This year's presidential campaign is awash in bogus claims. But, to me, the worst is that it makes no difference whether we elect Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.
The reasons for this assertion vary: disgust with the system; dislike for both major candidates; a craving for transformational change; the need to rationalize staying home; the desire to cast a protest vote. Perhaps the recent exposure of Trump as a serial groper will vitiate this sentiment. But the national polls remain uncomfortably close, and the claim itself betrays a profound failure of imagination about who Trump is, and the power he would have to impose his toxic vision.
Only one of two candidates can win. Only one is an emotionally unstable narcissist. Only one is possessed by malice, ignorance and impulse. Only one could, by his very being, endanger American and the world.
Anyone who argues otherwise should pause to imagine President Trump.
Imagine him issuing executive orders unimpeded by Congress. He can renounce the Iran nuclear treaty, or the Paris agreement on controlling greenhouse gases. He can start a trade war with China. He can unleash the Justice Department on his political enemies. He can turn ICE loose on Mexicans or order surveillance of American Muslims. Take your pick. But it's his choice, not ours.
Imagine his appointments to the Supreme Court: anti-choice; anti-LGBT rights; pro-NRA; pro-corporate; pro-Citizens United; pro-expansive executive power in the hands of Donald J Trump. Every new Justice -- every new federal judge -- would be his choice, not ours.
We do not have to imagine his contempt for freedom of speech and the rule of law. He threatened Hillary Clinton with prosecution. He said that a critical commentator should be barred from television. He threatened the owner of the Washington Post with prosecution by the IRS. He threatened Judge Curiel with investigation. He repeatedly violates the laws regulating charitable foundations. He advocates changing the libel laws so that he can sue his enemies. For Trump, there is no law but his -- not ours.
Nor need we imagine his misogyny. His contempt for women and obvious predation are appalling and, in a presidential candidate, shocking. But it is well to imagine what electing such a man would say to the new generation of American women.
His racism is equally blatant. He rose by attacking the legitimacy of our first black president. He portrays black neighborhoods as undifferentiated hellholes. He implies that minorities will perpetrate massive voting fraud. He deputizes his followers as racist poll monitors. He tars undocumented Mexicans as criminals. His road to power is paved with bigotry.
President Trump would be bigotry in action -- a prescription not just for injustice, but violence. Hillary Clinton denounces systemic racism; for Trump, racism is a law enforcement tool. The discredited tactic of stop and frisk policing would be merely a down payment. Trump has elevated racial dog whistles to a fire alarm which would precede the fire -- racial divisions stoked to conflagration by an American president for the wider world to see.
Equally incendiary is the prospect of mass deportations. That is what he has promised his followers -- and it is central to sustaining President Trump. So imagine America as an anti-immigration police state. A deportation force. Using IRS files to hunt down undocumented immigrants. Diverting state and local law enforcement to raid suspect workplaces. Internment centers for apprehended immigrants. All this is within his power -- his choice, not ours.
Another promise to his base was profiling Muslims and spying on Muslim neighborhoods. This is not simply racist. It is stupid: counter-terrorism experts agree that alienating loyal Americans will promote terrorism, not stop it. And it is dishonest: Trump's claim that "political correctness" prevents law enforcement from investigating suspect Muslims is a poisonous lie. Only one candidate would, as president, drive a dangerous wedge between American Muslims and their country.
His environmental policy is just as clear -- and it is an existential threat to us, our children, and the globe. Clinton advocates clean energy policies at home and cooperation abroad. Trump says that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. He would gut the EPA, and pull America out of world efforts to stem global warming. Only President Trump would be an agent of global oblivion.
Not to mention economic ruin. No doubt Americans ravaged by automation and globalization need our help. But economists of all stripes agree that Trump's "solutions" -- protectionism and trade wars -- would trigger a recession so deep that it would wipe out millions of jobs.
Trump's tax plan would deepen our financial collapse and threaten our fiscal future. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates that his tax cuts for the wealthy would explode the deficit by $4 trillion in a decade. By comparison, Clinton's proposals provide tax relief for everyone else, while increasing revenues by $1.4 trillion. Only President Trump would gut our budget and shred our social safety net for the sake of people like Trump.
This captures something fundamental: the degree to which President Trump would eviscerate our sense of community. Clinton calls for a commitment to National Service to help revitalize our states and cities. Trump shows no interest in a sense of common citizenship or communal compassion, whether realized through government or Americans helping each other. Instead, he turns Americans against each other to advance his own ends. A president who cares nothing for others would -- by his actions and his example -- diminish what binds us together.
So imagine President Trump as our face to the world. He calls for a wall between United States and Mexico. He advocates torturing suspected terrorists and murdering their families. He disdains our alliances and scorns the Geneva Convention. He shuns refugees from the horrors of Syria. He speaks blithely of nuclear proliferation and of using nuclear weapons. He scares our allies and emboldens aggressors like Vladimir Putin. Never has America elected a president so ignorant, so careless, so dangerous to us and to everyone else.
His attachment to Putin evinces his unfitness to serve. American intelligence agencies have briefed him on Russian hacking -- not just of the Democratic Party, but of our electoral system. Yet in the latest presidential debate Trump blatantly lied, suggesting that the idea of Russian hacking might be a ploy to discredit him. Only this is true -- Russian hacking discredits him.
The pattern of leaks in October is clear. Putin does not simply imagine Trump in the White House -- he is trying to put him there. Never before has a foreign leader invaded our electoral process for his own ends. Only Vladimir Putin, and only to help Donald Trump.
It is easy to imagine why -- it is easy to manipulate an ignorant narcissist. So beguiled is Trump by Putin that he excuses Russia's involvement in war crimes which have horrified the world. Only Trump could claim that the mass slaughter by Russia and the Assad regime of the Syrian opposition -- as well as of relief workers and innocent men, women and children -- is, contrary to fact, directed against ISIS.
But then Trump comprehends nothing about ISIS, Iraq, Syria, the Middle East or any of the geopolitical dangers of president must navigate. Of these, the most dangerous of all is the threat of nuclear war.
So imagine that only the judgment and stability of President Trump stands between us and a nuclear holocaust.
That sentence is not framed to frighten -- it states what is true for every American president. Under the Constitution, the president is the commander in chief of our military. His orders are final and, in our time, presidents have used this power to launch strikes and start wars. There is nothing in the nuclear chain of command which would stay a presidential order to use nuclear weapons. We depend on a president's wisdom and restraint, for that is all we have.
In this arena, as in so many others, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are not the same. Far from making no difference, which one we choose to be president will make every difference.
Donald Trump is unstable, unbalanced and devoid of prudence, empathy or concern for anything but his needs of the moment. He lacks the basic attributes of a normal human being -- let alone a president.
Hillary Clinton has those attributes, and many others. To compare her with Donald Trump is not simply false equivalency -- it is willful blindness. But let us assume for the moment that Hillary Clinton is not the flawed but able leader reason shows her to be, but the venal caricature painted by her most hysterical political enemies.
I am reminded of the race for governor of Louisiana in 1991. The Democrat was Edwin Edwards, as personally corrupt as they come. But the Republican was a vicious demagogue, racist and anti-semite. A man named David Duke.
As governor, Duke would not have been a threat to the country, or the planet. But he was a threat to the reserves of decency in the state of Louisiana, and the only electable alternative was Edwards. So Duke's opponents crafted a bumper sticker. It read: "Vote For The Crook -- It's Important."
This was not a joke, nor was it flippant. It was a profoundly moral statement -- a rejection of false parallels, social irresponsibility, and self-pity that one's choices were disappointing. It was an adult acknowledgment that those choices were very different, with different consequences, and that only one made sense. It asked voters to imagine, and to choose, the best alternative at hand -- and to imagine the price of inaction.
In 1991, voting for Edwin Edwards was the only way to keep David Duke from becoming governor. The voters of Louisiana did so. In 2016, Americans face a far more consequential choice: the only way to keep Donald Trump from the White House is to vote for -- and elect -- Hillary Clinton. There is no doubt that Trump's supporters will turn out for him on November 8, no matter what more we discover. So the rest of us must consider the consequences of how -- or whether -- we choose to vote.
Imagine President Trump.