I’ve been thinking about Hillary a lot and why I like her but don’t love her. It seems that a lot of people that I know feel that way. I’ve also been thinking about why everything seems to stick to Hillary and nothing to the Donald. It’s much worse than in the era of Ronald Reagan, who was after all the “Teflon President.”
First of all, I should admit that I’ve been reading a lot of biographies in anticipation of this election. I’ve become a little obsessed with it. In the year I’ve read:
- A Vast Conspiracy (Jeffrey Toobin)
- A Woman in Charge (Bernstein, Carl)
- Hillary’s Choice (Gaily Sheehy)
- Trump Revealed (Michael Kranish and Mark Fisher)
- The Making of Donald Trump (David Cay Johnston)
- The Hunting of Hillary (Joe Conason & Gene Lyons)
More recently I watched the fabulous Frontline documentary called “The Choice (2016).” Last year I read Sara Marshall’s short biography eponymously entitled “Hillary.” And if that weren’t enough, I recently read Arlie Russel Hochschild’s “Strangers in their Own Land,” another look, this time from a sociologist’s perspective, as to why so many conservatives vote against their own economic interests.
So I can’t be criticized for not having done my homework. I have definitely been doing my homework. Maybe too much homework. I’m a little bit burned out on reading about these two, but at least I’m one citizen who is well informed.
Hillary as Goody Two Shoes
For anybody who has looked at Bill Clinton’s biography at all must acknowledge that it’s a minor miracle that Bill emerged from his upbringing as a functioning human being. He did not emerge unscathed, of course, and one legacy that arguably followed him into adulthood is what psychologists now call a “sex addiction.” That Achilles heel certainly caused enough damage to his presidency, as we all know.
Although Hillary emerged from a more stable household, her father was also a major prick. On the other hand, Hillary’s frustrated mother – who herself emerged from a remarkably tumultuous childhood – poured all of her dreams and ambitions into Hillary, making her into one very ambitious child. By the time that Hillary arrived at Wellesley, what is clear now is that she was a pretty cool chick. There’s even photographic evidence of that. And, as is now well-known, Hillary was chosen by her peers to be the first ever student speaker at her Wellesley commencement, where she demonstrated her chutzpah by rebut the sitting Massachusetts Senator Ed Brooke with respect to the Vietnam War, who had been the commencement speaker, in what was essentially an off-script extemporaneous rejoinder.
Hillary was still a cool chick at Yale when she met and fell in love with Bill Clinton. Then, right out of law school, she became a staffer to the Senate committee investigating Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, and shortly after that, a protégé of Marion Wright Edelman. At some point Hillary made the very difficult choice to follow Bill Clinton down to Arkansas, a choice that disappointed a lot of her friends. Bill Clinton didn’t win his first race in 1974, for the Arkansas 3rd Congressional District. He did, however, win for Attorney General in 1976, and then at age 32, he became the youngest Governor in the nation in 1978. When Hillary married Bill in 1975, she retained her own name, and she maintained her own career, a decision which became controversial while Hillary was the First Lady of Arkansas. Bill Clinton lost the Governorship in 1980, and then fought to get it back in 1982, with repeat wins in 1984, 1986 and 1990.
It seems to have been that 1980 election that turned Hillary Clinton from a cool chick into a politician. All her biographers acknowledge that she is the fighter in the marriage, and that without her propulsive ambition, Clinton never would have regained the Governorship or become President. Along the way, Hillary lost a little bit of her soul.
She’s also been living in the public spotlight for 38 years, since she became the First Lady of Arkansas, and that’s a long time to live in the public spotlight. In that time, a “vast” (or perhaps narrow but intense) right-wing conspiracy really did organize itself against her and Bill, and that’s actually been documented in considerable detail in a number of books, including those that I’d mentioned earlier. That brought us a multitude of “scandals” lacking any real substance, including Whitewater, which led to Paula Jones which led to Monica Lewinsky, which led to impeachment. Along the way, Hillary has had to keep an incredibly stiff lip (as the British like to say), but it hasn’t dampened her ambition.
Hillary then still retains some of her childhood self, the really smart kid who always raises her hand first and always knows the answer, the resourceful munchkin and goody two shoes who doesn’t let any amount of adversity keep her down. We should admire her for this, and in a way we do, but we also resent her for being so exceptionally resilient. Some of us identify more with a loser than a winner, and Hillary is (ironically) very much a winner.
Donald Trump and the Politics of Extreme Distemper
Which brings us to Donald Trump and the politics of extreme distemper. The Donald, as unlikely a choice as he seems to be, has become the megaphone for the frustrations of a certain large minority of voters, who seem to feel that his flamboyant in-your-face style represents what they wish they could say to the establishment of they only had the balls.
If you examine the biography of Donald Trump it’s clear that this little peckerhead was an asshole from the word go. Even his second grade school teacher remarked that Trump was an asshole, and Trump himself has opined that he hasn’t grown up much from when he was in second grade. That he is an extremely thin-skinned übernarcissist with a penchant for retribution has also been richly documented. As has the fact that he is a complete con man, and that so much of his alleged business success has been built on smoke and mirrors.
But it matters not a whit to Trump’s many supporters, who have been proven to be preternaturally loyal to the man. They simply resonate emotionally with what this guy is saying.
It does beg one question, which is why is Trump so angry? Given that he has had almost every advantage in life, one might think that he would be grateful. That clearly is not the case. A lot of people have suggested – and I very much buy into this theory – that Trump’s decision to run for President was very much motivated by his attendance at the 2011 Washington Correspondent’s dinner, where President Obama excoriated Trump probably at least in part for having led the completely ridiculous “birther” movement. To believe in the “birther” movement one has to believe that the Republican party did not have the competence in 2008 to present legal challenges to Obama’s qualifications to be President, if there were any that were in doubt. In other words, the notion really is “unhinged” from reality. And yet the Donald, always one to double down, claimed in the first debate with Hillary that he had done the country “a favor” by getting Obama to produce it. More proof of how unhinged the Donald really is.
The Big Christian Hypocrisy
One of the ironies of this election cycle is seeing the evangelical Christian right get behind Donald Trump, a man who is surely the most profane and least religious candidate for President that we’ve ever had. Trump has apparently had some nominal affiliation the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, where Norman Vincent Peale (from the “Power of Positive Thinking” fame) was the lead pastor. Other than that, I don’t think the Donald has spent any time in church, and he clearly doesn’t remember what is in any of the books because he famously couldn’t identify which ones were his favorite. (“All of them” was his disingenuous response.) When the Pope questioned his values, the Donald challenged the Pope, essentially demanding to know what the Pope knew about Christianity in the first place. He further called the Pope “disgraceful” for questioning the Donald’s faith, and implied that the Pope would regret doing so because the Vatican would inevitably become the target of a terrorist attack, at which time the Pope would “wish” that a strong man like the Donald were in office to take care of things.
Oh boy. So that’s the Donald, my conservative Christian friends:
- Attacking the Pope;
- Attacking John McCain for allowing himself to be captured;
- Attacking a Muslim Gold Star family;
- Attacking a former Ms. Universe.
None of it sticks to Trump.
The Donald has also been pro-choice for many years, and has not been hostile to gay rights. So, on the two signature issues for social conservatives – abortion and gay rights – the Donald is completely out of step with their desires. (Oh sure, the Donald now claims to be pro-life, but no one believes him, any more than they believe that he will build that wall with Mexico.) They don’t care. Christian conservatives don’t care that he’s been divorced twice, that he cheated on his first wife, or that he’s had five children with three different women. The “values voters” have clearly lost their collective compasses when it comes to Donald Trump.
Hillary Clinton, by contrast, is a serious Methodist, someone who really finds comfort from her belief in Christ. She picked as her running mate Tim Kaine, who is the most devout candidate for Vice President that we’ve had in decades. Kaine is so committed to his Christianity that he took almost a year off of his studies while at Harvard Law School in order to participate in running a Catholic school run by Jesuits in Honduras. That is where Kaine learned his essentially fluent Spanish.
But again, evangelicals don’t care. They don’t care how profane the Donald is, they don’t care how devoted Tim Kaine is, they don’t care that Hillary’s Methodism is the real deal. All they seem to care about is that the Donald resonates with their rage, built up through the decades, that makes far too many of them want to give a giant finger to the political establishment and to the rest of America, the part of America that so many of them don’t think is “real” anymore.
A Nation Permanently Divided
A lot of political commentators have noted that ours is a nation that is now permanently divided. Much of that can be seen in the election map, which has changed drastically since 1984 when Ronald Reagan just swamped Walter Mondale in the Presidential election. On that occasion, Reagan received 525 of 538 possible electoral votes, and Mondale received 13, winning only his home state of Minnesota, as well as the District of Columbia. Even my beloved home state of Massachusetts, the “don’t blame me” (we didn’t vote for Nixon) state voted for Reagan a second time. In the popular vote, Reagan received almost 60% of the vote, Mondale a little more than 40%.
Times have changed so drastically since then. Now the West Coast and the northern half of the East Coast are reliably Democratic; the South and Mid-West are reliably Republican; and only a half dozen or so “swing states” determine the outcome. These are Florida and Ohio and Colorado and New Hampshire and New Mexico, and occasionally Virginia, or West Virginia, or Pennsylvania. Even North Carolina and Nevada went for Obama in 2008.
The deadlock in Congress is then largely reflected by the deadlock in the larger American electorate. More and more we don’t understand each other, and we don’t particularly like each other. But that distance between the two halves of the electorate is about to get a turbo-boost in this election. If there was a gulf in the electorate before, it’s about to become a chasm. This time the nation is divided in support of either an überqualified mainstream liberal, and a man that the rest of America literally views as a lunatic and con man.
When it comes to con men, anyone can be taken in. I’ve argued in the past that a gifted con man like Frank “Catch Me If You Can” Abnagale and Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter (aka Clark Rockefeller) can pull a fast one on just about anyone, until the con has been exposed. With Donald Trump, the con has been exposed. Anybody who cares to look can find out about his fraudulent Trump University, his four to six bankruptcies (depending on how you count), and how he has stiffed suppliers and subcontractors over and over again. They can find out about how he has lied repeatedly about his personal wealth, how he doesn’t own most of the properties that bear his name, how the company he managed with his father was sued by the federal government for repeated and systematic housing discrimination, and how he, with the aid of his attorney Roy Cohn (literally of “Joe McCarthy” infamy) used a “scorched earth” approach to anyone who had the temerity to stand up to him. Or they can just listen to him accusing the majority of Mexican men of being rapists, or of proposing that we adopt a NAZI-era style database of American Muslims to be able to keep track of them. It’s all there in the record.
But Trump’s supporters don’t care. They don’t care, because for 20 years, since it’s 1996 inception, the Fox News Channel has told conservative Americans whom to hate and whom to blame for their current inability to recapture the American Dream. Fox News signaled its devotion to propaganda right at the outset, by adopting the slogan “Fair and Balanced” when even the most cursory examination of their broadcasting made it plainly obvious that Fox News was anything but. They don’t care because since the 1987 repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, blowhards like Rush Limbaugh have been able to go on radio and assert any kind of drivel with impunity, and Limbaugh and his compatriots, just like Fox News, has been telling conservative Americans ever since whom to hate and whom to blame.
If Donald Trump wins election to the American Presidency, I will be filled with a white hot rage that will not abate until Trump is either impeached, finishes his term, or emulates Sarah Palin and quits while in office (once he discovers how much hard work is involved in being the President of the United States). If Donald Trump is elected President I will literally get a license to carry and buy myself a gun, because I don’t want to live undefended in a nation that could elect this man as President. (Okay, I probably won’t really get a gun, but the notion reflects the depth of my feeling on this.)
I still don’t think that Trump will get elected, but I’ve at least had to prepare emotionally that this is actually a possibility. I’m uncomprehending that roughly half the American electorate thinks that this Captain of the Clown Car is literally qualified to be President of the United States. Going from Obama to Trump would be the most absurd bookend, and would undo whatever credibility we regained in the world community after eight years of President George W. Bush.
Regardless of what happens, one thing is clear: after this election, as a nation, we’re going to need to do a massive reassessment of how we can live together and still have a functioning democracy. Because it’s not working this way. One can only hope that Trump’s nomination will serve as an epiphany, as a cathartic wake-up call for the mainstream of the Republican party, and they come to recognize that they, in particular, must stop demonizing the opposition, must stop demonizing the federal government and must stop suggesting to their voters that compromise is a four letter word. (It’s a 10-letter word, befitting of the complexity that is involved.) It’s the American right that has moved ever more rightward, while the American left has stayed in the same general groove it’s been in for generations, and that imbalance is no longer sustainable. If Trump were to get elected, the American left would go ballistic, myself included, and while that might seem like an inviting idea to some, it really would not be good for the body politic. Let’s hope that sanity prevails somewhere along the line.
 On the other hand, Bill Clinton also had a large number of women throw themselves at him much in the same way that women have thrown themselves at professional athletes like Magic Johnson.
 In 1986 Arkansas moved from having two year terms for Governor to having four year terms, which is the norm around the country.
 Technically, it was the Paula Jones civil suit that led us to Monica Lewinsky, but it was the Whitewater prosecutors inappropriate jurisdictional grab in the Paula Jones civil suit that brought us Bill Clinton’s perjury and the impeachment trial.
 I also need to acknowledge the role that sexism plays in the way that we look at Hillary. But I also know enough progressive women and men where I don’t think it’s her gender, but her other attributes that are more at play in people’s complicated reactions to Hillary.
 Most recently the Donald has not been able to resist the urge to go after former Ms. Universe Alicia Machado, the woman that Hillary brought up in their first debate for the Donald’s shaming her about her weight. The Donald, proving once again that he cannot let an insult go, unleashed a twitter storm at 3:00 a.m. on the morning of Saturday, September 30, or about a week after the debate. In the Twitter storm the Donald falsely accused Machado of having made a sex tape and the Clintons of having helped her become a citizen.
 The only thing that unites the pro-Trump and anti-Trump electorate is that it’s members are all agreed that Trump doesn’t mean to do much of what he proposes.
 Yes, Mike Pence is also clearly devout, but not evidently any more devout than Tim Kaine. Pence is also a complete mismatch with Donald Trump, and only God knows how the two would actually govern together if elected.
 Which will put the lie to the notion that all progressives are opposed to the Second Amendment, or that we’re unwilling to arm ourselves.
I really like this piece.
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