Tuesday, October 25, 2016

This Is What I Know

I know that this is scariest American election I have ever seen. When I am not distracted by something that needs my attention, I think about the election all the time. As nearly everyone has said, this is an extraordinarily nasty campaign that tarnishes everyone in America, except the tiny number who love and provoke the nastiness.

I know that some of these provocateurs live among Democrats, work in or for various Democratic campaigns, not just Hillary Clinton’s. But a video of two such men talking about fomenting chaos, which never happened, is the worst evidence anyone has found about Democrats’ role in making this such a nasty campaign.

I know that the nastiness has mostly come from the Republican side. I don’t blame all of it on Donald Trump. He is a nasty man in all respects, who can’t help acting like a jerk when he confronts the daily setbacks of modern life, much less the criticism directed at Presidential candidates. Trump’s uncontrolled instinct to denigrate and demean anyone who challenges him meant that this campaign was already in the gutter during primary season. With only one opponent left and the whole world watching, Trump has outdone himself in spreading the stink of fear and the contagion of insult.

But I know Trump was not alone. More professional, more knowledgeable, and equally unscrupulous men have latched onto Trump to achieve the biggest audiences of their lives. Trump’s choice to put his campaign and himself in the hands of Roger Stone and Stephen Bannon is a testament to his judgment and his preferences.

Roger Stone has been a campaign dirty trickster for decades. In the service of Trump, he has repeatedly appeared on a white nationalist radio show. His idea of campaign strategy is to claim that Khizr Khan is a terrorist from the Muslim Brotherhood.

Bannon is Trump’s campaign CEO. At Breitbart News, Bannon has tried to destroy our system with misinformation. He told Ronald Radosh of The Daily Beast, “I’m a Leninist. Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal, too. I want to bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today’s establishment.” That’s a Republican campaign leader?

I know that Hillary Clinton is not the “most corrupt candidate ever to run for President”, a punch-line used by Trump, by conservative media, and by many other Republicans. She certainly is not close to the most ethical candidate. But Republicans have put in decades of work to smear her reputation, and have largely been successful. But they have not succeeded in actually proving their case. Benghazi is a perfect example: Republicans on the campaign trail continue to scream about “criminal behavior” in connection with Benghazi, but the exhaustive and expensive 800-page report by the Republicans of the House Benghazi Committee released in June could find no wrong-doing on her part.

I know that if Hillary Clinton is elected President, she will face a Republican Party determined to prevent her from governing. It’s not just Trump and his most excitable supporters who would make it difficult to govern. They are only the extreme tip of the much bigger Republican Party monolith that refused to work with President Obama and appears to be poised to do the same for another 4 years. John McCain recently said, “I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up.” I don’t know why: either they are not willing to absorb that they only represent a minority of Americans or they believe that as a minority all they can do is block everything.

I know that Trump isn’t as smart as he thinks. No matter how you interpret his business history, he has made some colossal financial blunders to go along with his outsized successes. But in politics at the highest level, success requires calm in constant crisis, broad knowledge, ability to adapt to unpredictability in front of the national media. Trump can’t do any of that. His speeches, whether at his rallies or on Twitter or in formal debates, do not show any more understanding of political complexities than what he said 10 years ago. He couldn’t stay on one topic for more than a few moments in the debates, because he quickly exhausted everything he knew.

I know that one loudmouth who disdains every aspect of military reality, yet believes himself a military genius, would not know how to lead a real opposition movement. Trump is the opposite of a charismatic leader, an egotist who pushes people near him away in the most brutal manner.

I know that America will survive this campaign. We have all heard the dire predictions of chaos after November 8, but I don’t believe in them. Democracies have fallen when clever demagogues appeared, but not in any of the advanced, long-standing democracies of the world. In almost every case, deep economic problems lay behind the weakness of the democratic government. The US has experienced more troubled times in our past, notably during the 1930s, and today’s situation is nothing like that. Public life has been getting uncomfortable over many years, and this may not be worst it gets. But we will survive.

I don’t know whether we will be a better America after Election Day. The discussions of sexual assault, of the value of immigration, and of the strength of white racism that this campaign has opened up will be difficult. The most we can hope for is that the younger generations learn from our failures.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, October 25, 2016

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