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The Making of the President 2016

Tuesday, 8 November, 2016

It has been an extraordinary election campaign in which some of the most selfless and some of the most squalid characters in American public life have played a role. Today is the day when their plans and calculations are subjected to the will of the people in the pageant that’s re-enacted every four years. Here’s how one chronicler captured the spectacular transaction by which a US president is chosen:

“They had begun to vote in the villages of New Hampshire at midnight, as they always do, seven and a half hours before the candidate rose. His men had canvassed Hart’s Location in New Hampshire days before, sending his autographed picture to each of the twelve registered voters in the village. They knew that they had five votes certain there, that their opponent had five votes certain — and that two were still undecided. Yet it was worth the effort. For Hart’s Location’s results would be the first flash of news on the wires to greet millions of voters as they opened their morning papers over coffee. But from there on it was unpredictable — invisible.

By the time the candidate left his hotel at 8.30, several million had already voted across the country — in schools, libraries, churches, stores, post offices. These, too, were invisible. But it was certain that at this hour, the vote was overwhelmingly Republican. On election day America is Republican until five or six in the evening. It is in the last few hours of the day that working people and their families vote, on their way home from work or after supper; it is then, at evening, that America goes Democratic. If it goes Democratic at all. All of this is invisible, for it is the essence of the act that as it happens it is a mystery in which million of people each fit one fragment of a total secret together, none of them knowing the shape of the whole.

The Making of the President What results from the fitting together of these secrets is, of course, the most awesome transfer of power in the world — the power to marshal and mobilize, the power to send men to kill or be killed, the power to tax and destroy, the power to create and the responsibility to do so, the power to guide and the responsibility to heal — all committed into the hands of one man… Yet as the transfer of this power takes place, there is nothing to be seen except an occasional line outside a church or school, or a file of people fidgeting in the rain, waiting to enter the booths. No bands play on election day, no troops march, no guns are readied, no conspirators gather in secret headquarters. The noise and the blare, the bands and the screaming, the pageantry and oratory of the long full campaign fade on election day. All the planning is over, all effort spent. Now the candidates must wait.”

An excerpt there from “The Making of the President 1960” by Theodore H. White. Much has changed since White wrote those words 56 years ago, but the fundamentals remain the same. After more than 200 years, the US system remains the best version of running a complex society yet devised. We hope there will be a winner today who is able to reconcile the red and blue states and we hope that people like Putin will have had no part in choosing the victor.


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