A local writer and aggregator named Randy Turner recently published a piece of commentary on his website, The Turner Report. He titled it,
After seeing that title, one would expect that Mr. Turner, a former Middle School teacher, would give us his specific reasons for claiming that a President Trump won’t, accidentally or otherwise, cause the end of civilization. I, for one, would like to be reassured. But Turner didn’t do that. Instead, after a lengthy accounting of a teaching experience he had during the presidential election cycle of 2000 (and a few notes about candidates in other elections), he offered us this:
Now that I think of it, every four years comes around and we end up with two people that we wonder how they ever wound up as their party’s presidential nominees.
Huh? Is everyone who pretends to write objectively about politics prone to promoting this false equivalence nonsense? I grant Turner that a lot of people were, and still are, scratching their heads in wonder at how Donald Trump became the Republican nominee. He stumbled out of Trump Tower and shocked nearly everyone. But Hillary Clinton was expected to be her party’s nominee. There was very little doubt about it from the beginning of the process. And although Bernie Sanders put up a good fight, she won convincingly and put on one hell of a convention and, as we saw during the debate the other night, demonstrated why she is where she is. What Turner says is infected with the fashionable notion that Clinton and Trump are equally repulsive, when clearly they are not.
But that isn’t really my main objection to Turner’s piece. It’s this:
So we end up once more with a choice that is far from perfect, but what can we do about it? Some are talking about staying at home on election day and that is their choice. If those people don’t want to take the time to study the candidates we do have and their stances on various issues and their personal qualities that could either make them great presidents or poor ones, then I would prefer they stayed at home and leave the voting to those who care enough to take the time to study the candidates and the issues.
If we elect Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton and it doesn’t work out, it won’t be the end of the world. The Republic will survive. In two years, we can make changes at mid-term elections in the House and Senate, and two years later, we will select two more candidates to run for president.
This is very dangerous thinking in 2016. It’s certainly true we have never in the history of American presidential politics picked a perfect president. That isn’t exactly a profound bit of punditry. But to put Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, after what we have witnessed the last 16 months, into the same class of un-perfect candidates is ridiculous. And to make this a we-can-fix-it-later-if-we-have-to election grossly understates the perils involved.
This isn’t a contest we can take so damned lightly. The fact that Turner felt it necessary to call his piece, “If Donald Trump is elected, it won’t be the end of the world,” should have told him something. And what it should have told him is that a lot of people, especially people in the foreign policy and national security establishment, are scared to death of what might happen if an obviously unqualified and temperamentally unstable man with a fondness for Russian thugs gets in touch with real power.
A voter’s job in this election is not, as Turner suggests, deciding whether Clinton or Trump will make a “great” president or a “poor” one, in terms of how history might judge either in the future. The job in this utterly unique case is to make reasonably sure there is a future in which historians can make such judgments! The voter’s job is, and has been since June of last year, deciding whether an unstable reality TV star is a man Americans should trust with the world’s most powerful military and nuclear arsenal, with weapons that could very well mean the end of the world, at least as we know it today. And unless Turner has some evidence that the cartoonish con man we have been watching for over a year now will somehow transform himself into a stable, steady, solicitous president, he should spare us the “there’s always the next election” nicety and stop trying to convince voters that they are not making an existential decision. With Trump in the race, that’s exactly what they are doing.
And speaking of the world as we know it today, that 2000 election Turner references in his accounting of his Middle School teaching experience is the perfect example of why he is wrong to so casually assert that we can, when the next election comes around, “make changes” that will, presumably, mitigate the damage done. The damage done to the world by George W. Bush’s Iraq war wasn’t undone in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, or 2014. And it won’t be undone in 2016. The decisions President Bush made changed the world in ways that cannot be fixed anytime soon, if ever. And those world-altering decisions were made by a mentally stable man.
We cannot afford to think that this current election is like any other we have ever seen in our history. We cannot afford to think that our choice is between two imperfect candidates whose personal flaws are roughly the same. On one side we have a woman with unquestionable knowledge, extraordinary experience in government, and a steady temperament. On the other side we have a man who knows nothing about world affairs, who claims he knows how government works because he purchases corrupt politicians, and who has an ego so fragile he can be provoked by an insult on Morning Joe. We cannot afford to think that a President Trump’s mistakes—and we know all presidents make mistakes—can be fixed in two years or four.
Will a President Trump end the world as we know it? That we even have to ask the question tells you all you need to know about the existential nature of this election.
[Image: Timothy A. Clary, Getty Images]