Since I was born, there have been nine US presidential elections. The maths is easy, since they come every four years, as opposed to the much messier pattern of UK elections.*
I remember the Reagan years largely through spitting image puppets and half-understood private eye cartoons; Bush senior I remember for the Iraq war and being thoroughly owned by the Simpsons.
But by the Clinton years I followed American politics fairly closely, and by the 2000 election I was a history & politics student, and prepared to stay up all night to learn the identity of the new leader of the free world.
Amazed at the twists and turns, as Florida was first called for Gore then returned to uncertainty, my friend Tom and I vowed to stay up until a winner was known – much to the delight, I’m sure, of the guy temporarily sleeping in our living room.
The winner was eventually declared weeks later.
We went to bed around seven.
Since then, I’ve stayed up for every election**.
In 2008, I was at my friend Denny’s house watching alongside his housemate, now a chief political reporter. She asked lots of good questions, as you would expect.
My girlfriend at the time was American, and watching from a bar in Bloomington, Indiana. When it became clear Obama had won, she rang in tears. I can’t remember feeling happier and more optimistic.
Four years on, we watched it at a house party in King’s Cross, hosted by a couple of colleagues of mine. There were a lot of Americans there, but the mood was different – inevitably so, given four years of inevitable compromise and disillusion. Obama was reelected, but it was no landslide.
Tonight I’m working an overnight shift, following the election and getting paid for doing so.
Like a lot of people, I’m feeling extremely anxious about this election. America feels on the cusp of something extraordinary – extraordinarily bad. Optimists point to the rise of Trump as the last gasp of a fading reactionary demographic; pessimists note that America is fundamentally broken, and those vast swathes who have been left behind will continue to be tempted by demagogues bearing easy solutions unless we see profound economic change.
No one who has spent any time in the country over the past decade can be surprised by Trump’s rise. He’s not a freakish outlier: he is a conduit for years of misguided rage, ignorance, and hysteria. In an increasingly post-truth media environment, he has every chance of being the first post-truth president.
As a stolid continuity figure who has been around seemingly forever, fairly or otherwise Clinton is widely seen as part of a tainted status quo. With the rise of Trump on the right and Sanders on the left, she is the centrist candidate in an age of extremes.
I’m desperately hoping she wins, given the alternative. I hope she wins and turns out to be a truly radical and reforming president. But even if she exceeds all expectations, those structural, economic and cultural divisions aren’t going to go away any time soon.
Whoever wins, the foreseeable future of American politics is profoundly ugly.
* at least, until the Cameron/Clegg coalition laughably cited a national emergency and paved the way for the fixed term parliament act.
** admittedly my memories from 2004 are sketchy at best