This is no ordinary Presidential election. Every other election of modern times has been between two candidates proposing different variations on the American model of liberal, constitutional democracy.
This time it’s different.
In Donald Trump, there is a candidate threatening to detach the United States from its moral and constitutional moorings, changing what is acceptable and normative in American political debate. As conservative commentator David Brooks put it:
“By lying more or less all the time, he dismantles the fealty to truth without which conversation is impossible… We are now in a country in which major presidential candidates can gibe about the menstrual cycles of their interviewers and the penis size of their opponents. We are now in a society in which the childish desires of a reality-TV narcissist can insult the inheritance that Washington and Hamilton risked their lives to bequeath. We are now in a society in which serial insults to basic decency aren’t automatically disqualifying.”
His campaign has provided more ominous hints at what a Trump Presidency might mean. It has become obvious that for him, democracy is only positive in as far as it useful for him. About its attendant values he cares nothing. His response to hecklers at his rallies has been threats of violence (“I’d like to punch him in the face”); he has said that, as President, he will change the country’s libel laws making it easier for public figures to sue the media. The chilling effect from such a move would discourage newspapers and other outlets from criticizing powerful individuals for fear of costly legal action.
Little surprise that Trump has so openly expressed his admiration for Vladimir Putin, whose authoritarian rule in Russia is precisely the model Trump would love to implement in the US – if only that pesky Constitution, guaranteeing freedom of expression, could be overridden.
Not content with that, in one of the earliest signs that here was a candidate with a decidedly un-American agenda, he declared that, as commander-in-chief, US Armed Forces would be ordered to commit a war crime, the murdering of innocent family members of terrorists. (With the childish narcissism that has become so dreadfully familiar, he told a journalist who informed him that generals would be legally obliged to disobey such an order: “They’re not gonna refuse me. Believe me.”)
Everything we have seen and heard about Trump tells us he is loyal to himself and only to himself. He has no abiding principles, no ideology he subscribes to beyond his own self-aggrandizement and pursuit of wealth and power. He is a pathological liar. Not merely dishonest in the way that most politicians are (Hillary Clinton certainly included), dissembling to cover mistakes or policy u-turns. This is something else entirely. Politico magazine analyzed five hours of remarks over a five-day period and found that Trump averaged a lie every three minutes and 15 seconds.
It’s not just the frequency, but the nature, of his perfidy that is jaw-dropping. He is willing and able to deny, pointblank, something he said – and was filmed saying – the day before. In the first Presidential debate, Clinton highlighted the absurdity of so much of his rhetoric by citing his claim that global warming was a hoax invented by China. He angrily responded that this was not true. It was (here’s the tweet).
In the third debate, Clinton rattled off some of his most disqualification-deserving statements or actions; his response was she was lying. She wasn’t; in fact they can all be easily found and viewed on Youtube (for instance his utterly despicable mocking of a disabled reporter who had criticized him).
The most obvious sign that here is a different sort of Presidential candidate is the phenomenal number of conservatives lining up to disown him. It is unprecedented for a candidate to attract so much opprobrium from commentators that are, ostensibly, in that candidate’s own party. As a Jew and an Israeli, I find it notable (and reassuring) how many of them are Jewish, vocally pro-Israel conservatives. It’s a list that includes the Wall Street Journal‘s Bret Stephens (who said of Trump “he isn’t just rough around the edges. He’s rotten to the core”), The Weekly Standard‘ editor William Kristol (who called for a GOP revolt against him at the party’s convention) and Commentary Magazine editor John Podhoretz (who remarked that, while a Clinton victory would be nothing for him to cheer about, a Trump success would “speak to a deep disease in the American psyche”).
There are of course those Jews and supporters of Israel who say they are voting for Trump because he’ll be good for Israel. This is a bizarre claim. Every pro-Israel comment uttered by the man on his campaign he has been fed by advisers. He is no more loyal to this agenda than he is to any other he has found useful in securing votes. Not only can we have no idea whatsoever what he really thinks about Israel – or if he ever thinks anything at all about Israel – we can be entirely confident that he will abandon Israel as easily as breathing should he decide the US-Israel relationship is interfering with other plans. It is laughable to imagine that he cares about the vaunted shared values of the US and the Middle East’s only democracy. His interest in democracy starts and ends with the mechanism for being voted into power.
More absurd still is that so many of these Trump fans are among the loudest critics of President Obama’s policies in the Middle East. Trump wants an isolationist, ‘America-first’ administration that will make the Obama years seem like a golden period for Middle East allies of Washington. He wants a relationship with Putin that will give Russia a free hand in establishing a foothold in Syria, strengthening the Assad-Iran-Hezbollah axis. It is Clinton who has pledged to reverse Obama’s terrible policy of withdrawing American influence from our region. It is Clinton who has called for a no-fly-zone to prevent the Russian-Syrian bombardment of civilians. No wonder the Kremlin has been working so hard to help get Trump elected.
I wonder also just what these pro-Trump Jews make of the antisemitism seeping out from sections of his coalition. The man himself may not be an antisemite, but he did claim that “Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty”. Anyone who thinks that particular piece of paranoia doesn’t leave the door wide open to Jew-hatred needs some very basic history lessons.
My dear American friends, even if you loathe Clinton (and I fully accept she is a hugely flawed candidate), voting for her is the only way to ensure defeat for Trump. If my entreaties don’t move you, perhaps you’ll be inclined to listen to the words of former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum, (whose “Conservative Case for Voting for Clinton” deserves reading in its entirety):
“I have no illusions about Hillary Clinton. I expect policies that will seem to me at best counter-productive, at worst actively harmful… But she is a patriot. She will uphold the sovereignty and independence of the United States. She will defend allies. She will execute the laws with reasonable impartiality. She may bend some rules for her own and her supporters’ advantage. She will not outright defy legality altogether. Above all, she can govern herself; the first indispensable qualification for governing others.
…Your hand may hesitate to put a mark beside the name, Hillary Clinton. You’re not doing it for her. The vote you cast is for the republic and the Constitution.”
As an Israeli, who believes in the indispensability of an engaged and value-driven United States; as a Jew, horrified by the return of old-fashioned antisemitism to the American political mainstream; and simply as a human being, appalled at the idea of this shamelessly unprincipled bully and misogynist elected leader of the free world – I ask you to please save us from President Donald Trump.