The prevailing narrative about the 2016 Presidential election is that businessman/reality star/pustulating sore on the face of American democracy Donald Trump has come out of nowhere to capture the Republican nomination, that his popularity with not only the right-wing fringe of the GOP, but also the more rational base of the party is unexplainable. Bullshit. Trump didn’t rise out of thin air—we asked for this.
Donald Trump is, quite literally, reality television as a politician: foul-mouthed, thin-skinned, fueled by drama and attention; but so are we, if not as individuals, then as a collective, or, rather, our plural collectives, splintered into ever-smaller cliques designed to protect us from the opinions of people outside of our own experiences. We’ve stopped listening to each other, and in doing so, we’ve birthed a system that not only creates tyrants like Trump, but only breeds either ignorant strongmen in the mold of Trump or the equally heinous Ted Cruz, or paragons of hope like Barack Obama or Bernie Sanders, whose high-minded ideals are then squashed by the necessary concessions of our political system.
This problem has been exacerbated by our binary system, where only a Democrat or a Republican has any real chance of becoming President. When there are only two choices and our society is so toxic, then, naturally, those choices become extreme. And when our identities have become so tied into our beliefs, any threat to those beliefs is a threat to our very being, so we must ignore any doubts we may have that the people who represent our party might be wrong. So, therefore, Republicans justify Trump’s ugliness by saying “At least he’s not Hillary Clinton”, and Democrats justify Hillary’s cronyism by saying “At least she’s not Trump”.
Clinton may not be the choice we progressives would prefer, but to allow for a left-wing politician like Bernie Sanders or Jill Stein to ever have a viable chance to not only win the presidency, but have a successful administration, we would have to be operating in an entirely different political system, with a greater emphasis on social justice, income equality, and political transparency. Neither Sanders nor Stein would have been able to achieve anything in the system as currently configured. This doesn’t mean that we give up the fight, but it does mean that we are forced to live in the reality of the day, not our daydreams, and withholding a vote from Clinton in this election is a dangerous game, because we can very easily tell what kinds of leaders both Clinton and Trump would be.
The next Clinton Presidency will be much like the first one, or like the Obama Administration that is drawing to a close, filled with idealistic rhetoric that is overwhelmed by vociferous opposition from the right, but that, far more slowly than we might like and with some unholy concessions to Big Business and Wall Street, advances the liberal agenda for American prosperity. We may disagree with calls that a President Clinton would make, but I don’t think we’d ever be able to question whether she understands the issues at hand. We would never be able to say the same of a President Trump, as evidenced by his performance in the first debate, where he displayed the grace and temperament of a cornered badger.
What sort of President would Donald Trump be? That much should be clear to us by now. Donald Trump has been in the national consciousness for over forty years, and has run his Presidential campaign with the same ill-informed, bull-headed style that led his business into six bankruptcies. We’ve all known Donald Trump for most of our lives, and he didn’t magically transform into a disgusting human being when he called Mexicans rapists or called for a ban on Muslim immigrants, it’s who he’s always been. It’s who he was when suggested that he would date his daughter if he wasn’t her father, it’s who he was when he hounded the first black President to prove that he was born in America, and it’s who he was when he gleefully fired people on national television with a pithy catch phrase and no remorse. For forty years, Donald Trump has represented the worst tendencies of capitalism, of America, of who we are and who we cannot afford to be on a world stage.
In the same way that the Civil War forced us to deal with the hypocrisy inherent in building a nation dedicated to freedom on the backs of slaves, Trump’s candidacy forces us to confront this specific moment in our history. He’s the living embodiment of every angry internet comment, every reality show that dehumanizes its “stars”, every person who puts their own personal wealth above the needs of their fellow American.
A thought has been occurring to me over these last few months that I find hard to let go: Donald Trump is going to win a state. Donald Trump may win many states. It’s even conceivable that Donald Trump may win this whole damned thing, but that remains unlikely if the current electoral college forecasts hold. But, really, think about this. There will be entire states willing to be represented by this man. Donald Trump will, for sure, win more electoral votes than Walter Mondale did against Ronald Reagan in 1984 (a notably low bar, but, then, Walter Mondale never bragged about his penis size in a primary debate). He may even take more than Michael Dukakis did against George Bush in 1988 or Bob Dole against Bill Clinton in 1996.
When that happens, we need to start, on day one of the administration of whichever President-elect we wake up with on November 9th, to think about what that says about us as a country, because our decisions led to this. We created this. We asked for this, and until we ask for something better, this is all we will ever get.