I feel like I should post something before election day with some final thoughts on this campaign, but I find it hard to know what to say. I just can’t wrap my mind around the fact that close to half of my fellow Americans seemed poised to vote for Donald Trump for president.
I’ve really struggled to understand this. I’ve read the numerous articles trying to explain who Trump supporters are, analyze their motivations, and sometimes elicit sympathy for them.
There are the people who are experiencing economic anxiety.
There are the neo-Nazi “alt-right” bigots that have flocked to Trump, as he seems to be saying everything they want to hear.
There are the people who are seemingly attracted to authoritarian solutions to our problems, rather than the messy compromises of a democratic republic.
There are the people who see Clinton’s handling of emails as disqualifying, even though the FBI has now, for a second time, essentially closed their investigation.
There are always the people willing to exploit the tragedy of Benghazi, despite numerous Republican-led inquiries proving that it was largely just that – a tragedy.
There are the conspiracy theorists, who can never be satisfied with evidence disproving their pet theories, like we found with Pres. Obama’s birth certificate.
There are the people who are perfectly willing to justify a presidential candidate bragging about – and perhaps even admitting to – committing sexual assault on multiple occasions.
There are the people who look past how he’s a serial adulterous husband, while simultaneously condemning that among others.
There are the conservative Christians who have lost, at long last, all claim of moral superiority by supporting a terrible character such as Trump because, I don’t know, God works in mysterious ways? How convenient. (Though, as Bill Maher points out, you have to hand it to the Mormons.)
There are the people who are just for Team Republican, no matter what – like our politics is just a just a professional sport.
There are self-serving Republican politicians who condemn Trump, but still end up supporting him because they can’t stand to lose their jobs. (I’d stack up the courage of Libertarian and Green Party voters against these opportunists any day.)
There are the gun nuts, who seriously think there is some massive confiscation plan right around the corner, even though it never comes.
There are the people who are deathly afraid of other religions, like Islam, but can’t seem to remember that there was a time not too long ago when their very own religion was distrusted and despised by a majority of Americans.
There are the people who still think he’s a successful businessman, even though he’s declared bankruptcy multiple times and has failed to grow his inherited wealth even at market rates – never mind, also, that he built that business partly by stiffing suppliers.
There are the people who find Clinton more untrustworthy, even though Trump lies more often.
There are the people who rage against taxes, while excusing his use of the tax law to potentially get out of paying a fair share for years – and implicitly calling those same people stupid in the process.
Oh, and then there are the people who think that he is fit to be commander-in-chief – you know, the president – even though he criticizes a Gold Star family (while he got deferments) and he’s so unstable that he reportedly has to have his Twitter account taken away from him by his staff because he just can’t help but vindictively spout off.
Somehow he has managed to take all of these threads and make himself competitive against Hillary Clinton.
Look, I am no fan of Clinton. She was not my first choice. I voted for Bernie Sanders. That did have some positive impact because it helped drive her campaign rhetoric to the left. Even so, I think she is too comfortable with the worldview of the global wealthy. I also believe she is too enamored with the use of the military to solve global problems. And there always seems to be self-inflicted drama surrounding the Clintons. That’s true even if you factor out the ginned-up controversies and conspiracy theories that Republican and conservative operatives have tried to pin on them over the decades. (Thanks to that history, there’s certainly no way she can calm our political waters, but most of the responsibility for that lays with moderate conservatives and Republicans, who must decide whether they’ll continue to follow their more radical counterparts.)
Also – and I can’t believe I’m writing this, especially on the eve of the election – Trump is actually not wrong on everything he has brought up in the campaign. Our trade deals have been a raw deal for many of our middle- and working-class voters – especially in my home Great Lakes region. Also, while I welcome immigrants and, yes, even refugees to the United States, I also don’t think people who entered the U.S. illegally should have a path to citizenship. I’m something of an economic migrant myself, since we’ve moved to Singapore for a few years for my wife’s job. But we came here legally, and I don’t really see why the Singaporean government would be under any obligation to cut me slack if I choose to stay illegally – let alone offer me citizenship. Finally, I also think Bill Clinton is a fair target. (However – and this is key – he’s not the one running for president this time around.)
But even with these caveats, it is absolutely undeniable that Clinton is the better choice of the two for the presidency. She’s professionally qualified for the job given her government service. She seems to have the right temperament for the presidency – especially when compared to Trump. There are other positive arguments for her candidacy, too. She actually accepts the scientific consensus on climate change. I do think she wants to improve the lives of middle class and poor Americans (even if, like Obama, she’s too willing to simply deal with entrenched economic interests rather than challenge them any meaningful way). She is willing to call out the worst elements of the Trump coalition instead of trying to coax some measure of tainted support out of them. And finally this can’t be ignored: Breaking the glass ceiling by becoming the first woman president would be a ground-breaking historical precedent for the U.S.
Taking all of this together, this election should be no contest. And yet it is. None of this positive case for Clinton or the negative case against Trump – absolutely none of it – will be the least bit persuasive to members of the Trump coalition. Which seems to mean that I live in an alternate universe from them. And that is hard to acknowledge. I’m unsure how to proceed.
As has been true for some time, I think, the greatest threat to our republic is the one identified here by Jay Rosen: We have a “retreat from empiricism.” We’ve become unmoored from any kind of shared facts. No amount of fact-checking will work because the sources of fact-checking have been discredited in the eyes of Republican voters by conservative activists. And our democratic institutions are even under threat.