American presidential elections have always largely revolved around storytelling. As in many other contemporary narrative wars, the best story wins. Barak Obama was able to clinch his first presidential mandate thanks to the story of his life – from a precarious childhood to the US Senate.
But this year the storytelling side of the race is even more overwhelming. Very clearly, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are competing much more on their personal issues than on their political agendas. And this competition is now reaching its climax.
Yesterday a witty article by Stephen Collinson for CNN (The Hubris of the 2016 Candidates) pointed out that “Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are better at beating themselves than each other. They’re not just the most unpopular presidential nominees in recent memory: in the epic drama of the 2016 election, they’re also tarnished heroes who are perpetually humbled by their own self-defeating flaws”. What flaws? For Clinton, it’s her obsessive penchant for secrecy and distaste for disclosure. For Trump, it’s his gargantuan ego and hot-tempered arrogance.
This interesting explanation reminds of screenwriter Dara Marks’ concept of fatal flaw, so important in movies. A fatal flaw is the old, exhausted survival system that a character must overcome in order to achieve his or her opportunity for growth – bad habits, personality limits, other internal constraints.
So far, however, neither Hillary nor Donald seem ready to jettison the way to survive they learned in the course of their lives. Currently, as Collinson says, “the rivals, playing out their tragicomic duel on the grandest electoral stage, are like two Shakespearean protagonists falling prey to hubris”.
The fact is, in the last few weeks their fatal flaws became evident to all, and the time to show some positive changes is getting extremely short. If no change is forthcoming, voters will surely take note.
Fatal flaws, in a sense, are what makes us human. When watching a movie we identify with the protagonists precisely because they have internal weaknesses, so similar to ours. But nobody likes characters who are so rigid and stubborn that they refuse to budge. Indeed, we love those who are engaged in the same efforts to improve as we are.
Thus, for Clinton and Trump the challenge is clear: in order to be liked, they need to show not just their flaws but their determination to become a better person. Whether they will be able to do that in the next ten days is very doubtful – but the one who does could gain those few points still missing to be elected.