By David M. Faris | (Informed Comment) | – –
The U.S. presidential election continues to grind agonizingly to its conclusion. Maybe you haven’t noticed, but America has turned into a kind of permanent Halloween for Nazis and white supremacists. This week former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke shared a Louisiana Senate debate stage. An African American church in Mississippi was torched after someone painted “Vote Trump” on it. The North Carolina GOP – the recipient of incredible Democratic generosity after an attack on a local headquarters last month – is busy restoring Jim Crow-era voting laws and bragging about it in open court. How is this even happening?
A few weeks ago, the presidential election appeared to be over. Donald Trump was thrice humiliated on national television by Hillary Clinton and her masterful strategy of allowing her clueless opponent to run directly into the knife she was holding out for him. Legions of victims were coming forward to confirm Trump’s appalling statements about how he preys on women. But as he remained out of the spotlight in the two weeks since the last debate, the race tightened. Republican politicians who in early October said they couldn’t look their daughters in the eye if they voted for this man have reversed course as the electoral headwind slackened. And then the director of the FBI, James Comey, broke with all precedent to insert the Bureau back into the campaign. Suddenly, the unthinkable – Donald Trump becoming the President of the United States – has become plausible.
Trump, a man who cannot be trusted to run your laundrymat, let alone your country, represents an unprecedented threat not just to American electoral democracy, but also to global stability. Those who believe the damage of his presidency could be contained by the ‘checks and balances’ of our constitutional system have not been paying close enough attention to the way the Republican Party collapsed like a cheap folding chair before the Trump machine in 2016. Men and women of that party who should know better have put their own political interests above those of the country as a whole, even as they clearly expect a Trump defeat. The differences between this ignorant, mentally unstable demagogue and the Democratic nominee, former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, are stark. Yet the race is now closer than anyone expected. While the odds are still against him, Donald Trump could win the White House. To allow this to happen would trigger a massive crisis, because Trump’s Republican Party has been overrun by white ethno-nationalists bent on reversing decades of incremental social and economic progress. That this reactionary movement is on the brink of recapturing power at the same time that the United States may finally be facing some of its very worst demons – the ongoing predatory and discriminatory treatment of African Americans chief among them –is no coincidence.
Trump himself is a man who knows nothing meaningful about government or public policy, and whose alleged business acumen, as has been widely reported, is based on a philosophy of ripping off contractors and investors and enriching himself at the expense of others. He cares for no one and nothing but his business empire, and even this network of capitalist vultures has been run poorly. For years he operated a worthless multi-level marketing scam called Trump University, bilking thousands of hardworking Americans of their wealth, and then openly bribing at least two state attorney generals to drop their investigations of his operation. He will be in court to answer for this elaborate scam this month.
His signature foreign policy proposal involves forcing our southern neighbor to build a wall around itself and suffocate and die inside like a character in an Edgar Allen Poe crypt story, and to pay for the privilege of doing so. His grotesque demagoguery against social movements like Black Lives Matter and his dark promise to bring “law and order” to America by unnamed means promises to worsen America’s already grave racial crisis. He cares nothing for my beloved Chicago, a place he sees only from the ostentatious luxury tower bearing his name, and uses a great city as nothing more than a prop in his incoherent ideological quest to blame America’s police violence problem on its victims. His vicious treatment of press organizations, as well as his thinly-veiled incitement against individual reporters like Katy Tur, proves his contempt for freedom of speech, and that he would avail himself of all of the means at his disposal as president to silence his critics.
Trump is also transparently unstable. He Tweets lewd insults against women in the middle of the night. He has a long history of aggressive and sexist conduct with women, who he obviously regards as objects to serve his sexual desires rather than as human beings. His first wife Ivana, in her memoir, described a scene that can only be described as rape. Last month a video surfaced of him bragging about sexually assaulting women. In his words, the essence of courtship is to “grab them by the pussy.” A dozen women have come forth in the ensuing month to confirm that this is precisely what he has done, repeatedly, no doubt to hundreds of women over the course of his overlong and sordid career. He has picked bizarre fights with people like comedian Rosie O’Donnell, a feud that started when years ago he called O’Donnell ugly, something he’s still doing. He lies defensively like a child caught torturing a cat by a concerned parent. His speeches are rambling, incoherent messes, assembled seemingly at random like a word ceviche that has gone bad. He has a court date next month for allegations that he raped a 13-year-old child in the early 1990s, accusations that have inherent credibility by virtue of the fact that he has barged in on naked adolescents, ogled his own daughter, and joked about dating a 10-year old girl in the near future.
This man. He cannot be allowed to be the President of the United States.
Terrible men have held the office before – genocidaires like Andrew Jackson and thin-skinned crooks like Richard Nixon and incompetent men who have led the country into disaster, like Herbert Hoover. But no one in the history of American democracy has ever before featured this combination of hatefulness, aggression and ignorance. He is beneath us. Or he should be.
The Democrats, on the other hand, have put forward an experienced public servant, someone who brings a unique background of experience in both the legislative and executive branches of our democracy: Hillary Clinton. Clinton’s reputation has been tarnished in the past year – public polling suggests that she is the second-most unpopular nominee ever to run for president, behind only the loathed Donald Trump himself. This reputation is undeserved – the product of two decades of right-wing hyperventilation about the Clintons, as well as a bruising primary campaign against Bernie Sanders. Clinton should never have let the Democratic National Committee appear to side openly with her during the campaign. But none of this should detract from a very simple reality: Hillary Clinton is a tireless public servant, perhaps the brightest and most well informed person ever to seek the office. That many believe otherwise is chiefly the product of our inane media system, which has collectively devoted more hours of coverage to six-year-old emails than any of the public policy issues currently on the agenda.
That is a shame. A Clinton presidency would offer any number of tangible benefits. She supports, for instance, policies that would make college debt-free. Whether she will be able to get those proposals through Congress is less important than having an advocate for affordable higher education in the highest office in the land, rather than a con artist who doesn’t know the difference between a mail-order scam and a university education. Of the two candidates, Clinton is the only one who recognizes that climate change is a real, man-made problem that begs for human solutions. Like most sensible policymakers, she knows we cannot simply move on from fossil fuels tomorrow morning without collapsing the networks of exchange and sustenance that 7 billion people rely upon to stay alive. She has important policy proposals to expand the social safety net, to require paid leave for new mothers, to address systemic racism and to grapple with the challenge of America’s aging Baby Boomers. On nearly every issue important to the left-liberal coalition, Clinton is rock solid. If she ever got a Democratic Congress to work with, the changes could be sweeping. Of course you wouldn’t know this from the content-free press coverage of the past year, but it remains true nevertheless.
Even without Congress, though, Clinton can do much good. The most important impact of a Clinton presidency is likely to be in the federal judiciary. A little understood aspect of presidential power is the ability to remake the district and appellate courts by appointing justices whose ideology roughly matches that of the president. During Obama’s 8 years, he has appointed not just two Supreme Court justices that have brought the Court to the precipice of its first liberal majority in a generation, but hundreds of federal judges who make key decisions, most of which never reach the Supreme Court at all. Under a Clinton presidency, Democrats have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ensure a lasting left-liberal court network, one that would make important decisions for years after Clinton leaves office. The reason is that neither the Democrats or the Republicans are often afforded the opportunity for three consecutive terms in office. Not since FDR’s four terms have the Democrats won three consecutive presidential elections. For the first time in my conscious life, a liberal majority on the Supreme Court of the United States is finally, tantalizingly within reach. A liberal Supreme Court could deliver a bounty of changes that would remake American society – not just reversing the tidal wave of insanity foisted on us by the current Court – like the Citizens United catastrophe – but also long-held liberal dreams like declaring equal access to and funding of public education a constitutional right.
But more is at stake here than policy. Elections cannot be simply about the Supreme Court. The truth is that Trump’s campaign has been a long, vicious and open attack on democratic rule itself. From his lurid and utterly unsubstantiated claims that the election will be “rigged” to his refusal to say that he will accept the results, Trump and his core supporters represent the very worst features of American society. But Trump is hardly some deus ex machina designed to destroy the Republican Party. He is, rather, the apotheosis of an extremely worrisome trend that has been endorsed by the party’s leaders: the total delegitimization of any president from the Democratic Party. Congressional Republicans have been conducting an elaborate work-to-rule strike for the last six years, grinding all governance to a halt by refusing to compromise with President Obama, even when offered stunning concessions on things like Social Security. The results of this ugly parliamentary chicanery have been predictable – a series of terrifying budget standoffs, a government shutdown, brinksmanship over the debt ceiling, and plummeting levels of trust and respect for key democratic institutions. The Republican-led Senate escalated this nauseating partisan warfare this year by refusing to even consider the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, arguing that the next president should make that decision. And now, when it looks probable that the next president will be Hillary Clinton, Republicans are planning to continue the blockade by refusing to consider any Supreme Court justice forwarded by a President Clinton.
Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan – unapologetic radicals who are eager to completely gut the social welfare system and to stage a constitutional crisis every five minutes–are not, as many are saying, the party’s rational flank. The GOP no longer has a moderate wing. What has happened in 2016 is that the openly racist white ethnonationalists who for 50 years have been the key Republican electoral constituency have staged a bloodless coup. They forced GOP elites to pledge their fealty to their new authoritarian overlord, like an ISIS hostage reading a script, proving in the process that the institutional Republican Party is willing to burn democracy to the ground to hang onto power in Congress for a few more years. The most awful people in the country, ignored by and isolated from the sane during normal times, are rejoicing and posing for pictures in their Nazi uniforms for their Twitter profiles. The real story of this election is that a dying white supremacist majority properly senses that this is their last stand. Why do you think they named their Big Data campaign operation Project Alamo? They know that they have lost a long and brutal culture war and they’d rather torch the country and take the insurance money rather than let us have it. It’s why the Republican-dominated FBI is leaking like a grocery store plastic bag 5 days before a national election and feeding hysteria directly to their henchmen at Fox News and the alt-right fever swamp. It’s why I am all done with a discourse of empathy about people who want my Iranian-American family expelled from the country and whose aggregate sympathy for hardworking Latino immigrants amounts to absolutely nothing. Empathy is a two-way street, and white nationalist America is a series of one way cul-de-sacs leading directly to the demented fascist they have all lined up behind like willing executioners. I’m sorry you don’t like the women on our late night TV programs, or whatever the Excuse of the Week is for revanchist racism and sexism, but that doesn’t give you the right to obliterate democracy.
The answer to this ugliness needs to be, must be, an overwhelming defeat. We cannot, must not, allow Donald Trump to be elected. What we must do instead is to rise above the bitterness and fear, and to pry a functioning multicultural democracy from the cold dead hands of the institutional Republican Party and its white supremacist core. We must elect Hillary Clinton. We must return a Democratic Congress to power. And then we must pursue the agonizing work of finally fulfilling this country’s promise as a vibrant, prosperous, tolerant society. If we, instead, allow this terrible man to become the President, there will be nothing much left of our common dreams to rebuild.
David Faris is chair of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at Roosevelt University in downtown Chicago. His books Dissent and Revolution in a Digital Age: Social Media, Blogging and Activism in Egypt (2013) (Here) and Social Media in Iran: Politics and Society After 2009 (Here) (with Babak Rahimi) focus on the use of digital media by social movements.
Related video added by Juan Cole: