Monday, October 24, 2016

October 23, 2016
The state of the union is not good, politically and otherwise, and the present election contest both reflects and exacerbates that condition. There hasn’t been a discussion of important issues; it’s been a verbal, and occasionally physical, brawl. As Garrison Keillor put it, "The bitterness of it has been exhausting. The ‘issues’ were piffle and mishegoss; there was zero illumination; the election was all about hostility."[68]  Mrs. Clinton has not run a high-level campaign, and a fraction of Trump’s misbehavior would have sunk any other presidential bid in living memory. The presidential debates have been a bad joke.
Donald Trump has painted a picture of a nation in decline; he wants to "Make America Great Again." He and his campaign are a travesty of democratic politics, but it would be a mistake to conclude that, because he is a demagogue, we can ignore his claim that there are serious problems. In February, Hillary Clinton offered a mixed-message response to the Trump slogan: "Despite what you hear, we don't need to make America great again. America has never stopped being great. But we do need to make America whole again. Instead of building walls, we need to be tearing down barriers."[69]  The second part of her comment was apt, but the first was politically-patriotic nonsense.
All of the problems which the Trump campaign has traded on existed before he decided to run, and they will not disappear with his defeat. Political polarization already was significant before this year’s campaign. Violence is endemic. Racial tensions are high. Police are feared and distrusted because of race-based incidents; The Fraternal Order of Police has endorsed Trump, worsening the impression of official racism. Police misconduct has brought retaliation. The country is awash in guns; elections are awash in money. The "war on terror" threatens to corrupt our institutions, if not our souls; one aspect is our treatment of "enemy combatants": "There is no parallel in our history for such endless, unscrutinized detention."[70] Wealth and income are so unequally and unfairly distributed that we are on the road to becoming two societies. Congress is dysfunctional, primarily due to the obstructionism of the Republicans.
As if to ensure that no one could be unaware of the last problem, John McCain vowed that a Republican Senate would block any nominee to the Supreme Court by a President Clinton: "I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up. This is why we need the majority."[71]  The Court would be lacking one or more members for four or eight years. McCain’s promise probably was at least partly election-year bluster, but a plea to elect Republicans so that they could continue to obstruct is an accurate reflection of their role in government.
An interesting perspective on economic inequality was provided by an article in Spiegel Online, written by its Washington bureau chief. "America feels like an exhausted democracy," he said. Noting the improvement in the economy, he pointed out that its benefits are unequally distributed. "[T]his growing wealth is largely restricted to a group of multimillionaires and billionaires whose lives have become disconnected from those of the rest of the country. . . . This breakdown into a nation of a few winners and many losers has done something to the country's mentality." [72]
Any serious attempt to address the nation’s ills will require some measure of national unity. We pride ourselves on peaceful transitions of power and some degree of rallying around the new leader. The latter has been diminished after the last two elections, and it’s likely that a new low would be reached following a Clinton victory. Trump has predicted that the election will be rigged. There have been threats by some of his supporters of violence or other forms of resistance to his probable loss. Trump ally Roger Stone warns: "If there’s voter fraud [which he expects], this election will be illegitimate, the election of the winner will be illegitimate, we will have a constitutional crisis, widespread civil disobedience, and the government will no longer be the government." [73]  Trump fanned those flames in the final debate by refusing to promise that he would accept the outcome of the election.
Any overture to his followers has been made more difficult by an outburst on September 9 by Mrs. Clinton: "You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic – you name it. . . . And he has lifted them up. . . . He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks -- they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America."[74]  However, they are Americans, and are representative, though often in a distorted way, of more general complaints and concerns held by many of their fellow citizens. Dismissing them in terms no more elevated than some of Trump’s doesn’t exactly set the stage for post-election reconciliation.
Somehow, if any progress is to be made, if we are even to prevent matters from getting worse, there must be a coming together, a renewal of a sense of community. At the end of the bickering and mud-throwing of the third debate, Mrs. Clinton offered this: "Well, I would like to say to everyone watching tonight that I’m reaching out to all Americans — Democrats, Republicans, and independents — because we need everybody to help make our country what it should be . . . ." Perhaps that will be the theme of the last two weeks of the campaign. Better— slightly — late than never.


68.The Washington Post 10/18. "Mishegoss" is Yiddish for "foolishness, nonsense, craziness." (No, I didn’t know that either).


70. Rakoff, " ‘Terror’ and Everybody’s Rights," New York Review of Books, 9/29/16

71. supreme-court-35636acca966#.un345mvb1 

72. a-1092548.html. Spiegel Online is a web service of the German magazine Der Spiegel.

73. contemplating-the-unthinkable-he-might-lose/?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.d861a67377a7

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