Once I settled in at the Red Cross and starting pumping the red red krovvy, I started watching something on Amazon and forgot all for the moment. But then, in my second hour, the wifi started acting up, so I switched to reading stuff in The Washington Post that I had missed earlier in the day.
And it seemed that everyone who had stopped to think made the obvious comparison.
Remember Hillary Clinton’s email server? Something I thought was really stupid and insecure, but — unlike what a lot of you out there thought — not quite a disqualifier for office, especially if the alternative was Donald J. Trump?
Well, a lot of very serious folk did think it was a disqualifier. Much umbrage was taken at this criminal carelessness. Congressional committees gathered to investigate, and so forth.
Well, what was that to taking a call about a North Korean missile launch at a table at the Mar-a-Lago club, and dealing with it then and there, discussing the matter and shuffling classified documents in full view of the club’s other guests, the Japanese premier, and the waiters and bus boys? Doing all so openly so that the other guests could give a full account of the proceedings to CNN?
Chaffetz thought Clinton’s use of a private email server threatened national security. But over the weekend, Trump proved more brazen: He plotted his response to North Korea’s latest missile test from the main dining area of his Mar-a-Lago Club. Club members posted photos on Facebook of Trump and Japan’s Shinzo Abe discussing the matter and poring over documents in proximity to waiters, club members and guests.
In this open-air situation room, Trump spoke by mobile phone and aides used their cellphone flashlights to illuminate papers — not the textbook way to handle sensitive information. One club member posted photos online of the nuclear “football” and its minder….
Oh, but wait, wait; this just in: Sean Spicer assures us that “no classified material was discussed publicly at the Mar-a-Lago resort over the weekend.”
Whew! That’s a relief. Because you know, he never gets anything wrong.
So, never mind. I’m sure everything’s fine. Aren’t you?
I had thought all that demonize-the-Clintons stuff was about keeping her from becoming president. Apparently, for some folks, it’s a career.
Which, of course, is what’s wrong with American politics across the spectrum from left to right: All those folks out there, in the parties and the many more-or-less affiliated interest groups, whose jobs depend on keeping people outraged…
But everyone knew or should have known that the wounds from an election that was as raw and divisive and negative as campaign 2016 would not be quickly healed…
No, no, NO!
The problem is not that the election was “divisive,” or even “negative.” Those factors have been givens in American politics in recent decades. We’ve had negative campaigns across the country since the early 1980s, when the old guideline that a candidate would damage himself if he “went negative” died and was buried. Lee Atwater rose during those days, but the rule was being broken by others, such as Robin Beard, who used creative, negative ads against Jim Sasser in the 1982 Senate race in Tennessee (where I was at the time), gaining national attention but failing to win the election (which briefly seemed to confirm the old commandment against negativity).
As for divisive — well, it’s been pretty awful ever since the election of 1992, when bumper stickers that said “Don’t Blame Me — I Voted Republican” appeared on cars even before Clinton was inaugurated in January 1993. Since then, the parties have not been satisfied merely to disagree, but have increasingly regarded leaders of the opposite party to be illegitimate and utterly beyond the pale.
So it is that the terms “divisive” and “negative” say nothing about the recent election; they do not in any way distinguish the presidential election of 2016 from any contest that preceded it.
And yet we all know that this election was different from every one that preceded it in American history, right? So how do we describe that difference?
THIS is the difference, folks.
Well, it’s really not all that hard — although describing the underlying causes is more difficult. The difference is Donald Trump.
This was an election between a relatively normal, reasonably qualified candidate, and a grotesquely unfit one — a crude, rude, petty, childish, ignorant, unstable man who had done nothing in his life that in any way prepared him for the job.
You can complicate it if you wish. Feminists want to characterize Hillary Clinton as a groundbreaking candidate of historic proportions — which is silly. She was as conventional as can be: As a former senator and secretary of state, you don’t even have to mention her time as first lady to describe her qualifications. She was Establishment; she was a centrist (center-left if you prefer); she was someone completely at home in the consensus about the role of the United States in the world that has prevailed since Harry Truman. The main thing is, she was qualified.
Yes, she was the second most-hated major party nominee (second to the man who beat her) in the history of keeping track of such things, which is an important reason she lost. Some people who should have known better hated her so much that they were able to rationalize voting for the astonishingly unfit Trump in order to stop her, so that was definitely a factor. But aside from that, she was a normal candidate, from the usual mold, a person who people who knew what they were about — such as Republican foreign-policy experts — were comfortable voting for, knowing the nation would be in reasonably safe hands.
She was business-as-usual (which also helped sink her, as we know), while Trump was a complete departure from anything that had ever before risen its ugly, bizarrely-coiffed head to this level in American politics. It wasn’t just a matter of resume. This man got up very early every morning to start making statements — by Twitter before others rose, out loud later in the day — that absolutely screamed of his unfitness. A rational employer would not hire someone that unstable to do anything, much less to become the most powerful man in the world.
I need not provide a list of his outrages, right? You all remember the election we just went through, right?
TRUMP is what distinguishes this election from all others. TRUMP is what people are trying to get over — which we can’t, of course, because he’s now with us for the next four years. I ran into a former Republican lawmaker yesterday — a member of the revolutionary class of 1994, the original Angry White Male revolt — who expressed his utter bewilderment and sense of unreality that has been with him daily since the election. To him, as to me, the fact that Trump won the election can’t possibly BE a fact. Nothing in our lives prior to this prepared us for such a bizarre eventuality.
Yes, there are complicating factors — the populist impulse that has swept the West recently, which sometimes seemed would prevent Hillary Clinton from winning her own party’s nomination, despite her socialist opponent’s clear unsuitability and the fact that it was understood in her party that it was Her Turn. The roots of that are difficult to plumb. As is the fact that the GOP was bound and determined to reject all qualified candidates and nominate someone completely unsuitable — if not Trump, it would have been Ted Cruz, whom tout le monde despised. Both factors can be attributed to the populist obsession, but contain important differences.
So yes, there was a force abroad in the land (and in the lands of our chief allies) that was determined to sweep aside qualifications, good sense and known quantities in favor of the outlandish. And that helped produce Trump.
But still, particularly if you look directly at what happened on Nov. 8, the difference is Trump himself.
And that MUST be faced by anyone attempting to explain what has happened.
Ever since he started closing in on the nomination, I’ve been begging everyone in the commentariat and beyond to resist the lazy temptation to normalize Trump, to write or speak as though this were just another quadrennial contest between Democrat and Republican, to be spoken of in the usual terms. I was hardly alone. Plenty of others wrote in similar terms about the danger of pretending this election was in any way like any other.
And now, we still have that battle to fight, as veteran (and novice) scribes seek to describe the transition to a (shudder) Trump administration in the usual terms, even though some have admirably noted the stark difference. (I particularly appreciated the Post piece yesterday accurately explaining the similarities between this unique transition and Reality TV. — which is another new thing, folks, as we slouch toward Idiocracy.)
It’s a battle that must be fought every day, until — four years from now, or eight, or however many years it takes (assuming our nation even can recover from this fall, which is in doubt) — a normal, qualified person is elected president.
In a comment earlier I wrote about how concerned I am about the course of my country — and of the world. More so than I’ve ever been in my more than six decades on this planet.
It’s not just Trump — he’s just a glaring, ugly sign of it. Take a step back, and reflect: Who came in second in the GOP primaries? The only guy who gave Trump any kind of a run for his money as the worst candidate ever — Ted Cruz. All the better-suited candidates were stuck in single digits. And the Democrats have nothing to brag about — they put forward the second-most (second to Trump) despised candidate in the history of such things being measured. And she had trouble putting away a cranky old socialist to get that far.
How can I blame Trump when the real problem is that millions of people voted for him? I actually almost feel sorry for this bizarre figure, because he truly had zero reason to expect that he’d actually end up in this position.
I mean seriously: If you don’t even go deeper than his hair, you can tell at a glance that the country’s really, really in trouble. This is what will lead us?
And the rest of the world, too. As Charles Krauthammer wrote today, “After a mere 25 years, the triumph of the West is over.” The promise of 1991, with the Soviet Union finally collapsing and the U.S. leading a broad coalition against Saddam in Kuwait — the New World Order in which Civilization, led by the City on a Hill, would enforce its values against aggressors — is behind us.
The United States is pulling back, and the bad guys just can’t wait to flow into the vacuum. In fact, they haven’t been waiting — in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine or the South China Sea. Or even in our own backyard.
He sums it up this way, blaming BOTH Obama and Trump:
Donald Trump wants to continue the pullback, though for entirely different reasons. Obama ordered retreat because he’s always felt the U.S. was not good enough for the world, too flawed to have earned the moral right to be the world hegemon. Trump would follow suit, disdaining allies and avoiding conflict, because the world is not good enough for us — undeserving, ungrateful, parasitic foreigners living safely under our protection and off our sacrifices. Time to look after our own American interests.
I think he’s trying a little too hard at false equivalence there, but at the same time, while Obama’s a smart guy who knows how to say the right things (unlike, you know, the other guy), there has been a noticeable tinge of “Oh, this country isn’t all that special” in his stance toward the world. A tinge that some of you agree with, and with which I couldn’t disagree more. But if you’re right, if the United States isn’t all that special — if it can’t be relied upon as the chief champion of liberal democracy — then the world doesn’t stand much of a chance. Because there’s always somebody wanting to be the hegemon, and the leading candidates running to take our place are pretty much a nightmare.
One of the first editorials I wrote for The State — maybe the first — when I joined the editorial board in 1994 was about the disturbing signs I saw of the Chinese buying friends and influencing people right here in our hemisphere, the long-forgotten Monroe Doctrine notwithstanding. I was worried that nobody else in this country seemed to see it, thanks to the fact that few of my fellow Americans ever took a moment to think about what happens to the south of us. (Side note: We wrote a lot about international affairs when I joined the editorial board; when I became editor, we would focus far more closely on South Carolina, which needed the scrutiny.)
Well, more people have noticed it since then. But not enough people. And not enough of the ones who have noticed care. President Obama, to his credit, started his “pivot” to focus on the Pacific Rim. That was the smart thing to do for this country’s long-term interests, and those of liberal democracy in general. China needs to be countered, with both soft power and, when necessary, hard.
Probably the most chilling paragraph in Krauthammer’s column is this one:
As for China, the other great challenger to the post-Cold War order, the administration’s “pivot” has turned into an abject failure. The Philippines openly defected to the Chinese side. Malaysia then followed. And the rest of our Asian allies are beginning to hedge their bets. When the president of China addressed the Pacific Rim countries in Peru last month, he suggested that China was prepared to pick up the pieces of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, now abandoned by both political parties in the United States….
TPP was smart policy, encouraging our allies in the region to join with us in confidence, tying themselves more closely with U.S. interests in the face of the Chinese challenge. And this year, neither party was willing to stand up for it — even though one of the nominees (the one who lost, of course) knew better. If she’d been elected, at least we’d have had the chance of her breaking that bad campaign promise.
We painstakingly fashioned that strategic instrument, then dropped it like a hot potato when the populists began howling. And China is preparing to pick it up. And maybe you don’t, but I feel the Earth’s center of gravity shifting in the wrong direction.
Oh, but hey, Carrier’s not moving a plant to Mexico — at least, not completely. So everything’s OK, right? We’ve entered the era of short-term, inwardly focused international goals. Or something…
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham on the 2016 Presidential Election
November 9, 2016
“Secretary Clinton’s concession speech, like President-elect Donald Trump’s last night, was appropriate in tone and substance.
“She should be congratulated on doing her part to bring about healing of our nation and setting the right tone in terms of working with President-elect Trump. All Americans should follow her counsel and try to work with our next President. I intend to do so. President-elect Trump will need all the help he can get given the many challenges we face as a nation.
“Secretary Clinton ran a hard fought campaign and I genuinely wish her well.”
“Secretary Clinton ran a hard fought campaign and I genuinely wish her well.” Yeah, uh-huh, OK. So… Why didn’t you help her?
I’ve long had a lot of respect for Sen. Graham, and for John McCain, as readers of this blog will know. I’ve endorsed them, stuck up for them — a lot.
But I’m kind of ticked at both of them right now.
They’re part of that large group of Republicans Who Knew Better — and failed to lead in this election.
These are guys who have exhibited a lot of courage in the past, but that was not in evidence this year. They both failed to do the one thing that might have helped — stand up and declare that they were voting for Hillary Clinton, which was the only way to stop Trump (who they knew was a nightmare), and urge others to do the same.
I know why they didn’t — they wanted to keep getting elected, and a Republican most likely can’t do that after saying he’ll vote for someone the party despises so much.
But as much as I want both of them in the Senate, stopping Trump was more important. I suppose it’s human nature — human weakness — that they didn’t see it that way.
But if anybody could have done it, it would have been them. Anyone who paid attention could see that they both worked well with her when she was in the Senate. There was mutual respect there. Their willingness to step over the partisan boundary to try to get things done together made me feel better about all three of them.
They really should have stood up and told the truth, instead of playing along with the fantasy on the right that she was just as bad as Trump, if not worse.
At least they had an excuse, though. What’s the excuse of the two President Bushes? Their political careers are over. Both probably DID vote for Hillary. They should have come out and said so. What stopped them? A desire to protect Jeb’s political future? WHAT political future?
I suspect that all of them thought she was going to win anyway, and didn’t need them to step up.
Some members of the “global power structure” that Trump says is out to get us.
Trump’s is a deeply, profoundly, sweepingly paranoid view of our world. Apparently, we are all the victims of an enormous conspiracy that involves not only the corporations and billionayuhs Bernie was on about, but the leadership of every major country in the world, all engaged in a “global power structure” aimed at keeping us — or, at least, Trump’s base — down.
Hillary Clinton, who seems to be again clothed in what Alexandra Petri termed her “Saruman the White” look, goes for the approach of sitting us down, looking us in the eye and having a comforting heart-to-heart with us about the values that have always informed our country, and which make us great now, not in some distant past. In her view as presented here, we’re good enough, we’re smart enough, and doggone it; people like us.
It’s a pretty stark contrast. Either we’re all doomed, or we’ve got a pretty good thing going in this country, and have had all along.
And now we have to decide which makes sense to us.
I suspect not. In fact, he may have done more harm than good. Why? Because I think she gets hurt every time her emails get mentioned, period.
Everyone recalls his big announcement over the summer when he said the FBI had found nothing worth filing charges over. But I also recall what happened a couple of days before that, on the Saturday that the FBI had one last interview with Sec. Clinton before Comey’s announcement.
The effect was, to me, quite weird. Word of the interview came on Saturday, July 2. I remember marveling at all the bulletins I was getting about it on my phone. The reaction seemed excessive, since we knew nothing except that she had been interviewed. I wondered even more when news analysis over the next couple of days was all about how this new hurt her campaign. The Washington Post‘s take at the time:
Hillary Clinton’s weekend interview with the FBI stands as a perfect symbol of what is probably her biggest liability heading into the fall election: A lot of people say they don’t trust her.
Clinton sat for an interview of more than three hours as part of a Justice Department investigation into the privately owned email system she operated off the books when she was secretary of state. The timing — less than three weeks before she will claim the Democratic presidential nomination — is an attempt to make the best of a situation that would look bad for any candidate but is particularly damaging for Clinton.
That the interview at FBI headquarters was voluntary does not expunge the whiff of suspicion surrounding the entire email affair that, for many voters, confirms a long-held view that Clinton shades the truth or plays by her own rules….
I thought that rather weird at the time. Then, of course, on July 5 — mere seconds after I had posted about how odd it was, Comey had his long “no charges” presser. Which sorta kinda relieved a lot of Democrats (he had a lot of critical things to say, too) and infuriated Republicans.
Fast-forward to Comey’s announcement 10 days ago that the FBI was looking at some more emails. Enormous damage was done to the Clinton candidacy, with her dropping in polls, infuriating Democrats and cheering up Trump supporters. And yet — think about this — there was no substance whatsoever in the announcement. There was no indication that there would be anything in the new emails that would reflect badly on the former secretary.
But was, undeniably, bad for her nevertheless.
My theory is this: We long ago passed a point at which any sentence that contains “Hillary Clinton” and “emails” is, in the collective mind of the electorate, a bad thing. And with good reason — she shouldn’t have set up the private server to begin with.
But it’s also a sort of mushy bad thing, without clear lines demarcating “good” and “bad,” so that even if the full sentence is “Hillary Clinton’s emails contain nothing incriminating,” the less detail-oriented parts of our brains still go “bad” at hearing the first three words together.
So it is that her candidacy was harmed when Comey brought up the words again 10 days ago, even without any information letting us know whether the news was indeed bad.
And, I suspect, it was harmed again yesterday when Comey essentially said, “There’s still nothing incriminating in Hillary Clinton’s emails.” As far as the political effect is concerned, we all heard only the last three words.
Here’s what I mean: I doubt the news tipped many people from planning to vote for Trump to planning to vote for Clinton. Or even from staying home, or voting third-party, to voting for Clinton.
But it once again infuriated the Republican base — including, I suspect, a lot of Republicans who were reluctant to vote for Trump, but who now are freshly reminded of how much they despise Hillary Clinton. They were kind of coasting along there experiencing various degrees of satisfaction from 10 days ago, and then BAM! — they’re outraged. Which can’t be good for her.
I pretty much zipped through the prepared stuff in order to get to my favorite part — questions. But here’s what I started with:
I was asked to come talk about the current election, and I hardly know where to start.
I think I’ll start with PREVIOUS elections.
We’ve been talking quite a bit on my blog this week about The State’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton on Sunday – or rather, to put it more accurately, The State’s endorsement of the person running against Donald Trump. The paper has no love for Secretary Clinton.
Of course, my responsibility for The State’s endorsements ended when I left the paper in 2009, but it remains a subject that highly interests me.
It was noted in the editorial that this was the first time the paper had endorsed a Democrat for president since 1976.
Someone – a person I’m pretty sure almost always votes Democratic [is that fair, Kathryn?] – asked on my blog why we endorsed all those Republicans. Which is a fair enough question to ask me, since I don’t like either party, and think they have both been enormously destructive to the country in recent decades.
I could only answer for the elections in the years when I was on the editorial board, so here goes:
In 1996, We liked Dole better than Clinton – although by the end, I had my doubts about Dole, and asked Tom McLean, who was then editor, to write it instead of me, which he did. But personally, I still voted for Dole.
In 2000 — We liked Bush better than Gore – as a board, anyway – personally I was rather noncommittal. I was lukewarm on Bush because I had much, much preferred John McCain to him, and had argued very strenuously for endorsing McCain in the primary. We had endorsed Bush instead, which was probably the biggest argument I ever lost as editorial page editor. Also… I worked in Tennessee in the 70s and 80s and got to know Al Gore, interacted with him a good bit, and liked him. But after eight years as Clinton’s vice president, I liked him less. On election night, I remember the lead changing back and forth, and at each point, I couldn’t decide how I felt. I only knew that when the Supreme Court decided Bush had won Florida, I was relieved, and grateful to Gore for promptly conceding at that point.
2004 — We disliked Kerry more than we disliked Bush (if you look back, you’ll see most of the editorial was about Bush’s flaws, but ultimately we didn’t trust Kerry on national security – and for me, that tends to trump everything)
2008 — My man John McCain was running, although we liked Obama a lot. That was really an unusual election for us at the paper. For once, the two candidates we had endorsed in their respective party primaries back at the start of the year faced each other in the general. So we were happy either way, but I had been waiting 8 years to endorse McCain, and I wasn’t going to miss my chance. Besides, Obama was untested. We trusted McCain’s experience.
In 2009, I was laid off from the paper for the sin of having too high a salary when the paper was desperate to cut costs. So I wasn’t involved in 2012, or this year.
Another way to explain our preference for Republicans over the years, a very simplistic one: we were essentially a center-right board, and as long as the GOP remained a center-right party and the national Democrats were so ideologically liberal, we would tend toward Republicans. But I don’t like that overly simple explanation because I don’t like the liberal OR conservative labels, and we prided ourselves on being pragmatic. [I then went on a brief digression of our official point of view, which we called, rather oxymoronically, “pragmatic conservatism.”]
This brings us to today.
The general thrust of the editorial page remains the same as in my day. The core of the editorial board is Cindi Scoppe, and the joke during our many years working together was that we were two people with the same brain. Of course, there are different people involved along with her (Mark Lett, Sara Borton, Paul Osmundson), but the general editorial positions remain the same.
And in this election cycle, the paper did the only thing it could do under the circumstances: It endorsed the only person on the planet in a position to stop Donald Trump from becoming president of the United States.
As I said, the paper was pleased to endorse Republicans as long as it remained a sensible, center-right party. This year, the GOP completely went off the rails, and nominated a man who really isn’t any kind of conservative: an abysmally ignorant – and unwilling to learn – bully who considers attacking people who have criticized him personally as his top priority. A man who admires tyrants, who would abandon our allies, throw out nuclear nonproliferation policies that have served us since 1945, who plays to xenophobia, who would institute religious tests for entering the country, and the list goes on and on.
But that seems like a good place to stop and take questions. I’d love to get questions about local politics, but I can speak to national ones as well. Whatever y’all prefer…
My audience did not disappoint, but provided enough good questions to keep a likely interaction going until time was called. We pretty much stuck to national politics, which I guess was to some extent my fault, for having started us in that direction. But the discussion was interesting, relevant and civil. And you can’t beat that…
I thank my optometrist, Dr. Philip Flynn, for inviting me, and the Club for putting up with me this morning.
“I refuse to do business with The State any longer. I will seek other advertising options for my businesses.”
“This is a complete joke. Totally false claims or twisting claims to fit your pathetic narrative. You are ‘endorsing’ a world-class liar and a crook.”
“Do you think I care about the state endorsement ??? No”
“Very disappointing to see The State justify supporting a documented liar, who destroyed evidence AFTER SUBPOENED to produce— lying to congress –and most of all —-ALL OF THIS DOCUMENTED– it is documented for all time— Hilary Clinton should be in jail and not allowed to run for office at all…. and you all know it”
“Article is trash”
I especially like that the last guy was so anxious to spew that he didn’t even bother TRYING to make it into a sentence, or punctuate it.
Of course, as is the usual pattern, the paper also caught hell from people who LIKED the editorial:
A surprisingly cogent and erudite endorsement from a rag that typically follows the party marching orders. While I still disagree with The State’s ultra right wing world view I must commend them for looking beyond the smoke and mirrors, ignoring the clamor from South Carolina’s neo nazi and secessionist fringe groups, and choosing to endorse someone who, while maybe was not the best candidate, is by far the best of the last two left standing. HRC was not my first choice but she has gotten my vote for 2016. 2020 may present the opportunity to cast a dfferernt ballot however.
Partisans — you can’t live with ’em, and it would be nice to have a chance of living without ’em…
I could write about this at great length (as I did four years ago in reaction to The State‘s decision not to endorse), but I need to wrap up a couple of things and get over to the Big DM for the radio show, so I’ll just toss this out for y’all to discuss.
In today’s editions, The Stateendorsed HIllary Clinton for president, explaining why South Carolina’s many conservatives really have no other acceptable option in this election — which, of course, they don’t. And as we all know, the most pertinent part of the argument is the utter unthinkability of the alternative:
Most voters are aware of what he has said he would do: build a wall along our southern border to keep out illegal immigrants; waterboard suspected terrorists; kill innocent family members of terrorists; stifle the news media. While he has changed some of those positions — especially the killing of terrorists’ relatives — it’s troubling he ever considered them.
Also disturbing are his statements about women, his mocking of a man with a disability and his inability to focus on the big picture if it means ignoring a personal slight.
Whatever intrigue his business resume generates is overshadowed by his character and personality. He is simply unfit for the presidency, or any public office.
That means we must rely on Hillary Clinton for any meaningful change in Washington politics.
Her resume suggests Mrs. Clinton is as prepared as any of this year’s candidates to be an effective president. She played a major role in formulating policy during her husband’s administration, especially in the areas of health care and children. As a U.S. senator from New York, she served on the Armed Services Committee, earning praise from Republican John McCain. She also became secretary of state….
The piece was carefully crafted and very low-key. It wasn’t the way I would have written it, but it was fine.
Given that this was the first Democrat endorsed by the paper since 1976 — long before I or anyone currently on the board worked at the paper, I would like to have seen a companion column about the decision process. But then, that was my style, peculiar to me — I liked bringing readers into the boardroom and walking them through our discussions. Not many editors like to let it all hang out that way.
I’m sorry not to have been there for this one. I always sort of hoped we’d endorse a Democrat some day, just to make our presidential endorsements less predictable, and to shut up all the Democrats who called us a “Republican paper.” As y’all know, I don’t like being accused of having leanings toward either party, because of my strong dislike of both. It was a ridiculous charge, since overall our endorsements were about 50-50 — but all too many people pay attention only to the presidential endorsement, rather than the dozens of others we did in a given election year. All our presidential endorsements indicated that the national Democrats tended to go for candidates a bit too far to the left for us, while the national Republican Party — back when it actually was a respectable center-right party, before it went careening out of control — was more our speed. In races closer to home, Democrats tended to be closer to the center and Republicans farther to the right, so we tended more to fall right between them. (Yes, this “left-right” talk grossly oversimplifies what was going on, but it’s one shorthand way to describe our actual pattern.)
We came close in 2008, because we all liked Barack Obama. But as y’all know, John McCain had long been one of my favorite senators, and I wasn’t alone, so that didn’t happen. I argued here on the blog that 2012 — which was after my departure from the paper — should have been the year to break the pattern, because I was pretty sure Cindi and Warren agreed with me that Obama was preferable to Romney. But it didn’t happen that time, either — for a number of reasons, from what I could tell. Which was OK, I guess, given that particular choice. The country would have been OK either way.
This time, though, it was extremely important for the paper to take a stand against the greatest threat to the presidency in any of our lifetimes. It was important especially for a paper with such a solid record of endorsing Republicans to say, No, absolutely not! to Donald Trump — just as papers with even longer GOP ties had already done across the country.
As of Friday, out of the top 100 papers in the country by circulation, 55 had endorsed Hillary Clinton, including some that had gone a lot longer than The State without backing a Democrat. Only one, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, had backed Trump. And I don’t know what was wrong with them (aside from being owned by Sheldon Adelson). I don’t see how anyone with a working knowledge of our government and issues facing it, with an understanding of what America is about — and those are pretty much prerequisites for being editorial board members at most papers — could possibly back the most singularly unfit candidate ever to capture a major party’s nomination.
Anyway, The State did what it had to do, what any newspaper with a conscience needs to do this year…
I was glad he was going to lose, but wanted to make a statement about Nixon.
In my morning reading today, I ran across two things that impressed me. Both were from Republicans trying to explain just what a nightmare Trump is. Bret Stephens, deputy editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, had another strong column headlined “My Former Republican Party.” An excerpt:
Foreign policy: In 1947 Harry Truman asked Arthur Vandenberg, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to support his efforts to shore up the governments in Greece and Turkey against Soviet aggression. Vandenberg agreed, marking his—and the GOP’s—turn from isolationism to internationalism.
Since then, six Republican presidents have never wavered in their view that a robust system of treaty alliances such as NATO are critical for defending the international liberal order, or that the U.S. should dissuade faraway allies such as South Korea and Saudi Arabia from seeking nuclear weapons, or that states such as Russia should be kept out of regions such as the Middle East.
Where, amid Mr. Trump’s routine denunciations of our allegedly freeloading allies, or Newt Gingrich’s public doubts about defending NATO member Estonia against Russian aggression, or the alt-right’s attacks on “globalism,” or Sean Hannity’s newfound championship of WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, is that Republican Party today?…
Trump and the mind-set of slavish Republicans who follow him deserve repudiation. Some Republicans think the party can be disinfected after the Trump experience and some want to start all over. (“These are generational problems. So maybe over time, over a number of decades, these changes can be made, but the reality is the conservative movement doesn’t have time for that,” said McMullin in defense of the latter approach. “And if the Republican Party can’t make the changes, as wasn’t able to do after 2012, the conservative movement will need a new political vehicle.”)
Either way, McMullin and others who want wholesale change on the right are rooting for Trump’s annihilation and his flacks’ and bully boys’ humiliation. The bigger the margin by which he loses, the more preposterous Trump’s claim that the election is fixed. Indeed, it’s more important for Republicans — if they want to get back their party — to vote against Trump than it is for Democrats. “By taking the leap to Clinton, these Republicans have set an example for all Americans to shed the home-team culture and put country before party,” Stubbs said. Maybe if they can recover some self-respect and devotion to principle by repudiating Trump, they will be prepared to create something superior to replace the GOP.
Absolutely. Republicans who care at all about their party and what it supposedly stands for have far more reason to want to see Trump utterly crushed than Democrats do. If you’re a partisan Democrat, you’re happy for Hillary to just squeak by, giving you more of an excuse to spend the next four years raising money to help you stop those horrid Republicans.
That is, if you’re the blinder sort of partisan Democrat. But whatever your party affiliation or lack thereof, if you understand the situation and care about the country we share, you want to see Trumpism crushed so that it slinks away and is never heard from again.
Which is why I, as a voter who cares, have no choice but to vote for Hillary Clinton. The same goes for you, if you can see it. She’s the only person on the planet who can defeat him, and just squeaking by won’t be enough.
We’ve had some terrific arguments here on the blog about that. And I still run into otherwise reasonable people who think an adequate response to Trump is to vote for neither of them. But that is NOT an adequate response.
Yeah, I understand the concept of using your vote to make a gesture, independent of any consideration of whether the candidate you vote for can win. I’ve done it myself — but only in rare circumstances when I had the luxury to do so. Or thought I did, anyway.
In 1972, my first election, I stood in the booth for awhile, undecided still. But in the end, I decided this: I voted for McGovern. I voted for him purely as a protest. I did it even though I thought he’d be a disaster as president. If the election had been close, if there’d been any chance of my vote deciding the outcome, I’d have voted for Nixon, because I trusted him more to have the judgment and abilities to run the country. But there was NO danger of McGovern winning, and even though I saw Nixon as more competent, I had a big problem with what I was sensing (but did not yet fully know) about Watergate.
So it was a protest vote, pure and simple.
I did the same thing in 1996, although the positions of the parties were reversed (which matters not at all to me, but I realize does to some people). On a personal level, I preferred Dole to Clinton. I thought Dole was the better man. But the abysmal campaign he had run had utterly persuaded me that he would be a disaster as president. He simply lacked the political skills to be effective. Had the election been so close that my vote could conceivably decide it, I’d have voted for Clinton, as the more competent leader between the two. But I had a lot of problems with Clinton by this time, and there was no way my vote would make a difference — South Carolina would go for Dole, and the country would go for Clinton; that was clear by the end. So I expressed my distaste for Clinton by casting my vote for Dole.
Another pure protest, without any intended practical effect.
Silly, really, in both cases. What good is a protest if no one even knows you’re making it? And no one did know (apart from a few intimates), until now. In each case, I was just making a gesture, for my own, private satisfaction. It was childish, in a way — I’m so mad at you I’m going to vote for this guy I don’t even think should win!
In both cases, I thought I had that luxury. This year, I absolutely don’t.
Oh, I could make a private gesture expressing my dissatisfaction with both candidates by, I don’t know, voting for Evan McMullin, or someone else who doesn’t have a chance.
But I can’t. Either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is going to be president, and it is my duty as a citizen to do whatever I can to affect which way it goes. And whatever else I think or feel about Hillary Clinton (I’m not going to waste time here going through a list of her shortcomings, because they are beside the point in light of Trump), she is a person with the skills, experience and understanding to do the job. Donald Trump absolutely does not possess those qualities, and is a walking, talking negation of what this country stands for.
Yeah, she’s probably going to beat him, but that’s by no means certain. (Remember, as Trump keeps reminding us, Brexit was supposed to lose.) And that’s not enough. Trump must lose badly (or “bigly,” if you prefer), as Ms. Rubin suggests.
So I really don’t have the luxury this time to make a gesture with my vote. It matters too much this time.
How could a guy who ran such an awful campaign run the government?
So, somebody please ‘splain to me: If it’s in The Wall Street Journal, how could the press be burying it?
I understand when some loudmouth barfly spouts something like this. As bizarre as it is, I’m getting used to having a major party presidential nominee spout such paranoia.
But it takes a lot of nerve, or cognitive disconnect, or something for a columnist at one of the most widely read newspapers in the country to say something, and say “the press” is burying it. At least they could have added a parenthetical “(until now)” to give it a patina of plausibility…
Yesterday, I hit the “source” button on my car stereo to switch from Elvis Costello’s “Green Shirt” back to FM, but only hit it once instead of twice, so it first stopped on AM — which I never listen to.
And there was Rush Limbaugh, whose voice I hadn’t heard since Robert Ariail used to play the show in the background while drawing his cartoons. And I decided to pause there, and listen.
This afforded me a glimpse into the alternative reality inhabited by Donald Trump and his supporters.
First, Limbaugh told about the early days of his career when he was first gaining notoriety, and he was so innocent as to think media people were honestly interested in learning about him — before he “wised up” and learned the truth (in the Trumpian sense of “truth”), which was that they all had an agenda and were out to get him.
He spoke of something that commonly happens in interviews — he would say something, then immediately realize that that wasn’t exactly what he meant, and ask to be allowed to rephrase it. At which point, he says, the reporter would say No way: This is what you said, and I’m not going to let you edit the story to suit you.
Yep, that happens. There are reporters who think journalism is some sort of contest conducted under rigid rules that are not subject to personal judgment, and one must never put the source in the driver’s seat, allowing him to control what goes into the paper. That’s collusion.
And they have a point, to some extent. For instance, I would not have allowed Richland County Sheriff Allen Sloan to “take back” what he said to one of The State‘s reporters in that infamous 1989 interview about crime at Columbia Mall. That was a situation of a public figure saying something that was shockingly revealing of his character (even if it was a very bad joke, it was revealing), and not to be papered over.
But in an everyday interview with someone who sincerely edits himself by saying, “That’s not exactly what I meant,” of course I allow him to rephrase it any way he wants. You know why? Because I want to know what he really thinks. It’s not rocket science. And a reporter with half a brain should be able to tell the difference between a source sincerely trying to express himself better and someone trying to manipulate. But you have to use judgment. It’s not black and white.
Anyway, back to Limbaugh. So he had some bad experiences with reporters who probably didn’t trust him any more than he did them — or any more than he does now, since he says he hadn’t wised up yet in those days.
Rush’s point in telling that story was to set up the Wikileaks “revelation” that New York Times Magazine‘s Mark Leibovich emailed a Hillary Clinton staffer to get permission to use some quotes from an interview with the former secretary of state.
The New York Times allowed the Clinton Campaign to pick and choose what parts of an interview with Hillary Rodham Clinton would be used in an article titled, “Re-Re-Re-Reintroducing Hillary Clinton,” the Wikileaks release of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails have revealed.
The Clinton campaign vetoed nearly the entire interview, but even in the portions they did approve for publication, they had Mark Leibovich edit out a mention of Sarah Palin, apparently at Hillary’s personal request.
“My apologies for the delay. I finally had to get her in person,” Clinton Campaign Communication Director Jennifer Palmieri replies to Leibovich, implying that she had to wait to talk to Hillary about what parts of the interview they would allow being used. “Fine to use the moose, but appreciate leaving the mention of Sarah Palin out.”…
The email exchange (Wikileaks Podesta Email 4213) between Palmieri and New York Times writer Mark Leibovich was forwarded to John Podesta by Palmieri in July 2015. Leibovich sends a transcript from the portions of his interview with Hillary that he would like to use saying, “I wanted option to use the following (obviously wouldn’t use all, but a portion) *These exchanges were pretty interesting…..would love the option to use….*”…
After dishing out the marching orders, Palmieri finishes by telling Leibovich, “Pleasure doing business.”…
That’s pretty much the way Rush told it, with emphasis on the “Pleasure doing business” part. The alt-right seems to think that was particularly telling.
And in the Trumpkin universe, I’m sure it was. In that world, this was a huge “gotcha.” It was proof positive that the media are in bed with the Democrats!
But in the universe I live in — the universe where people know how these things actually work — I’m thinking, Well, obviously that conversation — or that part of it, anyway — was off the record. And Leibovich, being a good journalist, was pushing to get the source to go on the record with some of it.
And yep, that’s what was going on, according to Politico:
In a midsummer 2015 exchange, Leibovich wrote to campaign communications director Jennifer Palmieri, asking that certain pieces of his New Hampshire interview with Clinton be made “on the record,” for use in his July article (“Re-Re-Re-Reintroducing Hillary Clinton”)….
I hardly need mention this, but during the time I was listening, Limbaugh never said, “off the record.”
Breitbart does make some confusing references to on-and-off-the-record, but not in a way that makes it clear that this completely exonerates the writer from any sort of unethical collusion.
In fact, it shows that he was trying to get even off-the-record material onto the record, which was the point of the emails. But folks, if you’ve allowed a source to go off-the-record on something (which you have to ask for BEFORE saying something, not after), then that’s it. The source is in the driver’s seat on that material. You cannot ethically use it without the source agreeing to put it on the record.
Condemn Leibovich for going off-the-record in the first place if you’re so inclined, but I won’t — along with letting sources rephrase what they’ve said, going off the record is one of the best tools for learning what a source is really thinking. Maybe you can’t use the actual words, but that knowledge can help you to better interpret and prioritize the stuff that is on the record, and more accurately represent what’s going on.
Just as there are reporters who won’t let you rephrase, there are those who are philosophically opposed to letting anyone go off the record, ever. But I’m too curious to be one of them. I don’t just want to know what the person is willing to say for print. I want to know everything that person knows. And while going off the record may not tell me everything — and in the hands of a wily source, it can be as much a device for deception as the carefully crafted public remark — it will tell me more than I otherwise would have known. Even if it’s just what the source wants me to think he or she thinks, that in itself tells me something…
Of course, all of this would be lost on most dittoheads. Even if Limbaugh had explained about it being off the record, he probably would have said the words in a way that dripped with sarcasm, portraying “off-the-record” as another one of the tricks those shifty media types use in trying to pull the wool over the eyes of honest, hard-working, angry white men…
Or not. Since I didn’t hear the whole rant, I could have missed the part where he backed off and decided to be fair to Leibovich. In which case, good for you, Rush…
Let’s set aside for a moment this contest of character and pretend we have the luxury of talking about ideas in this presidential election.
Were that the case, the most interesting moment in last night’s debate would have come at this point:
RADDATZ: … This question involves WikiLeaks release of purported excerpts of Secretary Clinton’s paid speeches, which she has refused to release, and one line in particular, in which you, Secretary Clinton, purportedly say you need both a public and private position on certain issues. So, Tu (ph), from Virginia asks, is it OK for politicians to be two-faced? Is it acceptable for a politician to have a private stance on issues? Secretary Clinton, your two minutes…
Let’s set aside the loaded wording of the question (“two-faced”), and look at the underlying issue, which speaks to the nature of leadership and the ways we communicate in a representative democracy.
Can an honest person have a public position that differs from what he thinks in his heart of hearts? Yes, he (or she) can. In fact, there are times when he or she must.
As a longtime editorial page editor, I’m quite familiar with this. Most of the time, our editorial position was consistent with my own personal position. But we operated by consensus — I was not the only member of the board — and what we ended up with was not always exactly what I thought. I deferred to my colleagues, at least to the extent of modifying the position so that we could get everybody on board. And once the decision was made, I did not publicly say things to contradict it, because that would have militated against our consensus. I had a duty as leader of the board not to undermine its positions — even on the extremely rare occasions when our official position was very different from my own, such as when we endorsed George W. Bush over John McCain in 2000.
But my care with my utterances in order to keep the board together was nothing compared to what a president faces.
The president of the United States daily, if not hourly, faces situations in which it would be grossly impolitic, unwise, and even harmful to the country to say precisely what he or she personally thinks or feels about a situation. A president must be diplomatic, not only with representatives of other nations, but with multiple contending and overlapping constituencies right here at home. This is why a president is surrounded by people who are talented at helping choose precisely the right words needed to help move things in a desired direction. It would be grossly irresponsible, indeed a dereliction of duty and perhaps a deadly danger to the country, for a president simply to spout off from the gut without pausing to temper the message (see “Trump, Donald”).
People who don’t work professionally with words are sometimes pleased to call carefully moderating one’s speech “lying.” Those of us who work with words know better. You can say the same true thing many different ways, and how you choose to say it can make all the difference between communicating effectively and having the desired effect, or failing miserably.
Secretary Clinton responded this way to that loaded question:
As I recall, that was something I said about Abraham Lincoln after having seen the wonderful Steven Spielberg movie called “Lincoln.” It was a master class watching President Lincoln get the Congress to approve the 13th Amendment. It was principled, and it was strategic…
Did you see the film? If so, you know there was a lot more to Lincoln than the fine words in the Gettysburg Address. He may have been the most skilled, determined, clear-eyed, illusionless man ever to hold the office — and the most effective. (The only two men I can imagine coming close to him in these regards were FDR and LBJ.)
The film shows Lincoln involved in the noble task of permanently saving our country from the stain of slavery, going beyond what fine words or even four years of unbelievable bloodshed could accomplish. The Emancipation Proclamation had been a stratagem in winning the war (and one he had held back from issuing, with flawless timing, until the political climate was ripe for it), an ephemeral, self-contradictory thing that did not truly free the slaves. He needed something that went far beyond that; he needed to amend the Constitution.
And he pulled out all the stops — all the stops — in getting that done. Set aside the unseemly spectacle of promising government jobs to lame-duck congressmen — that was routine horse-trading in that day. Let’s look at the central deception — and the word is apt — that was essential to getting the 13th Amendment passed.
Lincoln knew that once the war ended, Congress would see little need to ban slavery — and the war was in danger of ending before he could get it done. In fact, a delegation led by Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens was on its way to Washington to sue for peace. It would in fact have arrived if Lincoln hadn’t ordered Union troops to detain it some distance from the capital. While the delegation cooled its heels, Lincoln worked feverishly to get his amendment passed.
At a critical moment in the debate in Congress in the film, a rumor spreads that there is a Confederate peace delegation in the city. This threatens to defeat the amendment. Lincoln tells Congress that not only is there no such group in Washington, but that he does not expect there to be. He conveniently leaves out the fact that the reason he doesn’t expect there to be is because he has issued orders to that effect.
Another instance in which Lincoln has a public position differing from his private position is with regard to Republican power broker Francis Preston Blair. The reason the Confederate delegation started on its journey to begin with was that Lincoln had reluctantly allowed Blair to reach out to Richmond. Why had he done that? Because Blair urgently wanted peace, and Lincoln needed his support to keep conservative Republicans in line on the amendment.
So… Lincoln did these things — playing every angle, and saying what needed to be said to the people who needed to hear them –, and rather drawing our disapprobation for having done so, he is rightly revered.
As I said above, the only two presidents I can see even coming close to Lincoln in terms of political skill and effectiveness were Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. Which reminds me of a contretemps from 2008. An excerpt from my column of January 20 of that year:
It started when the senator from New York said the following, with reference to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.:
“Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It took a president to get it done.”
The white woman running against a black man for the Democratic Party nomination could only get herself into trouble mentioning Dr. King in anything other than laudatory terms, particularly as she headed for a state where half of the voters likely to decide her fate are black.
You have to suppose she knew that. And yet, she dug her hole even deeper by saying:
“Senator Obama used President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to criticize me. Basically compared himself to two of our greatest heroes. He basically said that President Kennedy and Dr. King had made great speeches and that speeches were important. Well, no one denies that. But if all there is (is) a speech, then it doesn’t change anything.”…
Hillary Clinton was not my choice for president that year. Several weeks later, we endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination (right after endorsing John McCain — whom we would later endorse in the general — for the Republican).
Her point was that fine words (such as those with which her opponent excelled) are well and good, but if you want to see a good thing get done, you need someone who will roll up sleeves, dig in and do what it takes. Which LBJ never shied away from.
When she was a fresh grad at Wellesley, Hillary Clinton was dismissive of politics being the art of the possible. As she grew up, ran into brick walls of opposition and in other ways found how resistant the world could be to fine words and finer sentiments, she learned. Her concept of what it took to get things done — and of what things were doable — matured.
Hence what she said in that leaked speech.
I don’t say this to defend Hillary Clinton personally. As I said, I wanted to raise a point that we might discuss were we in a different situation. But we’re not in a different situation. Right now, our representative democracy faces supreme degradation, and possibly worse, if Donald Trump is elected. So we have that appalling threat to deal with, and fine points and ethical ambiguities are not the order of the day.
So pretend that speech — the one to the paying audience, not to Wellesley grads — was delivered by someone else. Think for a moment about the ideas being expressed, not the person expressing them.
It’s a question that all of us should wrestle with as we grow and mature. When I was a young and cocky editor, very free with my thoughts on everything, and to hell with whether others agreed, my then-boss posed me a question: Would you rather be right, or effective?
Of course, I wanted to be both. But what about when you can’t be?
What needed to happen in the debate last night was this: Hillary needed to beat Trump — or rather, he needed to beat himself — as soundly as in the first debate. That, combined with the recording of Trump being Trump in 2005, would have meant the end of this drawn-out farce. Continuing the weekend trend, virtually every Republican who has gone along with his campaign would desert him, and we could all talk about something else for the next four weeks, secure in the knowledge that he would be so crushed on Nov. 8 that nothing like this will ever be repeated.
That didn’t happen. Not that Trump debated well, or in any way acted like the standard-bearer of a major party. But the bar for him is the lowest in living memory, perhaps in U.S. history, and in the expectations game, he held his own, since he was no worse than he is on an average day.
There were many low points in this debate, but what was the lowest? It was this:
Wow! Wow! He just promised, if elected, to use the Attorney General to carry out a political vendetta on his opponent! “You’d be in jail…”
Only that had been lacking to complete the portrait of Trump as the jefe of a banana republic: The use of the power of the state to persecute and imprison political opponents. All hail the caudillo!
This was no doubt lost on people who support Trump, and those who might consider voting for him. But this was a low point in American democracy, another bold step toward fascism. By contrast, his statement that his opponent has “hate in her heart” — also something we’ve never seen before — was less remarkable. And all the talk about adolescent sexuality was just background noise.
His supporters will protest: But Hillary said he had run a “hateful, divisive campaign!” Yes, she did, and that would indeed be a terrible thing to say if it weren’t true. Even being true, it’s not helpful, only a step or two above deplorable. But the difference between running an awful campaign and having hate in your heart is considerable.
What was Hillary Clinton’s lowest point? Well, I was most bothered by this:
Hillary:”Donald always takes care of Donald, and people like Donald.” That’s populist, class-war nonsense. Donald just takes care of Donald.
See what she did there? She normalized Trump. She mainstreamed him. She did the thing that I, and many others, have begged people not to do: pretend this is just another election like any other, a contest between (in Republican eyes) wild-eyed, left-wing statists and (in Democratic eyes) fat cats who look like the little top-hatted man in Monopoly. She watered down one of the most disturbing things about Trump — that he’s always out for himself, not the country, or a party, or a class, or a faction. Just himself.
Yeah, I know why she does it: To please the “feel the Bern” crowd in her own party. But this is NOT a contest between classes, or of ideas. This is an election to decide whether an out-of-control, deeply narcissistic, crude, avaricious, vindictive, unbalanced man with fascist tendencies and no concept of what a liberal democracy is about will hold the most powerful position in the world.
That is all this election is about. It could have been about other things, had the Republicans seen their way clear to nominating a normal person. But it isn’t, because they didn’t.
(Perhaps this is a good moment to pause to speak to those just joining us, who have not followed my blog over the past 11 years, or my long career before that: I’m not one of the “liberal media” one hears so much about. I’m a guy known for only endorsing Republicans for president during all those years leading The State‘s editorial board — although we were about 50/50 between Democrats and Republicans on the state level. I’m a guy who is stunned that the GOP didn’t nominate someone normal, such as John Kasich — someone who is as disgusted by Trump as I am, someone I would gladly vote for instead of Hillary Clinton. I just thought I’d mention all that, in case you don’t know me and you think, like Hillary Clinton, that this is about Democrats vs. Republicans.)
Maybe in four years we can have a normal election, talking about the usual tiresome stuff, with 40 percent of the population voting one way without thinking and 40 percent doing the same in the other direction, and the 20 percent of us who don’t subscribe to either brand of nonsense will step in and made the decision.
From the perspective of this election, that almost sounds lovely. But we don’t have that luxury this year…
To most people who know anything about debating, or about national and international issues, or about the presidency, Hillary Clinton pretty much cleaned Donald Trump’s clock last night.
She was serious, focused, informed, composed, presidential. He was thin-skinned, blustery, illogical, inarticulate, uninformed — the usual.
But does it matter? Does it make a difference? In 2016, that is the operative question.
I’ve had several conversations with folks this morning, and everyone has more or less agreed with this assessment. But I tend to speak to well-informed people.
I keep thinking about the first Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960. Debate experts said Nixon won. So did most people who heard it over the radio. But those who saw it on TV said Kennedy won. And that was the new factor that the professionals, the experts, didn’t take into consideration.
Today, the new factor is that a significant portion of the electorate has gone stark, raving mad.
A debate like what we saw last night would have been inconceivable in 1960. Regardless of whether you think Nixon or Kennedy won, both of them did an excellent job by any informed standard. It would have been completely impossible for someone like Donald Trump to be on that stage. (Some would say it would be impossible for someone like Hillary to be there, but such people are looking at the superficiality of gender. The fact is with regard to factors that matter, she fits comfortably into the Nixon-Kennedy set of candidates.)
No one like Trump would be the Republican nominee. No one like Trump would have made any kind of showing in the primaries. Anyone as blustery and undisciplined as Trump would have been lucky to have been allowed to sit in the audience and watch.
So the difference between him and Hillary Clinton last night is far, far starker than the minimal contrast between Nixon and Kennedy. It’s not a contest between two qualified candidates. It’s between a qualified candidate and a nightmare.
But our politics are so messed up today, the electorate’s Kardashian-numbed sensibilities so accepting of the unacceptable, that the fact that she beat him like a drum last night — in the eyes of the knowledgeable, the thoughtful — may be as irrelevant as Nixon beating Kennedy on points. More so.
Trump’s support is such an illogical phenomenon that one cannot logically predict the effect of the debate.
And that’s yet another very, very disturbing thing about this election…
Let me share with you the Hillary Clinton dream I had last night.
It was… typically weird. And confusing…
I was walking down the street in some town that I think was someplace where I used to live and work, perhaps a variation on Jackson, Tennessee. I crossed a street, stepped up and started walking along a sidewalk. The sidewalk was covered, like in a western movie or a situation where there’s living quarters over a shop and the upstairs projects out over the sidewalk.
Anyway, immediately someone is walking my way on the sidewalk, and it’s Hillary Clinton. And she’s not looking good. Her hair is disheveled as though she had just been in a high wind. Her light blue pantsuit is rumpled as though she had slept in it. She looks horribly exhausted, even dazed. She’s staring straight ahead and sort of staggering, and isn’t looking at me.
We’re about to pass each other, and I feel like the civil thing is to say something, but I can’t decide how to address her. I’m not going to say “Hey, Hillary.” I consider, “Hello, Madame Secretary,” but I’m considering, “Sen. Clinton.”
I can’t decide, and she’s right alongside me, so I make myself say something, and it comes out as “Hey… uh…”
She continues staring ahead, but after a second she acknowledges me with a grunt that is if anything less articulate than what I had said. It sounds sort of like “Hmmph!”
So… brilliant interview, right? But I don’t want to chase after her and try to have a real conversation, because it looks like she’s having a bad enough day already. So I continue on, and enter a place that seems to be a sort of restaurant and bar. The proprietress walks up and greets me, and… it’s Hillary Clinton.
Except, for whatever reason, I don’t realize that’s who it is until later. She looks exactly like herself, except she looks younger, fitter, more energetic. Her hair is longer and she has it held back with a band, like in this picture.
This Hillary is, unlike the other, having a good day. She has a prosperous business; things are going well and she’s brimming with confidence. We seem to know each other. We start to chat, and I immediately tell her who I just ran into. And I describe how the Hillary I had run into didn’t look good; she seemed all worn out.
Hillary Two starts to walk away from me to deal with a customer or something, but says to me as she’s leaving, “I’m not at all surprised.”
I say, “What do you mean? Do you say that because of her recent bout with pneumonia?”
The woman looks back and with a sarcastic smirk says “Yeah, right — that’s what I meant,” in a way that communicates she meant something else entirely, and I should know what that was.
I turn and leave, thinking I’ve just picked up on a hell of a good news story — for some reason, the two exchanges seem fraught with meaning — and I’d better head back to the paper and write it. (Along the way, I fret about whether all that was on the record, and I decide it was.) I’m not sure what paper that was, but as I walk into the newsroom and pass the conference room where the editor’s meeting is being held, I see Bobby Hitt is presiding (which would place it at The State between 1988 and 1990). Only I’m not in the meeting, which tells me I’m a writer and not an editor, which is a bit odd. (In my 35-year newspaper career, I was only a reporter for a little over two years, very early on. The rest of the time I was an editor.)
I’m looking for a place to start writing — I need to produce a budget line ASAP (it should have been in before the editors’ meeting, but I know this will be a welcome late addition to the budget) — and all I see near me is manual typewriters of a vintage that places them decades before this picture of the first newsroom I worked in. Like something Ring Lardner would have typed on. I notice, though, that elsewhere there are terminals of the sort we used in the mainframe days of the ’80s and early ’90s, so I head toward one of those, wondering if I can remember my login from way back then. As I do, I pass by a TV that’s playing an old movie about newspapers, and in it a crochety old character actor is saying that computers will be the death of newspapers, just mark his words…
As I go looking for an unoccupied terminal, I run into an editor whom I decide should be briefed on the story. So I start telling it to him, and when I get to the part about the restaurant proprietress, I’m thinking this is someone everybody at the paper knows, but I’m blanking on her name. I’m saying, “You know, that woman who runs that place that I know you know, oh, what’s her name…?”
At that moment, I suddenly realize that she was Hillary Clinton, too. Hits me like a ton of bricks, and stops me cold as I wonder how I could not have realized that. And I’m wondering what this new wrinkle does to my story.
And the dream kind of ends there.
If you can find any meaning in it, congratulations…
Come join me on Twitter tonight, if you’re so inclined. Just click on the image anytime after 9 p.m…
I have been dreading this presidential debate tonight, which I think may be the most hyped that I can recall.
Perhaps something good will come of it. Perhaps Trump will do or say something that causes him to lose all his support, and the nation will be saved. What that would be, though, I have no idea. The bigger jerk he makes of himself, the more they love him.
No, that’s the only thing good I can see coming out of it. I honestly can’t imagine anything in particular that Hillary Clinton can do to help herself in this debate, against such a damage-proof opponent. About all she can do is hurt herself, and there are plenty of ways she could do that. I wouldn’t be in her shoes for anything.
But I’m less concerned about her, and truly concerned about the nation.