What kind of country do you want?
That is the question each of us must answer tomorrow. Many millions of our fellow Americans will answer "Donald Trump." This column is for everyone else.
First, reality. The only way to defeat Trump is by voting for Hillary Clinton. One can no longer assume that she will win -- James Comey's unprecedented and unwarranted intrusion in the election, though belatedly exposed as worse than pointless, may nonetheless alter its outcome.
Indeed, millions of Americans have already voted under the influence of Comey's misjudgment -- his letter of correction, stating that the Huma Abedin emails contain nothing new, came ten days too late. For voters to stay home tomorrow , or cast a protest vote, may well enable the most unstable and unqualified presidential candidate in American history. With respect, that is not a rational choice.
I appreciate that many voters wish their choice was different. Some question Clinton's honesty and candor. Some wish she were more progressive or less tied to established institutions. Some want a political party which embraces their political beliefs without compromise or ambiguity. Some on the right think her too reliant on centralized solutions. Some object to the dynastic implications of electing a former first lady. And some flat-out just don't like the Clintons.
Fine. But then what?
One's moral purity is not on the ballot tomorrow. Nor is one's personal vision of a perfect world. The stakes are far more profound -- in an imperfect world, what choice is best for us, our children, and the future all of us share.
In that light, only one choice makes sense.
For progressives, the issues are enough. Only a President Clinton will work to combat climate change, reduce gun violence, reform the immigration system, and fight terrorism with reason instead of xenophobia. Only Clinton supports pay equity for women, raising the minimum wage, making public colleges and universities tuition free for all but affluent students, and reducing the crushing burden of college debt. Only Clinton will appoint progressives to the Supreme Court.
Only Clinton proposes to lower the price of prescription drugs. Only Clinton promises to rebuild our infrastructure. Only Clinton supports LGBT rights. And only Clinton pledges to secure our fiscal future by taxing those who can most afford it, rather than plunge us into further staggering debt through tax giveaways to the wealthy.
One's moral purity is not on the ballot tomorrow. Nor is one's personal vision of a perfect world. The stakes are far more profound.
For progressives, this may not be perfection, but it is surely a down payment. And achieving a meaningful part of this agenda will require all the support she can get.
Moderates may view that agenda with misgivings. And some traditional Republicans, including principled conservatives, may believe that it cedes too much to government, and grants too little credence to local and individual initiative.
Let me simply suggest that your recourse is to congenial candidates in down-ballot races -- not to President Donald Trump.
Because of Trump, this is no ordinary year. He is certainly no moderate or, by any reasonable definition, a conservative. On issues, he is an ignorant creature of impulse who calls climate change a hoax; embraces an economic plan which would explode the deficit and, in the opinion of experts, throw us into a recession; lacks even a primitive understanding of counter-terrorism or the uses and limits of military power; and speaks cavalierly about nuclear proliferation and nuclear weapons. Pick any issue -- all are potentially existential.
But as disqualifying as these positions are, they are mere signposts of a personal and psychological unfitness so profound that he would do the country that all of us care about -- regardless of our philosophical preferences -- terrible harm.
A frequent rejoinder from those who oppose Clinton is "she's no better." The basis for this flat assertion may involve careless handling of emails; or an overlap between the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton's personal finances; or a supposed absence of candor regarding Benghazi; or a general belief that she is calculating, above the rules and, when it serves her, untruthful. Or all the above.
For critics, these are more than sufficient grounds for objecting to Clinton as a candidate. But what then? For to assert a moral equivalence between Clinton and Trump is to substitute emotion for a mature comparison of what we know about both.
First, Clinton. Over 25 years she has been so battered by partisan charges that one tends to forget that the charges themselves came to little or nothing. This creates a remarkable dynamic -- each new charge creates a presumption of guilt unjustified by the underlying facts.
The Abedin emails are but the latest example. One can deplore Clinton's use of a private server, or conclude that the Clinton Foundation -- whose many good works are indubitable -- is too closely linked to the Clintons' private business activities. But there is no evidence of "pay to play"; no sign that she subordinated her work as Secretary of State to personal interests; no objective evidence that the Republican FBI Director, Comey, failed in his duties when, in July, he called her email practices careless, not criminal.
Here Comey's reckless and precipitous letter of October 28 is the perfect illustration. Having enabled Trump to cite his letter as evidence of Clinton's criminality without a shred of proof, Comey now reports that the actual contents of the Abedin emails were innocuous -- as logic always suggested they were.
In casting their vote, Americans are left to sort all this out. But, in doing so, it is well to consider a few other things. A record of service to the underprivileged well before Clinton rose to prominence. Her deep preparation for the presidency. The skill, stamina and knowledge she displayed in debate. Her steadiness under pressure. Her ability to surmount adversity. Her record of bipartisan cooperation as a senator. And, unlike Trump, a general disinclination to complain about criticism.
All that adds up to the inner resources and emotional balance one would want in a president. And Trump?
Abysmally ignorant. Chronically narcissistic. Emotionally unbalanced. Temperamentally unstable. Indifferent to our political traditions and institutions. To his core, morally repellent.
Any sane consideration recitation of his disabilities places this election in a category all its own. This is not a choice between philosophies or parties. It is a profoundly moral choice for every voter -- whether to enable, or oppose, the election of a president who will endanger and degrade us in every conceivable way.
He is a risk to our national security. He is a demagogue who divides us by race, religion and ethnicity, turning Americans against each other. He traffics in scapegoating and xenophobia. He is misogynist who, by his own account, revels in groping and abusing women. He slanders those who displease him, and threatens to turn the power of the presidency on his critics. He has no regard for the rule of law.
He lies incessantly. He concocts bizarre conspiracy theories. He plucks his information from the darker recesses of the Internet. He advocates torture. He refuses to commit to respecting our election results. He tells his followers that American democracy is rigged against him. He tried to delegitimize our first black president with racist lies. He bragged about conversations with Vladimir Putin that never occurred.
His inner world is barren of any concern but self. He cares nothing for others -- not family, party, or country. He judges people based on whether they satisfy "Trump's"need for adulation. He is so susceptible to manipulation that an antagonistic foreign power -- Putin's Russia -- has siphoned thousands of hacked emails through Wikileaks in order to elect him.
Despite all this, polling suggests that a significant, perhaps critical, number of Americans -- including millennials -- will stay home or cast a protest vote. This deserves the most serious consideration: in a close election votes which are effectively cast aside may decide the winner by default. And so a word for potential third-party voters or non-voters, particularly in closely-contested states.
In themselves, their sentiments are easy to grasp. Some are disappointed that Bernie Sanders fell short; some are drawn to Gary Johnson or Jill Stein; some believe that America is stacked against social justice in favor of the wealthy; some distrust our societal institutions. Some feel all that at once.
Understandable, surely. But should one allow such frustrations, however deep, to impel what amounts to casting half a vote for Donald Trump? When the future of our country is at stake, does conscientious objection at the polls suffice?
Consider Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who are working hard to elect Hillary Clinton. The path of reason, they argue, lies with electing the best -- and only real -- alternative to Trump, in order to advance the policies they believe in. This is not the year, Sanders says, for third-party voting. As Warren puts it, "I understand the frustration, but channel that frustration into making government work, not into throwing away your vote... [T]he answer is to seize the system and make it work for the people, not to just turn it over to the bigots and billionaires."
They are right. A vote for Johnson or Stein may best express one's core beliefs. But, in the worst case, casting such votes in battleground states could elect Donald Trump.
For what purpose, in this year, does one take such a risk? And, in addition, the reality that third party candidates will lose may insulate some protest voters from considering in depth who, or what, they are voting for. So it is well to ask what abstract moral principles such voting represents.
Start with Gary Johnson. By now, it is widely known that Johnson has little grasp of foreign policy. Less known is his disinterest in climate change, his call for abolishing the Department of Education, his plan to phase out the progressive income tax, and his opposition to gun control.
If one is going to vote on principle alone, best to find better principles -- unless these are the principles one thinks America needs more of. In which case, one must ask oneself whether they are worthy enough to risk electing Donald Trump.
When the future of our country is at stake, does conscientious objection at the polls suffice?
Which brings us to Jill Stein, whose candidacy is more likely than Johnson's to help Trump by siphoning votes from Clinton -- particularly crucial in states where the outcome is in doubt. For there is no doubt that the Green Party has a consistency of vision which results in a consistent level of support: just enough, among many other factors at work in 2000, to give George W. Bush the state of Florida and, as a result, the presidency.
My Green Party friends argue they should not be blamed for a system which, in their view, revolves around choosing the lesser of two evils. I respect this feeling, and their point is fair enough if stated in a vacuum. But what if one of the two electable choices in 2016 -- Trump -- is monstrous? So let us pause to consider whether, despite this, those drawn to the Green Party must feel morally compelled to cast a vote for Jill Stein which effectively helps Donald Trump.
For those to whom the answer is not clear, Stein herself deserves the scrutiny one applies to the remaining candidates. To start, she's a bit of a political eccentric who encourages vaccine skeptics, and opposes the Green Party's call for universal broadband on the theory that wireless signals could damage kids' brains. More broadly, her appeal rests on a call to political and moral clarity in the service of progressive principles.
As a candidate, she denounces without compromise the banking industry, Wall Street, defense contractors, the pharmaceutical industry, big tobacco and energy companies which contribute to global warming -- and, in her narrative, the major parties for representing them. As she puts it, "I've long since thrown in the towel on the Democratic and Republican parties because they are really a front group for the 1 percent, predatory banks, fossil fuel giants, and war profiteers."
As a private citizen, however, she invests in those very same industries. As The Daily Beast reported, her financial disclosure statements reveal that much of her considerable wealth is invested -- directly or through mutual funds -- in big oil, the financial industry, major pharmaceutical companies, the tobacco industry, and defense contractors. In extenuation, she says, "Like many Americans... my finances are largely held in index funds or mutual funds... Sadly, most of these broad investments are as compromised as the American economy -- degraded as it is by the fossil-fuel, defense and finance industries."
It is true that the mutual funds, not Stein, direct her wealth to the industries she attacks. It is also true that she could put her money in other investments -- such as socially responsible index funds, or clean energy funds -- more consistent with the moral stance through which she seeks our votes. Despite this, she asserts that "I've not yet found the mutual funds that represent my goals of advancing the cause of people, planet and peace."
God save Hillary Clinton should she ever say such a thing.
My point here is not to single out Stein. Candidates are people, not saints, and inconsistency between their public positions and private conduct is hardly unknown in politics. But when Stein's political reason for being is uncompromising moral clarity, her personal contradictions make the protest vote she asks for less morally meaningful than she suggests -- even in the abstract.
But the moral and practical consequences of this election are far from abstract. Yet Stein argues that it makes no difference who we actually elect -- and, therefore, that she represents our only chance to vote against the corporate malefactors she invests her wealth in. Says she,"I will have trouble sleeping at night if Donald Trump is elected. I will also have trouble sleeping at night if Hillary Clinton is elected."
This pat assertion of equivalency is not an adequate response to the threat posed by Donald Trump -- or even to his claim, anathema to all that Stein espouses, that climate change is a "hoax" concocted by the Chinese. Nor, I respectfully suggest, is voting for Jill Stein a practical or morally adequate response -- at least in battleground states -- to an excruciatingly close election where the wrong choice could have devastating consequences for our country.
Beyond all this, there are additional matters of moral principle which impel a vote for Hillary Clinton -- and against Donald Trump. One is to defeat his bogus claims of vote-rigging and his embrace of voter suppression, whether through intimidation or laws crafted to keep minorities from voting. The right of all Americans to vote is too essential to allow Trump to succeed.
Another is the damage he is doing to our social fabric by stereotyping blacks, and scapegoating Latinos and Muslims. For them -- and for our collective sense of decency -- countenancing the election of Donald Trump would be nothing short of tragic. All of us owe them better.
Still another is to consider the difference between electing a self-styled sexual predator and our first female president. What, one must ask, is this country saying to women -- including the next generations -- if we choose Trump over Hillary Clinton? Electing a woman empowers women; electing Trump rewards a man for treating women with contempt. Regardless of one's politics or misgivings about Clinton, that alone makes enabling Trump close to inexcusable.
In its simplest terms, this election presents a binary choice. It is not a simply a choice between competing policies, and it is certainly not one between aspirants whose qualities are comparable. In 2016 our choice is between a candidate who is qualified to be president, and an ignorant and unstable demagogue who endangers our institutions, our compassion for each other and, beyond that, our common future.
This is an existential and moral choice. It may not be, for many of us, the ideal choice of candidates. But, far beyond any election in memory, the only sane choice is clear.