’ Russian ties, and Russian hacking of Democrat emails uncovered a lot of serious information, though he did not say what it was. The same day, there also came a report by Mother Jones that a Western intelligence officer claimed to give the FBI memos showing that the Russians had been grooming and collaborating with Trump for the past few years and that once when he visited Russia, Trump was compromised so that he could be blackmailed. The main rumor among journalists of what this was is that the Russians filmed Trump having a sex orgy.
October is now over, but what happens in November has even greater impact on the election. In the final days of a long race that has been tumultuous and unexpected in many ways, who knows what may happen next that will sway voter’s opinions and choices. It could be a follow-up of Clinton’s email woes. She said after Comey’s announcement that the FBI should immediately disclose all the facts of the new case, confident she will come up clean, thus improving her chances more than if the people are kept in uncertainty. But who knows if the FBI reveals something damaging. And as for Trump, a man who ever since he entered the race has shown a propensity to get into trouble, who knows what trouble he might suddenly find himself embroiled in in the final week before the new president is chosen. The possibilities are quite endless on that front. There is always room for more surprise after a month in which surprises have already turned the tide back and forth in an election which in itself can be said to be a big surprise in many ways.