We need to study Donald Trump with the same precision that European and American Orientalists have studied their Orient.
I rushed to finish Hillary Clinton’s book, Hard Choices, this week, expecting her to clinch the Democratic Party nomination for president. She did, but I am evermore ambivalent about her and her chances of winning.
Many factors will prove decisive in the November elections, but Clinton continues to suffer from the same shortcomings that cost her the 2008 Democratic Party primaries.
This is particularly important because in the public mind, the contrast can’t be starker between the same packaged Clinton and the unrestrained Republican nominee Donald Trump. She won the Democratic nomination by mastering the rules of the game; he won the Republican nomination by refusing to play by the traditional rules of the game.
But come November, Clinton could still lose the general elections even though she’s running against a populist candidate with “no policy knowledge or workable proposals”, who managed to alienate so many Latinos, Muslims and African Americans.
Hard Choices is a tough read not because it’s a long and exhaustive balance sheet of her tenure as secretary of state, but rather because it is as self-congratulatory as it is self-explanatory.
She boasts of how her diplomatic intervention prevented “explosive confrontation”; how the team Obama-Clinton was seen as a “diplomatic version of the TV thriller, Starsky and Hutch”; and how she succeeded in lobbying for General Electric to gain multibillion-dollar contracts in Algeria. But there’s little or no serious admission of fault and failure and of lessons learned, and certainly no bold vision for America in the world.
Since it was written with the intention of running again for president – clearly, not a “hard choice” – it’s the kind of book that reveals less than it conceals; peddles instead of explaining. It confirms many of the doubts about Clinton’s authenticity.
Like her book, Clinton’s campaign also projects an image of a scripted and packaged candidacy that contrasts sharply with her Republican opponent.
Despite his ignorance, Donald Trump has been able to communicate freely, effectively and spontaneously with his base.
The contrast in their visions for America could not be any sharper, as this Washington Post graphic shows, but it mirrors America’s own down-the-middle societal and political division.
What will tip the balance to either side is the contrast between their characters.
Likeability and trust
The Democratic Party primaries have exposed Clinton’s failure to inspire or gain the trust of important segments of the voters, especially the young.
The Democratic Party primaries have exposed Clinton's failure to inspire or gain the trust of important segments of the voters, especially the young.
In order to overcome this deep-seated suspicion about her character, the Clinton-friendly newspaper recommends that Hillary release transcripts of her Wall Street speeches and acknowledge the State Department inspector’s general claim: that using a private email server for official business was not allowed or encouraged, but she did it anyway, in a misguided effort to protect her privacy.
This might help Clinton regain some credibility among her detractors, Democrats and Independents. But it won’t suffice to change her image.
Courage and inclusion
To win the elections, Clinton needs to show how Trump’s politics of fear is cowardly and un-American: fear of Mexicans, Muslims, illegal immigrants; fear of declining America; and fear of a world that threatens, disrespects and takes advantage of America.
She says America is great and doesn’t require a Trump to make it “great again”. But to demonstrate that, she needs to embrace the better, more optimistic, aspects of the Obama legacy and incorporate many of the proposals advanced by Bernie Sanders, both domestically and internationally.
She needs to show how fairness, inclusion and diplomacy trump Trump’s politics of hatred and exclusion, and why building bridges with the world is better than walling America in.
And she must show real empathy towards working people and struggling youth as they search for their rightful place in America’s future, and revise her campaign platform accordingly.
If as the record shows, and bizarre as it may sound, Americans are more likely to elect a taller candidate, the 6ft 3in Trump will have an advantage as he towers over Clinton come pre-election handshakes and debates.
But the record also shows that in America being tall pales in comparison to standing tall. The question is: Will Clinton stand taller as she confronts her aggressive, misogynist rival?
Otherwise, the Democrats are bound to repeat their 2000 defeat, when Al Gore, Bill Clinton’s vice president, lost to the macho Texan, George Bush. At the time, more than two million progressive and disillusioned voters went for the Green Party candidate, Ralph Nader.
In other words, Clinton must heed the voices of those who gave Sanders their support in Ohio and other battleground states if she’s to avoid Gore’s fate.
Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera. Follow him on Facebook.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.