It’s time like these I wish I had the eloquence to match the moment.
The moment being two days before an election in which America could choose to collectively shoot itself in the head. For months I’ve reached for that argument, that paragon of persuasion, which might crystalize and explain what the fuck is going on in America right now.
And there has been lots of eloquence out there. There is no shortage of writers better than me who have explained just how completely insane it would be to make Donald Trump president. I’m thinking about Andrew Sullivan’s New York Magazine piece from last April, or, more recently, the one from a few days ago:
The most frustrating aspect of the last 12 months has been the notion that we have been in a normal, if truly ugly, election cycle, with one extremely colorful and unpredictable figure leading the Republican Party in an otherwise conventional political struggle over policy. It has been clear for months now, it seems to me, that this is a delusion. A far more accurate account of the past year is that an openly proto-fascist cult leader has emerged to forge a popular movement that has taken over one of the major political parties, eroded central norms of democratic life, undermined American democratic institutions, and now stands on the brink of seizing power in Washington.
I’ve argued for months against a friend of mine in a Podcast in which I’ve tried in vain to understand how an otherwise rational sane person could support Trump despite the overwhelming long trail of despicable detritus this man has left in his wake, not just in this election but in his life, despite his obvious unfitness to hold the office of President, despite his obvious indifference to making any of the effort required to improve as a policy maker or even as a candidate. I have tried to understand, and I’ve failed.
Donald Trump is petulant, vindictive, ignorant, anti-intellectual, and intolerant. He is a narcissist with the impulse control of a 5-year-old (in other words, less impulse control than my 6-year-old). He is so clearly a con-man it actually has begun to make me physically ill to hear people who say, “He tells it like it is.” He does not tell it like it is. He tells it exactly how he thinks his fawning audiences want to hear it, reality be damned.
Donald Trump is not “short on the details.” He is willfully ignorant of them, with no plans to become less so. He engages in magical thinking because he knows it doesn’t really matter in today’s outrage-fueled freak show of a media environment what kind of thinking he’s engaging in as long as it sounds like straight talk. Those who are following this huckster have willfully embraced the reality distortion field required to perpetuate his movement, and to protect their own distorted bubble of hurt feelings and anxiety.
They have forsaken reason and judgement and the often distasteful, mature work of actually recognizing how hard it is to govern this impetuous fucking rabble of a country. No, they do not want to acknowledge that problems are hard and compromise is all we have. They do not want to acknowledge the good that is all around us, and how hard it was to get us here. They don’t want to acknowledge the precipice of disaster that President Obama pulled us back from. The 24 million people who now have health insurance. The landmark climate change treaty. The new environmental regulations. The 7 years of uninterrupted job growth, the longest in our history. The rising wages. Or, how about the truly humbling class, dignity, and respect with which Obama has treated the Presidency. The example he has set for our kids.
We have one candidate who wants to continue all that work, and another who wants to undo it. We live in arguably the most prosperous, most peaceful time in history, in one of the most prosperous, open, and safe countries in the world (if only we could do something about gun violence).
No, these people don’t recognize the good, and how much can be undone, and how hard it actually is to govern. Governance is not the work of looking around a table and exercising one’s innate “judgement” about who to say, “You’re fired” to. No, it’s hard work and requires the best of us to do well. But Trump supporters don’t want to recognize that. They’d rather blame the media, blame elites, blame minorities. What are they blaming them for exactly? Getting us to where we are today? And on top of that, the response is to go to the reality TV star who claims “I alone can fix it.”
Is there anything good about Donald Trump? Yes. He has started what I view as a legitimate conversation about how far we should go toward embracing an America that is increasingly diverse and multi-cultural. For my part, I like the trend and think we should keep going. I believe diversity is our strength, and always has been. Trump supporters do not like the trend and think we should pull back. They think diversity is no longer our strength, or possibly never was. I disagree with Trump supporters, but I agree on the slimmest of possible points: it is a legitimate conversation worth having.
And yet… Trump supporters cannot possibly support this man on the basis of that reason alone. The weight of the negatives are just too great. There must be something else, and to this day it’s impossible to deny the misogyny, the xenophobia, and the outright racism which surely a sizable proportion of Trump supporters espouse.
But as for the non-misogynist, non-racist Trump supporters (even granting these are the majority of them), I just do not understand it. I cannot, for the life of me, fathom that so much of this country is willing to elect this man to be President merely because he wants to put the breaks on immigration.
What about climate change and Trump’s claim that it’s a hoax cooked up by China? What about the most basic respect for women? What about electing a role model for our kids for the next 4 or 8 years? What about his stated desire to reinstitute torture? What about Trump’s stated intention to appoint judges in the mold of Antonin Scalia? What about Trump’s stated intention to start a trade war with China and Mexico, which independent analysts have suggested could cost 7 million U.S. jobs? What about Trump’s contention that we should renegotiate U.S. debt, another world-destabilizing piece of lunacy? What about his stated intention to use the powers of the presidency to weaken or attack foundational institutions of Democracy, including the media and judiciary? What about his statement that it’s ok if Saudi Arabia gets nuclear weapons? Saudi Arabia… from whence nearly all the 9/11 hijackers came from.
This is a man whose main claim to be President – perhaps is only claim – is that he has good judgement. This is simply laughable. On foreign policy, Trump has cited one – and only one – example, his similarly laughable claim that he was always agains the Iraq war, a claim for which not only is there no evidence whatsoever anywhere, but there is actually directly contradictory evidence.
On domestic policy, Trump’s claim that he has good judgement seems to rest entirely on his business success. So let’s be clear, that Trump would have made more money had he invested his daddy’s loan in a standard issue stock index, than he would have doing what he did instead, which is leave a trail of bankruptcies, broken promises, unpaid vendors, and discriminated against minorities all in the name of building gilded palaces to his ego. The world, this country, and his wallet would have been better off had he stuck with the index fund.
So, on what basis does Trump get his claim to the presidency? He gets it because we voted for him. Because, apparently, that’s what this country is. That’s who we are. We voted for this man. The Republican party made him their nominee, and as I write he is a single bad polling error away from being president.
What are we meant to take from this? Fucked if I know. All I know is, we are all on the hook for this disaster. Our enemy is ourselves. Not any of the false boogeymen Trump has said it is. Not the “elites.” Not “the media.” Not “the terrorists” (who are less likely to kill you then a toddler with a handgun is).
The strength of our Republic is on us. And that, I would think, is the entire problem.