Editorial: Tomorrow is Election Day

Tomorrow is Election Day.  This election presents one of the most consequential choices between major party candidates for President of the United States that this nation has ever seen.

When appropriate, this blog has criticized both Democrats and Republicans.  This blog has never endorsed a political candidate and will not do so now.  This post will, however, compare and contrast the two major party candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Both candidates are from New York, the first time since 1944 (Franklin D. Roosevelt vs. Thomas E. Dewey, both of whom were also from New York) when both major party candidates have hailed from the same state.  There, however, the similarity of Clinton and Trump ends.  On the issues, in their temperament, and in their conduct of the campaign, including the objects of their respective scorn, the candidates could not be more different.

Any discussion of the issues must begin with the candidates’ respective bodies of experience.  Raised in a middle class family, Clinton has spent most of her adult life in public service.  She has held the offices of United States Senator and Secretary of State.  She has also had significant roles in issues of public policy when not holding an office. Not all of her policy efforts have been successful, such as her work on healthcare during her husband’s presidency.  But she worked well across the aisle during her service as a United States Senator (even according to Republicans such as Senator Lindsey Graham), and she played an important role in a number of respects as Secretary of State.

Trump’s career has been as a businessman.  He is the first nominee of a major political party in over 100 years who has neither held public office nor a high military post (he avoided any military service at all, though he has asserted that a stint at a pre-college military school gives him military experience).

Born into a family that already had substantial real estate holdings, Trump began his company with a multi-million dollar loan from his father.  He has made a lot of money for himself in business, but his investors, contractors, and others have not fared well in their dealings with him.  There have been multiple bankruptcy filings by his entities, and he has stiffed numerous small businesses and others who provided services to his business.  His “Trump University” is currently the subject of a class action fraud lawsuit that is headed for trial, as the plaintiffs recently defeated a motion for summary judgment by showing that there was sufficient evidence for the plaintiffs to prevail against Trump at trial.

Much of Trump’s business has been built on debt, a fact about which he boasts.  Trump’s business experience has led him to believe that anything is negotiable.  As a result, he has stated that he would consider attempting to renegotiate the debt of the United States, a remark that (due to its effect on this country’s credit and its ability to obtain low interest rates) on was quickly repudiated by the financial markets and other observers.

With the benefit of her experience in public life and on public issues, Clinton has well-developed policy positions on the key questions of the day.  Without touching every one of those issues, she espouses a middle-of-the-road foreign policy, though one that is more interventionist than some in her party prefer.  She would protect low and middle-income Americans from federal income tax rate increases and instead raise rates for the wealthiest Americans.  She is pro-choice, a believer in climate change, a supporter of a higher minimum wage, and an advocate of the Affordable Care Act (though she wishes to improve on it).  In general, her views, though sometimes somewhat left of center, are well within the mainstream.

Trump’s positions derive not from experience in public policy issues, but from other sources.  He has said that he has acquired his views on military issues from “the shows”: television programs that feature talking heads who often do more shouting than talking.  On foreign policy more generally, he has said that rather than consulting with experts, his “primary consultant is [him]self” because he has “a very good brain” and has “a good instinct for this stuff.”  Having apparently conceded that he has not paid federal income taxes for over twenty years, because he took advantage of the tax code, he has stated that he is uniquely qualified by that fact to fix the tax code.  His tax plan is to cut taxes on the most wealthy, including himself.  He gets much advice from his children as well, to the point that, when asked about women whom he might appoint to his cabinet, he named only his daughter, Ivanka.

On foreign policy, Trump has advocated that nations such as Japan and South Korea should have their own nuclear weapons so that the United States need not spend money to help defend those nations.  He has said that he would defend this country’s NATO allies against an attack by Russia only if those nations had fulfilled their obligations to the United States, a position that panicked our allies in Europe.  He has repeatedly espoused an extraordinarily favorable view of Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin, and has refused to criticize even the most authoritarian (or worse) actions that Putin has taken.  Trump said that Putin “is not going to go into Ukraine,” apparently unaware that Russia had already invaded Crimea, a part of Ukraine, in 2014.

Trump’s view of America’s own military is, curiously, the inverse of his worshipful opinion of Putin.  Trump has characterized United States generals as having been “reduced to rubble,” ridiculed Senator John McCain, who was held for years under brutal conditions as a prisoner of war in Vietnam as not a hero “because he got shot down” while flying a mission, and savaged Khzir and Ghazala Khan, the Gold Star parents of a Muslim American army captain who was killed in Iraq.

In comparison to Clinton’s thoughtful positions on issues, Trump has offered slogans, including recycling old slogans that smacked of anti-Semitism, nativism, and racism when first employed decades ago (such as “America First,” the isolationist rallying cry before World War II, and “Law and Order,” the not so subtle 1960’s code words, and his attacks on “international bankers,” including in an advertisement as recently as yesterday where all of those portrayed were Jews).  He has “wooed” African-American voters, including those who live outside what Trump has called the “inner cities,” by telling them that “you’re living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs,” and instead of laying out any policy to address those ills has simply asked “what the hell do you have to lose” by voting for him.  He rejects the Affordable Care Act, denies climate change, and has stated, as regards a potential rise in the minimum wage, that wages are already too high.

Trump has promised to bring back jobs in the coal industry and in manufacturing, without addressing how he could change the economy that has moved away from coal and has shifted manufacturing jobs to low-wage countries.  (Indeed, as Clinton has noted, Trump’s own merchandise has been made overseas rather than in this country).

Finally, as to the Supreme Court, an issue important to readers of this blog, Trump has promised to appoint Justices in the mold of Justice Scalia, a hyper-partisan who coarsened the discourse in the Court’s opinions and gave us such misbegotten rulings as AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepioon, 563 U.S. 333 (2011).  Clinton would appoint moderate, or moderate to liberal Justices, though a number of Republican Senators have now said that the Senate will not grant a vote to any Clinton Supreme Court nominee.

Though much more could be said about the issues, the question of temperament is worth turning to next.  A President of the United States must deal appropriately with all sorts of eventualities, anticipated and unanticipated, fair and unfair. The respective candidates’ ability to do that is part of the calculus in deciding how to vote.

Clinton has maintained her equanimity even during many hours of questioning before Congressional committees who were out to torpedo her campaign.  On the campaign trail, and in the three televised debates, she came across as measured, knowledgeable, and professional.

Trump, in contrast, reacts quickly and explosively to any provocation.  After Clinton cited Trump’s attack on a former Miss Universe, Trump spent much of the next 24 hours, including the small hours of that overnight period, tweeting derogatory comments about that pageant contestant.  There have been other instances as well when Trump has reacted precipitously and angrily to events, including his complaints about the “rigged” electoral system and opinion polls (but only once those polls appeared to show him trailing; during the primaries, when Republican voters and opinion polls favored him, he was wont to read poll results at length in his speeches and to glory in his primary victories), and his continued attacks on the Khan family even after prominent members of his own party, such as Senator McCain, criticized Trump for his original remarks.  At the debates, he continually interrupted Clinton and could not restrain himself from name-calling, such as “nasty woman.”

Again, there is much, much more that could be said, but it is time to move on to the final subject of this post.  Much of the campaign has focused, rightly or wrongly, on which candidate has insulted whom.  Trump has criticized Clinton for referring to Americans who are “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, [or] Islamophobic” as “deplorables.”  It’s not clear why he would attack that statement until one realizes that Trump has the full-throated endorsement of many such Americans, such as David Duke, the Ku Klux Klan, and other hate groups.

Trump himself has attacked Mexican immigrants (“bringing drugs, bringing crime, rapists”), Muslims (advocating their total exclusion from the United States), women (including, most memorably, boasting on tape about how he had groped women), the federal judge in the Trump University case (due to his Mexican-American heritage, a remark that even Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan characterized as “the textbook definition of a racist comment”), and many other individuals and groups.  Trump’s only real prior involvement in politics was as a prime spokesman for the “birthers,” the transparently racist movement that advocated, without a shred of evidence, that President Obama was not born in the United States.  Trump recently acknowledged that that position was without basis.  He has not, however, been willing to repudiate his emphatic view that five young African-Americans who had been charged with a sexual assault on the “Central Park jogger” in 1989 were guilty and deserved the death penalty.  Though those young men were later cleared of the crime and another man confessed to it, Trump continued to assert during the campaign that they were guilty.

One could go on and on.  But there are plenty of other sources on this subject.  Numerous major newspaper editorials have analyzed the candidates at length.  An overwhelming majority have endorsed Clinton, including many (such as the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Arizona Republic, the Cincinnati Inquirer, the Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, and the Columbia (S.C.) State) that have not endorsed a Democrat for President in many, many years (or, in at least one instance, ever), as well as the New York Times, the Newark Star-Ledger, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and many more.  A relative handful of newspapers have endorsed Trump, including the Las Vegas Review-Journal, owned by Sheldon Adelson, a big donor to Republican candidates, the Jacksonville (Fla.) Times-Union, and papers in Bowling Green, KY, Waterbury, CT, St. Joseph, MO, Hillsboro, OH, and Waxahachie, TX.  Readers can evaluate the reasoning in those editorials in order to become further informed.

The bottom line is: vote tomorrow.  The greatness of this nation is its people, and the greatness of the people is in their ability to select their leaders and to accept the orderly turnover of power, as we have now done for over 200 years, in all sorts of circumstances.  The choice tomorrow is a stark one.  Everyone should make that choice.