CLEVELAND, OHIO – The night before I arrived here last month to drop my kids off at summer camp, my beloved Golden State Warriors had faltered in Game 7 of the NBA Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who’d completed an improbable series comeback to win their first title and bring a championship to “Believeland” for the first time in 52 years. Surrounded by giddy Cavs fans venting half a century’s worth of frustrations at my team’s expense, I couldn’t have imagined a more dispiriting visit to the Mistake by the Lake.
But boy was I wrong. Returning to Cleveland four months later to witness first-hand the pageantry of Donald Trump’s nomination as the Republican candidate for president has proven infinitely more painful than absorbing the exuberance of insufferable Cavs fans.
See, as a proud lifelong Republican, it had always been my dream to attend my party’s national convention, but because of work and family constraints, I could never justify the extravagance of a trip to New York, Minneapolis, or Tampa. But now, I had the perfect excuse, since I had to pick up my kids anyway, so why not pop downtown to observe the festivities?
And this year’s RNC should have been cause for celebration, especially since this was supposed to be an easily winnable election for Republicans, following eight long years of President Obama. No party has won the presidency three consecutive times in nearly 30 years, and Hillary Clinton’s average unfavorability hovers around 56%—certain political death in any normal cycle—while her borderline-criminal mishandling of classified information and shady dealings at her foundation have degraded her honesty and trustworthiness ratings to Nixon-like levels.
Unfortunately for Republicans, in Trump, Clinton seems to have found the only candidate she could beat. His unfavorability ratings, unbelievably, outstrip hers. Instead of attracting new voters to the GOP, his revolting persona is repelling women and minorities. (Trump is drawing zero percent support among blacks in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Zero.) Not surprisingly, he’s expected to lose—badly.
And unfortunately for me, I had to witness the coronation spectacle up close. It wasn’t just the rank incompetence that has attended Trump’s efforts so far, although the convention has already suffered everything from a novovirus outbreak, to Melania Trump’s alleged plagiarism, to discord on the convention floor—embarrassments that have plagued what is typically a meticulously stage-managed affair. More than that, it’s the indignity of watching a party I love falling prey to a rank opportunistic demagogue.
I won’t rehearse the #NeverTrump litany here. For what it’s worth, I don’t happen to believe Trump himself is actually racist. But because his demagogic appeals have fired the imagination of real-life racists and anti-Semites, and because he’s strangely reluctant to abjure the support he’s received from the sewers of white supremacist websites and the crypto-fascist “alt right” movement, his candidacy has stirred bigotry to an unprecedented degree. (It also bears noting that Clinton, for her part, needs to much more vigorously repudiate the anti-Semites in her own midst, including those, such as Max Blumenthal, son of her close confidant Sidney Blumenthal, whose virulent opposition to Israel verges on the pathological.)
And I have many friends, Republicans and independents, who also dislike Trump but are supporting him anyway—some loudly, others sotto voce—simply because they believe Clinton would be worse. For all his faults, they tell me, Trump will appoint better judges and back Israel more vigorously, among other things. I respect and sympathize with that view, even if I’m not entirely convinced of it, given Trump’s recent, hasty, utterly incomplete conversion to conservatism.
Still, elections are choices, and there’s nothing wrong with selecting the lesser of two evils. But to me, Trump isn’t a lesser evil, he’s just a different kind of evil, who in some important ways might be superior to Hillary but in ways too numerous to count could prove far more destructive.
And for me, voting is also an expressive activity, a sacred civic responsibility that, while occasionally unsavory, necessarily entails a threshold belief that one’s preferred candidate is a person of integrity who will fairly and honestly represent all of his or her constituents. I simply cannot muster that threshold belief in Trump, no matter how hard I try. (I can’t for Clinton either, so I will likely write in a favorite author, historian, rabbi, or two-time NBA Most Valuable Player.)
All of which makes it even more painful to take in my surroundings here in Cleveland. But hope springs eternal. After all, the 2020 Republican convention is only four years away.