Normally I avoid politics here, but these are not normal times. What follows is a request to my US readers, followed by some general remarks about the disturbing state of US democracy. Sorry, but if you want to discuss any of this, it will have to be elsewhere (internet comment sections are part of the problem…).
To those not planning on voting for Donald Trump:
- If you’re planning on voting for Hillary Clinton: please be sure to get out and vote, by early voting if available in your state or on Election day. This is extremely important, with the election likely decided by who cares enough to turn out and vote.
- If you’re planning on not voting: please rethink this. One can in many elections make a reasonable case that the differences between the candidates aren’t great, so, why bother? If there ever were a US election where that was not true, this is it.
- If you’re planning on voting for a third-party candidate: again, that might make sense if the differences between the two viable candidates were not great, but that is absolutely not the case here. More specifically, if you’re a progressive planning on voting for Jill Stein, please look at what happened in 2000. People who did the same thing in Florida (voting for Nader then) gave us George W. Bush as president, which was a disaster for the progressive cause. I also urge you to look deep within your heart and ask yourself whether your behavior is a realistic engagement with the world, or self-involved moral posturing.
To those planning on voting for Donald Trump:
Please don’t. I see two main arguments for doing this and I think they’re both misguided.
- You agree with Trump more than Clinton on important policy issues. Whatever policy issue you have in mind, I think if you look into it you’ll find that whatever Trump says now, at some other point he was saying something different. There’s little evidence Trump has fixed views on any policy issue (other than the desirability of better tax treatment for real estate development projects). If you think Trump will, for instance, appoint Supreme Court justices that share your moral values, note that he has reportedly told Peter Thiel that he would like to appoint him to the Court. Thiel is a gay, radical libertarian Silicon Valley billionaire from San Francisco with highly eccentric views. I doubt you share his moral values (since virtually no one else does, right, left or center).
Note added: This same argument applies to those opposing Clinton and supporting Trump’s election on grounds such as “she’s a war-mongerer, unlike Trump”, since (on some days) Trump claims to oppose US military interventions abroad. If you really believe that “Make America Great” means Trump will institute a policy of restraint on the use of the US military, I think it will likely be just a few weeks into the Trump administration before you find out that you, like your right-wing brethren in flyover country, have been conned.
- You’re angry at well-off coastal elites who you feel look down on you and your culture, and you want to spit in their face by voting for Trump. If so, you are quite right to feel the way you do. From a lifetime spent among such elites I can tell you that, yes, they do look down on you. Most people here in New York City probably do think you’re an ignorant racist. Your problem though is that Donald Trump is one of us. He’s a well-off New Yorker through and through, looks down on you every bit as much as others. If elected he will govern in the interest of his tribe, not yours. If you think otherwise, you’ve been conned. All you will accomplish by a vote for Trump is to convince people in New York, Washington D.C. and California that you really are even more ignorant than they thought, a racist fool taken in by an obvious con.
How did we end up here?
Whatever happens, I think the huge question facing US democracy is that of how, in an election contest between a competent, honest centrist candidate and an unqualified con artist, we’ve ended up with the majority of the electorate convinced that the first of these is the one with serious ethical problems. American politics has become a reality TV show, with the plot line all about convincing people that a contestant is unethical and dislikable, and so should be voted off the island.
That the right has pursued this tactic against the Clintons since the early 90s is not surprising, since it’s much more effective than arguing the issues. What’s destroying US democracy though is not just one side’s decision to do this, but that the other side, instead of fighting back, has been joining in. The most outrageous example of this is the Clinton email server “scandal”, which is and always has been an absurdity. The attacks on Hillary Clinton’s character based on this have not come just from the right, but also from the left. I every so often look at the Drudge Report, as well as lefty sources (The Intercept, Firedoglake=Shadowproof, Naked Capitalism, etc), and, on this topic, you can’t tell the difference between right and left.
Most damaging though is the behavior of the mainstream media, in particular that of the New York Times, whose coverage of this issue has been atrociously unfair to Clinton. This is not new behavior for them, it goes back to the first Clinton administration, during which they promoted endless similar nonsense (Travelgate, Whitewater, etc., etc.). At the time I found it hard to understand why they were doing this, with one conjecture that it had to do with reporters and editors harboring some sort of resentment, intent on taking down the Clintons a notch (“they think they’re so great, we’ll show them, expose their dirty laundry”).
More recently I’ve come to the conclusion that what’s going on here has to do with the world-view of much of the liberal, educated class that I’m a part of. After some success at addressing ancient problems of racism, sexism, homophobia and the like, many have become impossibly self-righteous and devoted to moral posturing, intent on ferreting out reasons to “call out” others and show their moral superiority.
When political arguments are about issues, they’re often not very rational and it has always been thus. What has changed in the US is that political arguments are now dominated by obsession with the supposed moral failings of others. We’re experiencing a perfect storm of the demagoguery of the right meeting the obsessive self-righteousness of the left, all mediated by journalists who see their primary role as taking down and exposing the supposed moral failings of our leaders. I don’t think we’ve seen this before in our history, and it threatens to upend the basic premises of a working democracy.
It’s very hard to know what kind of craziness we’ll have to deal with if Trump is elected. His agenda is purely that of getting attention for himself and “winning”, I doubt even he has any idea what he’ll do if he wins. On the other hand, unfortunately it’s all too clear what’s going to happen if Clinton is elected. The Republicans will launch endless investigations and attacks on her character in an attempt to make sure her presidency is not a success. The left will join in, and the New York Times and much of the rest of the media will nearly every day feature a new story about what is wrong with Hilary Clinton and with whoever joins her administration and attempts to govern the country in the best interest of its citizens. I don’t see see how this fever breaks, and it’s very hard not to see bleak days ahead for this country.
Update: From talking to various people I realized that one reason some Democrats and those on the left don’t see the “top secret email” business as being as absurd as I do is that they have no idea what these emails were. For that story, see this from the Wall Street Journal and this from the Washington Post.
One reason many people may not be informed about this is that they get their news from the New York Times, where the only mention of this I can find is a snide remark in this story.
Update: Based on some emails from people misreading this posting, it seems I have to make the following clear
- I DON’T think Trump supporters are ignorant racists.
- I DON’T think Peter Thiel is immoral (eccentric ≠ bad).
I DO think that
- Left-wing news and commentary sites
- New York Times political reporters and editors, together with others at mainstream media outlets
- Jill Stein and people who support her candidacy
have joined the right in an unholy alliance to try and discredit Clinton, based on completely absurd accusations regarding her use of email. This has led to a serious danger that the US will elect a con artist and fascist demagogue as President next week, or, failing that, destroy hopes for a successful Hilary Clinton administration.
Update: A correspondent points out that I haven’t addressed one reason some on both the Left and the Right (including those at the lefty websites I mentioned) are supporting Trump and trying to destroy Hilary Clinton. They believe that the advent of Trump will “break open the current oligarchy’s Pandora’s box”, with the destruction of the US democratic system making way for a wonderful new system that will grow and flourish in the wreckage. I didn’t mention this nihilist argument for Trump because there is no rational argument against the desire to deal with a problem by smashing everything around one. Sure, that will work, it will get rid of what is bothering you, you’ll feel better and, as long as you’re well enough off, other people will be the collateral damage hit by the debris, as well as those that have to clean up the mess.
Those who think this way though should at least be honest that that’s what they want, and not hide behind dishonest demonization of Hilary Clinton over bogus accusations about her email. The left’s joining with the Republican party to weaponize dishonest accusations about ethics and use those to bring down whoever they disagree with is something that will live on and make sure that what emerges from the wreckage will be even uglier than what was destroyed.
I also added something above, making clear that the arguments to Trump supporters also apply to his Leftist ones.