On election night in 2008, I recall feeling a rush of pride in this nation as we elected our first African American president — notwithstanding the fact that I didn’t vote for him. For obvious reasons, it was cast as a historic election and it surely lived up to its billing.
Now we’re on the cusp of another historic election as Hillary Clinton will likely become the first female president on Nov. 8. But it’s almost as if Hillary’s gender is a sideshow to another historic aspect of Campaign 2016: We have two of the most unlikeable and least popular major-party nominees in my lifetime and the campaign has been so chaotic, personal, and cringeworthy that it will likely be remembered by historians as a dark period in U.S. politics.
The three televised presidential debates between Donald Trump and Clinton were noteworthy not for their substance but for their entertainment value. Last weekend I watched the final of the four presidential debates in 1960 between Sen. John Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon.
As a barometer of how far our presidential campaigns have sunk, the Kennedy-Nixon debates should make us all ashamed. Fifty-six years ago, presidential candidates actually answered the questions they were asked. I know it sounds like a quaint notion, but this was before handlers coached their bosses not to answer the questions journalists asked but to answer the questions they wished they had asked.
Kennedy and Nixon did not insult each other. They were respectful. Even when one candidate criticized the other, it was always about public policy. And the journalists themselves asked questions about issues. They did not ask about past statements or actions that were irrelevant to the actual policies the candidates said they wanted to pursue. Imagine that.
Fast forward to 2016. Instead of rational debate between two serious candidates eager to talk about issues, we have a pair of office seekers who conform to the most grotesque stereotypes imaginable. And while I find the two major-party candidates objectionable on multiple levels, the choice for me is clear.
Most of the blame for the tone of the campaign clearly lies with Trump. He can complain all he wants about the “dishonest media,” but he has attracted more critical coverage than Hillary for one reason: he says and does outrageous things almost every day and he’s incapable of staying on message. Even when he attempts to give a policy speech, as he did last month in his now-infamous Gettysburg Address and his Contract With The American Voter, he wandered off script and promised to sue the 10 women who had accused him of sexual misconduct, advancing that story and ensuring it would dominate the news cycle for at least 48 hours.
Far worse, however, is the extent to which Trump has ripped open a scab of intolerance, bigotry, and xenophobia. From open talk about sexually assaulting women, to fat-shaming other women, to urging violence against his detractors, to ridiculing a journalist for his disability, to declaring a judge to be biased against him because of his Mexican heritage, Trump has made public utterances that would have stopped any other presidential candidacy dead in the water. His advocacy for eminent domain makes me cringe in light of the injustice of the Kelo v. the City of New London case.
But don’t take my word for it. For concrete evidence of Trump’s poisonous appeal, look no further than The Crusader, one of the Ku Klux Klan’s largest newspapers and one which bills itself as “The Premier Voice of the White Resistance” and “The Political Voice of White Christian America!”
The Trump campaign has disavowed The Crusader’s support but Trump’s earlier failure to denounce David Duke was surely seen by the Klansmen as a wink and a nod in their direction.
In the absence of any record of public service, we can only go on what Trump says his policies, if you want to call them that, will look like. At best, they’re an incoherent mix of the unwise and the impractical: building a wall, reneging on trade deals, repealing Obamacare, and a tax cut that independent analysts have estimated would blow a hole in the deficit by anywhere from $6 trillion to $10 trillion, while his opponent’s economic plan would result in a deficit of only $200 billion.
As for Hillary, she’s a typical crooked, money-grubbing Washington careerist — the consummate insider. In other words, she’s just like most of the ruling-class elite. It’s obvious from her actions (e.g. the stinking Clinton Foundation and the private email server) that she doesn’t really think the rules apply to her.
That said, she’s done some good work over years. She was by most accounts, an able U.S. Senator who worked well with Republicans, though her tenure as Secretary of State was mediocre at best. Her attempt as first lady to reform the healthcare system, while well intentioned, was shrouded in secrecy — the same characteristic that almost undid her in this campaign. Hillary is, in a word, just about the only credible candidate the Democrats could have nominated who could actually lose to Trump.
As a status quo candidate, Hillary won’t rock the boat. She won’t change the system unless someone pays her to do it. Trump, on the other hand, talks a good game about change but he has been part of the problem for more than 40 years.
I’ve always marveled at how Trump’s supporters insist their man is an outsider. This is a guy who, after all, brags about buying off politicians. So instead of electing someone who gets bought off, we’re supposed to elect the guy who does the buying. This is change?
No thanks. I’m with Hillary but I’ll be wearing a gas mask the whole time.
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