In December of 2015 I made the following quip:
The above applies all the more since we have Donald Trump instead of
Cynics like myself ought to admit that we experience a bit of glee
when our expectations are fulfilled. And oh how they have been
fulfilled! Trump v. Clinton is truly a ludicrous contest for choosing
leadership for the United States of America. What's more, they are
almost meant for each other, because neither would be competitive
against a different opponent. A neo-Shakespeare in coming centuries is
destined to dramatize this affair.
I will now provide my own account, dear reader, not with the subtle
rhythm of a bard, but with my own meager faculties, because I feel the
need to summarize my thoughts on this matter. And hopefully through
summary comes serenity.
Prologue: Concerning Character
Much of my prior reflection on presidential politics has centered on
the policies of candidates, and not on their character. I suppose this
is a side-effect of the times in which I have come of age. After four
terms of the Presidency being free from the blight of personal
scandal, we Americans thought perhaps we had moved on from those
historical messes. But alas, here we are, with "temperament" and
"character" and "trustworthiness" taking a prominent place in the
I will not comment on the character of the candidates below, but will
leave this observation: the hypocrisy of the partisan system with
respect to sex scandals has been laid bare by scandalous videos and
accusations against Trump. Everything the Republicans said to attack
Bill Clinton the Democrats have charged against Trump. Every defense
offered by Democrats has been issued by Republicans.
I do think character matters, but that's not the context of this
Trump as Tragedy
Donald J. Trump is something like a dream deferred for political
reformists and radicals. He is a candidate from outside the political
class who holds ideas which are genuinely contrary to the status
quo. Trump even goes so far as to break with the bi-partisan consensus
on global trade and foreign policy.
(I happen to agree with relatively little of Trump's proposals -
prominent exceptions being his seeking to reform global trade and his
criticism of the Iraq War. Nonetheless his ideas are important because
they differ from bi-partisan consensus.)
This of course has drawn the ire of the elite (yes, there really are
an "elite") who have targeted Trump this past year with an
unprecedented barrage of Op-Eds and cross-party support. Yet in spite
of his distinct lack of newspaper endorsements Trump's candidacy
remains alive. Being criticized by the right people has done much to
bolster his campaign.
Facing a genuine threat to established political order backed by a
growing popular movement, one would expect the leaders of both parties
and the media to make every effort to discredit and disqualify Trump
before he has a chance to gain power. That they did, but the ammo was
fully supplied by Trump himself, and in abounding quantities.
I will not rehearse the whole infamous list of his outrageous
statements here, but suffice it to say that Trump is a wicked man who
is running on a platform which appeals to the worst aspects of our
political natures. It is fair to say in some cases that his words and
actions have been unfairly portrayed by his opponents. But the
preponderance of evidence is clear: he really is not the type of
person whom you want leading our great republic.
Now imagine someone who espoused Trump's contrarian policy ideas but
had a personality like John Kasich. I doubt that candidate would even
make the "main" GOP primary debate stage, and instead be relegated to
the "under-card" debate. In other words our political environment seems
to only reward reformist policy with attention in exchange for
Trump-like behavior. Not only does he want a radical halt to
immigration, but he says that many immigrants are rapists. Not only
does he say the Iraq war was a mistake, but he adds that the
U.S. should plunder their natural resources. Not only does he argue
for a constructive relationship with Russia in the middle east, but he
praises the autocratic Vladimir Putin.
The establishment really received a boon. They were tasked with
de-legitimizing the fringe candidate, but Trump mostly take care of the
job himself. When it comes to protecting the insular status quo from
new ideas, you could hardly script a better defense: "novel is crazy."
However we may find that in 2016, the year of Brexit, voters do not
care to listen to the intellectual wings of the political parties. In
other words, Trump might win in spite of himself, or perhaps to spite
My primary concern with Trump is not the scandals but his avowed
desire to be the strong-man. As he said in his nomination acceptance
speech at the convention:
I alone can fix this.
This is obviously outside of the spirit of American republicanism. Let
us contemplate for a moment how Republicans mocked the young Democrats
who put near-salvific hope in Obama. Let the GOP recall that it is the
party which had decried the expansion of the power of the Executive
Branch to interfere in all areas of life. For there is no way for the
leader to fix everything but by the erosion of local control.
Trump is casting himself as the autocrat and the hero. He is already
making threats to use the power of the office of the President to
settle personal scores and punish his rivals. He unashamedly calls for
unspeakable conduct in war. He should not be our President.
Clinton as Farce
Hillary Clinton's nomination as the Democratic candidate for the
presidency has been fore-ordained since her loss to Obama in 2008. She
is the chosen one. As private correspondence (which was stolen and
made public) has shown, she was the preferred choice of the Democratic
National Committee, which it was assumed should be neutral until the
nomination was complete. Clinton's lock was so secure that only a
no-name and a radical even bothered challenging her in the primaries.
It should have been a fairly clear warning sign that the Democrats had
decided on a damaged candidate when a self-described socialist who
honeymooned in the Soviet Union gave her a run for her money in a long
and close primary race. Were the party elites really so blind to her
weaknesses as a candidate? Or did they have a fatalistic commitment
that she had to be nominated no matter what?
Hillary Clinton was already one of the least liked and least trusted
politicians in the country. She was a carpetbagger. She voted for the
Iraq War. She favored bombing Libya. She was paid ludicrous sums of
money to regale bankers with her lackluster public speaking skills -
what only the most naive would deny was a bribe. She had the liability
of donations to their family foundation from questionable sources. She
had the private email server. It was shown via leaks that her campaign
thought of the press as a wing of their campaign communications
team. And so on, and so on.
Of all the Democratic politicians in this country, it had to be her?
I personally do not find any one of those scandals extraordinary per
se. I would not be caught chanting "lock her up!" Still, Clinton has
managed to accumulate a rather impressive stable of scandals. But the
central issue I have with her candidacy is not about her scandals, but
about her relationships:
It is not appropriate for the close relation of a President to
subsequently become President.
Republicans are loathe to bring up this criticism for the obvious
reason of their recent electoral victory of a President's son. This
has happened in the past, and the United States has survived
it. However I would venture that when we were looking at the
possibility of choosing between either the wife of an ex-President, or
the man looking to be the third president in his nuclear family, the
danger is getting acute. This nation is a republic, and political
power is not supposed to be preserved in a family as in a monarchy,
nor shared among a few as in an oligarchy.
Hillary Clinton is well-qualified but damaged goods. Her identity
rather than her strength as a candidate was the primary criterion in
her nomination. It is best to avoid the consolidation of power in a
few families, therefore Hillary Clinton should not be the President.
Our free and mostly-fair nominating processes produced two really bad
candidates. How does that work out for your democratic ideology?
I left the U.S. President portion of my ballot blank. I felt like the
best way to deal with that question was to not dignify it with a
response. Others may prefer to vote third-party or vote for a
registered write-in candidate. Those are all great options.
The point is: if you think this situation is ridiculous, make it known
with your vote (or lack thereof). But don't settle for just
voting. Discuss it with your friends and family too. We are going to
have to get over some social discomfort if we want to escape this
ridiculous partisan circumstance.
If I am being honest, I would prefer Hillary Clinton to win. The
simple reason is this: Assuming the worst on both sides, I believe
that our republic is better able to cope with a corrupt politician
than with a nationalist autocrat.
We'll see what happens. I am not too worried. More than likely in
either case the winner will not be as bad as opponents claimed. But
even in a worst-case scenario, people do not have to lay down and let
terrible things happen.