Faced with a choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, nobody will come away from this American presidential election looking very good. But there is still a right choice, and a wrong one
Faced with the choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, I’m with her.
I do so with zero enthusiasm – certainly far less than Andrew Sullivan, once the most vocal of Clinton’s enemies, now seems to be displaying:
Some readers think I’ve been too negative, even cynical, tonight. Believe me, I am utterly uncynical about this election. I’m worried sick. We need to put behind us any lingering beefs, any grudges, any memories from the past – and you know how I feel about the Clintons’ past – in order to save liberal democracy. The only thing between him and us is her. So – against all my previous emphatic denials – I’m with her now. As passionately as I ever was with Obama. For his legacy is at stake as well.
I support Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump not in the expectation that a second Clinton family presidency will do anything to make America significantly better – she is nothing if not a continuity candidate, the living embodiment of a third (and quite possibly fourth) Obama term. I find myself supporting Clinton because the anti-establishment wave which helped deliver Brexit and the hope of return to self-government for Britain promises no equally great benefits for America so long as it is led by a charlatan like Trump.
However tawdry and oversimplified the mainstream Brexit campaign may have been, the dream of freeing Britain from a suffocating, steadily tightening political union with Europe was and remains a noble and vital goal. Trump’s goal for his own country consists of Making America Great Again (MAGA), which he plans to accomplish by building a massive wall and sending the bill to a country who will refuse to pay it, and by defeating the Islamic State and ending the scourge of Islamist terror attacks “very quickly” with a few harsh words from the Oval Office and no American boots on the ground.
Of course the United States has constitutional firewalls and checks & balances to prevent excessive overreach by the executive branch, but the man is just appalling – a shallow, vindictive egotist with almost zero attention span (as proved by his reputed offer to give John Kasich complete control of foreign and domestic policy, and nearly every speech he has ever given).
Many of Trump’s apologists in the Republican Party have been reduced to saying “oh, it’s just a persona” as if that somehow makes it better. Either he means what he says when he promises authoritarian, big government solutions or his populism is just a lie and he is going to massively let down his voters in office, creating an even more wild backlash which nobody will be able to control. Neither option bodes well for sensible conservative government.
And so while a Hillary Clinton presidency will be technocratic, soul-sappingly un-ideological, politically calculating and almost certainly stymied by furious GOP obstructionism, at least it buys time for the Republicans to wake up and try to engage with the public anger against the political elites in a more constructive way.
The Republicans have tried riding the Tea Party tiger, and were consumed by it. Now they have hitched their fortunes to Donald Trump, who will (barring further Islamist attacks or police shootings) lead them to defeat with dishonour. It is difficult to imagine a rock bottom lower than being led to defeat against Hillary Clinton by Donald Trump. Hopefully this is that rock bottom, and the party of Abraham Lincoln will rise from the ashes of defeat in 2016 chastened and renewed.
But even if none of this comes to pass, even if the GOP learns absolutely nothing and goes on to nominate Herman Cain or Sarah Palin in 2020, at least we have bought four more years of relative stability. If you take Donald Trump at his word, he is a dangerous demagogue. If you belong to the school of thought which says that it is all an act, then he is perpetrating a fraud on those millions of his supporters who take his public utterances seriously. Neither option is good. This is not somebody fit for the presidency.
Many of the scandals hanging over Hillary Clinton have substance, and she undoubtedly has been dishonest in her handling of the email scandal – she was wrong to conduct sensitive government business over a bootleg server installed in her home, and she was most definitely wrong to be so evasive and even downright false in her subsequent explanations of her behaviour. In any other circumstance – and I mean any other circumstance – this alone would disqualify Clinton from the presidency.
But these are extenuating circumstances. I’m sorry Trump supporters, but I have searched and searched and I cannot see in Donald Trump the principled, fearless happy warrior fighting the elite on behalf of ordinary Americans which you see. I see a shrewd, calculating and undeniably effective demagogue, one who understands better than any other recent insurgent politician how to command public attention, and who was aided in this tawdry work by a debased American media class whose great crime in giving undeserved oxygen to the Trump campaign in the hunt for ratings surpasses even their craven and servile attitude toward the Bush administration in the years after 9/11.
And in these exceptional times, the only responsible thing to do is to pick the lesser of two evils. Hillary Clinton continues the dubious tradition of American presidential dynasties. She has a perpetual cloud of scandal hanging over her head which cannot all be dismissed as the fact-free imaginings of Newt Gingrich. And she is a political weathervane with seemingly no fixed political convictions or guiding ideology. But even for all of these flaws, at least she is not Donald J Trump.
However, this blog is concerned that the current Hollywood celebrity love-fest taking place at the DNC convention in Philadelphia, while buoying the spirits of Hillary fans (and disappointed Bernie Sanders supporters) is actually feeding the Trump campaign’s effective – and partially true – message that the American cultural elite is bullying ordinary people into feeling ashamed of their often perfectly legitimate political concerns.
And never more so than on the topic of immigration, where whatever racism and xenophobia exists at the fringe of the Republican Party is more than cancelled out by the gleeful subversion of law and language encouraged by many mainstream Democrats, with their embrace of the exculpatory term “undocumented immigrants” and repeated, tawdry attempts to ennoble the idea of living in America illegally.
As Jeremy Carl fumes in the National Review:
Witness what we have just seen: One candidate for president has been the first-ever candidate for president endorsed by the union of Border Patrol agents. The other candidate proudly features, on the first night of her convention, illegal aliens up on the main stage, while Democrats nationwide cheer.
If you wanted to understand the hold that Donald Trump has on a large swathe of conservatives and even fed-up Democrats and independents, the Democratic convention is pretty much a living explanation.
At this point, we’ve become so accustomed to the Democrats’ immigration lawlessness that too many of us accept it. We think there is simply nothing strange about one of our two political parties happily parading lawbreakers in a forum where they are celebrated for their law-breaking.
As a future American citizen (proudly married to a Texan, with the ultimate intention of living back in the United States) who will one day gratefully join the back of the line and emigrate the lawful way, nothing enrages me more than this holding-hands-underneath-a-rainbow celebration of people who either snuck into America illegally or otherwise outstayed their visas. But the Clinton campaign’s emotion-based, identity politics-ridden position on “undocumenteds” (whoops, where did their documents go? Never mind, no point being a stickler for the rules) should not just be offensive to current and future legal immigrants who played by the rules. It should be offensive to every single person who places value in the rule of law.
And still Clinton is better than Trump. Some of Trump’s ideas on immigration – such as defunding “sanctuary cities” which refuse to cooperate with federal immigration rules and officials, and ending the anachronism of birthright citizenship – are entirely sensible. But the sanctions with which Trump intends to threaten Mexico in order to coerce payment for building his wall would greatly hamper cross border trade and actually put people out of work, as would many of his other protectionist policies.
Donald Trump has the greatest potential to harm America in the sphere of foreign policy. When it comes to domestic matters, the ability of the executive branch to take drastic or radical action is fairly well constraint by the checks and balances built into the American system of government. But in managing America’s relationship with other countries, President Donald Trump would have wide-ranging abilities to antagonise or alienate other countries in a way which the Constitution is not designed to constrain. Now, some of those countries may well deserve a tongue-lashing from Donald Trump – that is a large part of his appeal, the ability to come out strongly against the indefensible. But if Donald Trump has a coherent foreign policy, it is a closely guarded secret. There is certainly no mention on his campaign website. Therefore, there is no guarantee that Trump will antagonise only those countries which America can afford to alienate.
One may disagree with many of Hillary Clinton’s decisions while serving as Secretary of State, but at least she knows her way around foreign policy and will not need to keep Wikipedia to hand as she takes congratulatory calls from world leaders if she wins the election. That matters. Leadership matters, even if the direction of that leadership is sometimes less than optimal. While the American presidency always involves on-the-job training with incredibly high stakes, to bestow that office on somebody with no record of or interest in public service prior to this point would be reckless in the extreme.
Yet Hillary Clinton can easily lose this election. More to the point, her supporters can lose this election for her with their sanctimonious moral grandstanding, finger-wagging lectures to Middle America and constant diminution of the issues and concerns which motivate Trump supporters. In Britain we have already seen how endless celebrity interventions accusing Brexit supporters of racism and evil intent quite rightly provoked a backlash against the bien-pensant clerisy who haughtily preached that Britain is no good and that we could not survive without the EU’s antidemocratic supranational government. Piling up the celebrity endorsements could end up harming Hillary Clinton more than helping her.
And so the need now comes hardest upon the Clinton campaign manager, Robby Mook, to be a skilled and fearless strategist. Trump will not be beaten easily. The gaffes and missteps which harm normal political candidates only further cement his popularity among his most ardent supporters. And Hillary Clinton is a famously weak political candidate, less effective on the campaign trail than she is when in office.
This blog takes absolutely no delight in making its choice for the 2016 presidential race. I would have leapt at the chance to support a smart, sane conservative alternative to Democratic Party occupancy of the White House. But eight years of hysterical, hyperbolic opposition to Barack Obama effectively put rocket boosters on the GOP’s crazy wing, and now there is no smart, sane conservative left to support. In fact, there is no small-c conservative running in this presidential race at all.
That failure is not the fault of Barack Obama. He did not spike the juice of every Republican politician with crazy powder over the past seven years. This is an entirely self-inflicted wound struck by obstructionist conservative politicians who chose to make American politics this angry and volatile, aided by the conservative-industrial complex of media and punditry who cynically portrayed what has been a frustratingly uneven economic recovery and an overly timid and contradictory foreign policy as an unprecedented American decline brought about by Kenyan socialism.
In short, it is the fault of the political-media class, and the opportunistic Republican Party in particular, that Donald Trump was able to take over the GOP so easily. It is their fault that the only semi-responsible choice on the ballot paper will be for Hillary Clinton’s predictable, uninspiring centre-leftism.
And it is their fault that this blog is left with no choice but to follow my conscience and support Hillary Rodham Clinton for president – very much the lesser of two evils.
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