Political Fear and Presidential Politics

By | July 23, 2016

A few days ago the Republican Party concluded its quadrennial convention and the concluding speaker was the 2016 nominee, Donald Trump. Moments later, Ezra Klein, a respected political pundit, posted an article entitled “Donald Trump’s nomination is the first time American politics has left me truly afraid.”

Since the article contains approximately 2,500 words, Klein is either an amazingly gifted typist and analyst or he had this article mostly “in the bag” before the convention and was simply waiting for the right time to release it. I suspect it is the latter.

When I read the article, it seems very well organized and well thought out—it espoused many of the problems with Trump that I’ve seen vocalized by both liberals and some conservatives. The problem is, it is a one-sided piece. There is very little balance, and because of that it seems an outstanding example of “preaching to the choir.” Which choir? Those who have decided that Trump is the devil incarnate.

I am not a fan of Trump; I think the Republican Party could have done better—much better—in choosing its nominee. Even so, I’m not a #NeverTrump zealot. I don’t think the world will end if he is elected president. I certainly don’t share Klein’s sentiment of being “truly afraid” because of his nomination.

So why do I think that Klein’s piece is one sided? Perhaps it is best to look at all the points he raises. These are the points:

  • Trump is vindictive
  • Trump is a bigot
  • Trump is a sexist
  • Trump is a liar
  • Trump is a narcissist
  • Trump admires authoritarian dictators for their authoritarianism
  • Trump is a conspiracy theorist
  • Trump is very, very gullible
  • Trump doesn’t apologize, and his defensiveness escalates situations
  • Trump surrounds himself with sycophants
  • Trump has proven too lazy to learn about policy
  • Trump has run an incompetent campaign and convention
  • Trump is a bully
  • Trump has regularly incited or justified violence among his supporters

I want to examine each of these points, in turn, and determine whether they are, indeed, evidence that a candidate should not become president.

Trump is vindictive

trump01According to Klein, “the unifying theme of Trump’s convention is that the leader of the opposition party should be thrown in jail.” If that theme were truly “unifying,” why would most cable news stations be examining the disunity which seems to still persist in certain quarters of the Republican Party? And, to be fair, why would Klein not report that Trump squelched such talk during his acceptance speech?

As tangible evidence for his point that Trump is vindictive, Klein points out that he supposedly threatened Jeff Bezos, that Ohio convention delegates didn’t get the seats they deserved, that he threatened a ghostwriter over comments made in an interview, and that he said he might pay legal fees for a supporter who sucker-punched a protester. He concludes by a little fear mongering of his own:

Imagine Donald Trump with the powers of the presidency. Imagine what he could do — what he would do — to those who crossed him.

It is easy to compile a list of supposed slights—either real, imagined, or exaggerated—and use them as examples for how vindictive someone might be. Balance, though, would seem to dictate that all politicians be held to the same standard.

Perhaps Klein is afraid that a President Trump would follow in the footsteps of previous presidents who have used their power to investigate and prosecute (or persecute) those with whom they politically disagree. Even Hillary is reported to have a “political hit list,” which is a predicate for vindictiveness. Why would such potential action be disqualifying for office when there is no outcry by Klein against documented actions on the part of past (or current) officeholders or the other presidential candidate?

Trump is a bigot

What is the definition of a bigot? In today’s world, it is generally someone whose biases don’t agree with your own. To Klein’s audience, someone who points out the reality of black-on-black crime or the disintegration of black families is a bigot. Someone who points out that among Muslim refugees there are terrorists is a bigot. Someone who mentions that among immigrants who cross the southern US boarder are drug dealers, rapists, and murderers is a bigot.

To many other people in the United States, though, such characterizations are just as absurd as closing our eyes to the facts cited. In fact, they are a prime example of “political correctness” being used as a rhetorical weapon to end dialogue and shut down your opponent.

Trump is a sexist

The evidence cited by Klein is four-fold: Trump’s tiff with Megyn Kelly, comments he made about Carly Fiorina and Hillary, and a comment reportedly made by Trump to a friend.

The comments were definitely crude and vulgar; there is no doubting that. But do they really rise to the level of defining the man as sexist? Further, are they disqualifying for a presidential candidate? There is a wide range of examples from history of presidents behaving similarly or worse. (I’m old enough to remember that Democratic icon JFK, for goodness sake!) Why were they not disqualified, if the same standard is applied?

One need not go far back in history—just look at allegations against Bill Clinton about his sexist behavior. And, yet, he was elected and some consider him a good president despite such behavior. More pertinent to this year’s election though, may be Hillary’s demonstrated enabling and complicity in her husband’s sexist behavior.

Trump is a liar

We are all in serious trouble if lying disqualifies someone from being president. In fact, we may as well shut down the government right now and never elect a president again.

Klein provides examples drawn from Trump’s statements about the Iraq War, his proposed health plan, his proposed tax plan, his net worth, his decision not to release his tax returns, and his charitable donations. He concludes by saying Trump “lies easily, fluently, shamelessly, constantly.”

I agree that Trump has lied. But I guess it depends on which set of lies you prefer in a candidate. If supposedly lying about his stance on the Iraq War disqualifies Trump, why doesn’t Hillary lying about dodging sniper fire during a Bosnian visit disqualify her? Or her lying about her e-mail server? Or her lying about the cause of the uprising at Benghazi?

Unfortunately, politicians lie. All politicians. It is why trust in government is at historical lows. Given that sad reality and the equally sad reality that both Trump and Hillary lie, I believe it is unreasonable to disqualify Trump (as Klein does) for something we willingly overlook or accept in others.

Trump is a narcissist

A millennial who makes his living by putting himself (and his analysis) out on the Internet everyday for the world to read calling a presidential candidate a narcissist. That’s quite an indictment! According to Klein, “the trait [narcissism] is maladaptive in a presidential candidate.”


I won’t even get into the entire concept that narcissism is a clinical diagnosis that Klein is not qualified to make. If Klein had said Trump was self-absorbed or prideful, I would have agreed. But narcissistic? I’m not sure I can agree with that one.

The question though, is whether such self-absorption or pride disqualifies Trump to be president. It hasn’t disqualified past presidents. (Pride is what led to the downfall of Richard Nixon, after all.) And, it doesn’t disqualify Trump’s opponent who uses a campaign slogan that almost screams self-absorption and pride: I’m with her!

Trump admires authoritarian dictators for their authoritarianism

Klein apparently finds disqualifying Trump’s statements about Putin and Saddam Hussein. Trump stated that both were effective because they were able to run their countries and keep affairs in check. (I’m paraphrasing here, but not changing the gist of Trump’s comments.)

In Klein’s words, Trump’s sin is that “the thing he admires about them is their authoritarianism — their ability to dispense with niceties like a free press, due process, and political opposition.”

Yet, that is not what Trump has said. In the Joe Scarborough interview about Putin (cited by Klein) as exemplary, Scarborough posited to Trump, “you obviously condemn Vladimir Putin killing journalists and political opponents, right?” His answer? “Oh sure, absolutely.” That doesn’t sound like someone who admires the ability to dispense with the free press or political opposition.

As for getting rid of due process for terrorists, it seems that the current administration (of which Hillary was a chief architect and enabler of foreign policy) has Trump beat hands-down. As of the end of last year, the Obama administration had authorized 506 drone strikes—without due process or declaration of war—killing 3,040 terrorists and 391 civilians.

Based on current precedent, it would seem that authoritarianism—at lest when it comes to dealing with terrorists, which is what Trump was referring to—is a prerequisite for being president, not a disqualifier.

Trump is a conspiracy theorist

On this I agree with Klein—to a point. There are a lot of conspiracy theories floating around out there. (Perhaps Klein hasn’t looked lately at the tabloids while waiting in the supermarket checkout line.) Trump may ascribe (or, more importantly, may have once ascribed) to some conspiracy theories, but I don’t think that necessarily disqualifies a person from being president.

By the way, Klein said that Trump “suggested that” Antonin Scalia was murdered. That wasn’t what Trump said. He was asked about the possibility by a radio host (Michael Savage) and said, “I can’t give you an answer.” How Klein jumps from that to Trump “suggesting” the murder is more telling of how Klein views Trump than what Trump actually believes.

Trump is very, very gullible

With this I disagree. I think that Trump is very shrewd. Klein cites the many outlandish things that Trump retweets as evidence of his gullibility. What he fails to note is that Trump can retweet things that he, personally, doesn’t believe. Why would he do it? For two reasons: (1) he many have followers who believe the outlandish information and (2) it keeps the press in a dither.

There is an old saying that any press is good press. Trump believes and practices this and folks like Klein do nothing but provide evidence for the truth of the saying.

Trump doesn’t apologize, and his defensiveness escalates situations

Yes, Trump is hesitant (and loathe) to apologize for anything. But, when there is absolutely no way out and it is in his interest, he does apologize.

But, again, if someone thinks such behavior disqualifies a presidential aspirant, then shouldn’t it also disqualify Hillary? She was caught in her lies and castigated by the head of the FBI. But she only apologized when it seemed to be in her best interest and now says “we have to move on; this is old news.”

Trump surrounds himself with sycophants

Really? This is news? A sycophant is another term for a “brown noser” or, more intemperate, an “ass kisser.” Politicians—particularly presidents—have lived in bubbles controlled by sycophants for generations.

This claim is hardly disqualifying; it is reality for all presidents and presidential hopefuls.

Trump has proven too lazy to learn about policy

I suspect that Trump doesn’t really care about some policies—much to the delight of his supporters. It is clear that to those supporters, Trump cares about policies related to issues that resonate with them, and the rest are tangential.

But should it disqualify a person from being president? That is doubtful; it is impossible for one person—even the president of the United States—to know everything. That is why the officeholder is surrounded by policy specialists. Will Trump surround himself with such specialists? Yes, as will Hillary.

Trump has run an incompetent campaign and convention

I’m not sure how Klein could say that Trump has run an “incompetent campaign” when he actually won the Republican nomination. Perhaps a campaign is only competent when it follows the “tried and true” rule book, or when the campaign behaves in a way that pundits like Klein believe it should behave.

It doesn’t change the fact, though, that he won. In fact, he won over 16 other contenders who ran—while they were still running—better financed and better organized campaigns. That doesn’t sound like incompetency, does it?

Trump is a bully

hillary01Klein rightly notes that “it’s better to be kind than cruel, and there’s a deep, instinctual cruelty in Trump — he finds people’s weak spots, their insecurities, and he exposes them in front of crowds.” I agree that Trump is a bully.

So let’s disqualify him, but also disqualify other bullies—like Hillary. There are multiple reports of Hillary bullying others in order to achieve her own goals. Anyone remember Vince Foster? How about Juanita Broddrick? Or Paula Jones? Or Gennifer Flowers?

It seems that, fairly judged, we are given the option of two bullies in this years matchup. Yet, I’ve only seen calls for Trump to be disqualified for his bullying, not Hillary.

Trump has regularly incited or justified violence among his supporters

This is a common meme, and one that doesn’t stand up under scrutiny. Does violence occur at Trump rallies? Yes, undeniably. Who, though, is there participating in the violence? Liberal protesters. If Trump were justifying violence among his supporters—and that message was coming through to them—why have we not seen Trump supporters violently acting out at Sanders or Clinton rallies?

Should a presidential candidate be disqualified because protesters come to his or her rallies? That seems an odd assertion to me and a rather capricious standard to raise.

A Personal Note

Klein has produced a rather long indictment of what he sees as reasons for Trump not to become president. I agree that they should probably disqualify him, taken in aggregate. However, if Klein is fair, you could substitute “Hillary” for “Trump” in most of his reasons, and she would be just as disqualified.

The fact is, we as an electorate are faced this year with two bottom-of-the-barrel candidates. That says something horrible about us as a people. The tabloid world has become the reality of our daily lives, and we have nobody to blame except ourselves.

Examining the character of both candidates is depressing, yet we are still faced with electing one of them—they are our only viable choices. Even if we sit out or cast a “protest vote” for a third-party candidate, either Trump or Hillary will become our next president.

That leaves me in a quandary as to which candidate I should vote for, if any. (And I really haven’t made up my mind on the issue.) Part of the problem is that I’m old enough to remember when Ross Perot ran in 1992 and garnered 19% of the popular vote. I voted for Perot in protest to George H.W. “read my lips” Bush. What did I get in return? Eight years of a Clinton in office. I’m seeing a possible repeat of that this year, with the same result—eight years of another Clinton in office.

I cannot stomach that. (When I was younger and more impetuous I vowed to leave the country if Hillary were ever elected—I am that revolted by the thought of her being president.) The problem is, I’m also not sure I can stomach Trump in office—not because I’m afraid of what he might do, but because I find it revolting what his ascendency says about us as an American people.

At the beginning of this article I mentioned that—unlike Klein—I’m not afraid of a Trump nomination, let alone a Trump presidency. The reason I’m not afraid is the same reason I’m not particularly afraid of a Hillary presidency. We have a system that relies on checks and balances through separation of powers. It is a system devised by our founding fathers because they didn’t want a monarch. They didn’t want an individual who could rule unilaterally—unchecked, if you will—unopposed by other forces within government.

Will whoever gets the presidency be powerful? Yes, undoubtedly. Will such a person be able to do away with constitutional safeguards or somehow bypass them? No, not really. Various presidents have tried and failed. There is no reason to assume that somehow, magically, this president—whether it is Trump or Hillary—will be able to do what some previously have attempted and failed.

I anticipate that the next four years (and possibly eight years) will be filled with rancor and vitriol regardless of who is elected. If that is the foregone conclusion, then the only responsible thing to do is to look at possibilities. For me, it may boil down to which candidate will have the least-detrimental long-term effect. I believe that in this light, the best candidate may be Trump because he provides at least the possibility of responsible SCOTUS nominations instead of the certainty of Hillary choosing damaging liberal nominations. But, again, I still haven’t decided what I will do.

Regardless of what happens, the ride has just begun.