Disclosure: I spent the first eight months of 2002 working in former President Clinton’s small Harlem office. I had a handful of brief, superficial encounters with then Senator Clinton.
The good news is that by the time you finish reading this, we will all be that much closer to this dumpster fire of an election being over. Now the bad news: We’re facing a choice between a unquestionably flawed candidate in Democrat Hillary Clinton and an irredeemably unfit buffoon in “Republican” Donald Trump.
Don’t kid yourself — it is a binary decision.
It remains an easy one for me: pull the lever (poke the hole, check the box, fill in the circle, press the button) for Hillary Clinton to become the 45th President of the United States. She has a demonstrated track record of success, as well as the superior temperament, thoughtfulness, intelligence, and tenacity of any current option. What’s more, when stacked up against the previous 44 men to have held the office, her current qualifications put her ahead of the vast majority of them.
We could (perhaps should) end this right there. Given the choice between Trump and Clinton, it’s a no-brainer. Yet, polling data, current events, and sociological divisions demonstrate otherwise, and a case needs to be made. So here is mine.
The Case Against Trump
A Trump presidency is dangerous for the United States.
His foreign policy is an incoherent amalgamation of isolationism, unilateral imperialism, and self-serving mercantilism. He does not believe in the alliance system that has largely kept the world at peace for the last 70 years. He wants our current allies to pay tribute for our protection. He endorses nuclear proliferation, suggesting South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia and others should get nuclear weapons. Take a second and really think about that, bearing in mind that the Korean peninsula, the South China Sea, and the Persian Gulf of two of the three or four tensest regions on earth.
Not knowing what the nuclear triad is, is not in and of itself disqualifying. What does disqualify him is he didn’t care he didn’t know what it is and he lacked the interest to learn — the moderator of that particular debate, conservative radio show host Hugh Hewitt, had asked Trump the exact same question months previous, and Trump delivered the same word salad non-answer. There should be no tolerance for a man who listens to only “himself” and has no interest in learning something new. In fact, Trump’s temperament in general (late night Twitter wars -and here — insulting people he disagrees with, thin-skinned vanity, short-sightedness, lack of curiosity) alone should prevent anyone with a brain from voting for him.
An argument some pseudo-Trump supporters make is that a Republican Congress and good advisors will rein Trump in — but there is absolutely no evidence of that being true. Not a single one of his advisors in this campaign have been able to control him. In the realm of national security—where Trump could do the most damage — there are shockingly few checks and balances to prevent the president from doing whatever he (hopefully she) wishes. We’ve seen from the ongoing definition of the enemy in the “War on Terror” to the actions of the Johnson and Nixon administrations during the conflict in Vietnam that Congress has little say in this area. Control of the purse strings is not an immediate stop-gap measure.
Donald Trump is unqualified to be in charge of America’s national security. He is unfit to be Commander in Chief. He revels in his ignorance of issues (here, here, here, and here, for a few examples), lacks an understanding of the relationship between the president and military, and has disregard for expert advice (here, here, and here for a few more). It’s not the lies or the gaffes that matter — it’s what they indicate about the man. He can’t tolerate being wrong, being contradicted, being insulted, being mocked or being debated — his is a truly crippling narcissism.
While the Clinton’s have been scrutinized for going on 24 years, Trump has been the opaquest presidential candidate in modern history. From not releasing his tax returns (if you have to provide the bank two years of tax returns to get a mortgage, we should expect at least as much from someone seeking the highest office), to the mind-bogglingly and purposefully complex structure of his business, we know really very little about Trump.
So that’s a general overview of the hazards of a Trump presidency. But what about issues that are likely of particular interest to the readers of the Times of Israel? Consider Israel, Iran, and anti-Semitism.
Interestingly there has been little to no discussion of Trump the vaunted businessman’s lack of investments in Israel. Buffet’s done it. Intel, Apple, Samsung, Facebook, scores more have as well. Most hotel chains have hotels somewhere in Israel. Yet Trump’s childish gold lettered marquee is distinctly missing.
Let’s assume that he has business reasons to not have hotels or developments in Israel (although he does currently or will soon have them in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, and Riyadh). His name is also missing on the buildings or hospitals or ambulances or schools or parks that are adorned by so many other Americans from the ultra-wealthy—Bloomberg, Wilf, Rennert, and more — who just want to donate a little money to do some good. Trump, his “foundation,” and his particular brand of philanthropy have been exhaustively covered by David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post and should be read in full.
So, no investments or donations of any note, but this is the man some supporters are convinced feels Israel in his kishkes (gut)? Consider, then, “his” policy.
Trump’s primary Israel advisors are his son-in-law Jared Kusher and two attorneys (Jason Dov Greenblatt and David Friedman)—not a single actual policy expert. The latter two recently posted an essay on Medium which supposedly represents Trump’s policy towards Israel, but it is not on the official campaign website (nor is any official Israel policy) and has not been endorsed by Trump himself. There is nothing here to find offensive if you’re a supporter of Israel and lean even the slightest bit towards the right (myself included). In fact, it’s a wish list that reads like Bernie Sanders’ policy platform: Removed from any aspect of reality, with no hope of being accomplished.
More importantly than a missive that reads like a transcript from a Teaneck kiddush club, though, are the words that Trump has actually said. Recall first and foremost his initial remark about wanting to be “neutral” in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. The other, and far more damning, is his demand that Israel join the rest of the new-Trump-order and pay more for defense aid: “I think Israel will do that…also, yeah, I think Israel do — there are many countries that can pay and they can pay big league.” This is a break from the very relationship the pro-Israel community has worked for so long to maintain, improve, and codify with successive U.S. administrations. We should be continuing to build towards a formal alliance, not “protection by price”.
The Iran Deal is far from perfect, as any arms control agreement must be. While the deal is full of flaws and did nothing to address Iran’s other nefarious activity throughout the region, it is undeniable that Tehran is much farther from a nuclear weapon than they were before reducing uranium stockpiles, disassembling centrifuges, and giving up their plutonium enrichment capabilities. Trump wants to renegotiate “one of the worst deals made by any country in history”—once again, providing a placating platitude instead of actual strategy, thought, or coherence. Iran, meanwhile, has been abundantly clear that they will immediately cease compliance with the deal should the United States seek to renegotiate or deviate from it.
Neither, for what it’s worth, will the rest of our P5+1 partners. The sanctions that began in 2005 and were ratcheted up under President Obama and Secretary Clinton only worked because they had the support and compliance of the global community. That unity is no longer present, because the agreement reached, is achieving what it was meant to do and our P5+1 allies have already resumed doing business in Iran (remember that whole missile system the Russians sold them?). The “snapback” provision of the deal, meant to punish Iranian nuclear violations, could be triggered by any single country without threat of veto, but with no deal in place, there is no provision to reactivate those sanctions that brought Iran to its knees and to the table. Renegotiation is nearly as crazy as Trump suggesting he would bring coal jobs back—it is laughably not plausible.
Is Donald Trump an anti-Semite? I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t care. He certainly has some anti-Jewish tendencies, from his Shecky Green act at the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting, to his comments about his “Jew lawyers” and repeated retweeting of anti-Semitic memes. More importantly than his personal beliefs are what his actions and lack of condemnation has wrought.
We all see the virulent hatred targeted at Jewish reporters in person and on Twitter. We know David Duke has endorsed him (whether or not Trump remembers who he is — which he does), and we know the alt-right has come out of the dark cesspool its members have been living in to support Trump. Trump’s campaign tacit approval of these words and deeds is, frankly, unforgivable. It will take society years to put the truly deplorable back into the dark corners they’ve emerged from.
Having a Jewish son-in-law and Jewish grandchildren is not a “get out of jail free card”. He cannot hide behind his family in the face of gaining from such obvious nauseating anger, hatred and, shocking activity. He should have denounced it as soon as it started. He (or his sons) shouldn’t continue to retweet the alt-right’s despicable posts or continued to use dog-whistling language that is racist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, xenophobic and degrading. (really, if the KKK, David Duke and various Klan leaders endorse someone, why does this conversation need to happen?)
Focusing on just one area that has been exposed by Trump is frustrating. Entire books should be written about the hate existing in America that now feels—because of Trump—that it can come out of the dark and have a seat at the table. (And this is leaving aside all the other un-American views Trump has espoused over the last two years.)
Trump crossed a line with me on Day 1 of his campaign (actually years earlier, I’ve never found his brand of grandiosity, degrading sense of humor, sexual antics or flaunting of wealth amusing), but what truly led me to outright disgust I know feel, was his mocking of a reporter with a disability.
It is perfectly reasonable and respectable to be a Republican or a Conservative. But you can’t be those and a Trump supporter.
The Case for Clinton
David Frum, the Conservative columnist and former George W. Bush speechwriter, recently wrote:
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.
At the very least, we should all be able to agree on that. In terms of equivalency, Clinton is eons ahead of Trump. But there is a case to be made to actually be pro-Clinton, rather than just #NeverTrump. It’s why I’m still with her.
Clinton is undoubtedly qualified. Aside from George H. W. Bush, she may be the single most qualified candidate for president…ever. In this dizzyingly complex and rapidly changing world, that is beyond valuable. She has the temperament (did you watch the debates or the marathon session in front of the Benghazi Committee?). She surrounds herself with strong advisors and listens to them (home-brewed e-mail server being a monumental exception). She has a history of doing—from her time at the Children’s Defense Fund to her tenure as Secretary of State—and she has pushed forward policies that have had direct and significant impacts on people all over the world.
The e-mail server is unjustifiable and inexcusable and it will undoubtedly be subject to countless lawsuits and congressional inquiries for her term(s) in office. But between those emails being released and the ongoing Wikileaks (illegal) publications of John Podesta’s email, not to mention all the information in the public domain from the decade-plus of investigations during her husband’s time in office, she has become the most transparent candidate ever. As for the Clinton Foundation, which maintains its stellar ratings by non-partisan analysts, thus far it has amounted to a giant nothing-burger of a scandal. There’s just no “there” there, and for the time being I’m willing to give the Foundation the benefit of the doubt in face of the overwhelming good it has done. Though, I’ve no doubt, over the next 4-8 years it’ll be probed like nothing else, maybe ever.
Moreover, consider her track record on the same three issues:
Clinton will continue the unprecedented military, economic, intelligence, security and diplomatic cooperation currently in place between Israel and the United States. Indeed, she’ll expand on it while also undoubtedly changing the tone and tenor of how the Oval Office speaks about (and to Israel). Past the superficial issues, Clinton believes Israel’s security is a national priority for the United States.
Clinton has promised (on her campaign website, where it can be used to ensure she follows through) that she will veto any effort at the UN to short-circuit Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. She’s also stated her commitment to fight any effort to undermine Israel’s security or impinge on its right to self-defense and oppose anti-Israel bias in UN bodies and other international forums. Importantly, she has also stated she will stand up to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement as well as cut off against efforts to unilaterally recognize Palestinian statehood outside of the context of negotiations with Israel.
All of these things are realistic and necessary and come at no “additional cost.” In summary, we should be able to look back on her time in the Oval Office and say that she was incredibly pro-Israel and raised the bar for future administrations.
You can’t renegotiate the deal and you can’t rip it up—all you can do in the hope of avoiding all-out war is to vigorously enforce it and put Iranian actions in check. Secretary Clinton will do that. Her “distrust and verify” approach is correct, and her track record suggests that she will not hesitate to take military action if Iran attempts to pursue a nuclear weapon. She’ll also pursue a broader strategy of working with regional allies to counter Iran’s aggressive ambitions across the Middle East and to rein in its support for terrorist proxies that threaten Israel.
Can you find a level-headed person who will tell you Clinton is anti-Semitic? Or for that matter, really anti-anyone (even the #neverHillary people out there, accuse her of trying to be everything to everyone just to get their support)? She has built her campaign around the concept of inclusivity, making this election about recognizing the simple fact that America (and the world) is stronger together. The notion that our common humanity is far more important and beneficial than anything that separates us should not be a point of partisan contention.
I’m with her because I trust her to ensure America maintains its leadership role in the world, rather than isolating itself and retreating from it. I’m with her because her domestic policies more closely align with my beliefs than Trump’s. I trust her because she recognizes that we are truly better off being an inclusive society than one of hate. I’m with her because I trust her to keep me and my family (both in Israel and the United States) safe. I’m with her, because it’s high-time this country joined the rest of the globe an elected a woman to lead it. I’m with her because she’ll be able to govern even while being investigated as no president ever has been before. I’m with her because you don’t get off a horse in mid-stream.
In short, I’m still with her for a great many reasons. So we’ve all got a choice to make. And whether I swayed you or not, do your civic duty and go vote on Tuesday.