On the 2016 US presidential election

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton side by side.

Image: Rich Girard/Flickr.

It’s not only American expats watching the US presidential election with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Australia is watching too. I imagine that a great portion of the world is watching. And wondering how Trump became a candidate and if he can win.

It is mind-boggling how anyone can support Trump. The reasons I’ve heard all fall apart under closer scrutiny. He’s not of or for the people, or self-made. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and literally sits on golden chairs. Whether he’s a savvy businessman is questionable. He has an established record of failures, dodgy dealings, and exploitation. He has shown disregard for the law and has never paid taxes. Fact-checkers show that Trump lies more than his opponent and that his opinions and political positions shift.

Traditional values

Trump and his supporters are full of contradictions. The same people who celebrate Trump’s tax evasion condemn welfare recipients. The same people who bemoan industry and job loss in America approve of Trump’s outsourcing of his own business and his use of undocumented workers. The same people who condemn sexual improprieties in Democrats ignore Trump’s multiple marriages and divorces, affairs, and continued harassment of women. The same people who would outlaw abortion do not value the lives of women or people of colour, want everyone to be heavily armed, and support the death penalty. The same people who would deny LGBTIQ people their rights and liberties criticise Clinton for failing to do more for gay men in Saudi Arabia. The same people who demand a return to a mythical America applaud Trump’s disrespect for election traditions.

Trump’s supporters that identify as good Christians fail to question his moral compass. Either that or they think it’s fine, which is not entirely surprising. The conservative Christian position in America has often been hypocritical, racist, and misogynist.  Just because you can exploit loopholes to avoid paying your taxes doesn’t mean it’s right to do so. Just because you can save money by hiring, exploiting, and threatening undocumented workers doesn’t mean it’s right to do so.

They are no better when it comes to women. For example, Trump’s supporters don’t care about Melania’s nude photos or Trump’s appearance in Playboy videos and parties. This is aligned with traditional notions about male and female behaviours. Women are supposed to be young, beautiful, and sexually accessible to men, especially rich, white, powerful men like Trump. Beyond this, they’re supposed to be good wives and good mothers. Their worth is entirely dependent on their relationships to men. Female autonomy is abhorrent, which is my conservative Christian politicians work so hard to control female bodies and are extremely resentful of powerful, ambitious women like Hillary Clinton. And with slogans like“Hillary Sucks but Not Like Monica”, “Trump That Bitch”, and “Life’s a Bitch: Don’t Vote For One” the hatred for Clinton has been visibly gendered.

Make America Great Again

Trump’s campaign slogan is “Make America Great Again”. During the third debate, Clinton questioned this, wondering when America was great from Trump’s perspective. I’ve often wondered this too. When was America the kind of great that Trump wants to return to?

Was it the 1900s, when lynching was a way of life, U.S. President McKinley was assassinated, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, the San Francisco earthquake killed 3,000 people and left more than half the city homeless?

Was it during the 1910s, a decade dominated by World War I?

Was it during the 1920s, which saw Prohibition, the stock market crash, and the Great Depression began?

Was it during the 1930s, which saw the Dust Bowl, the Nazis gaining power in Germany, and the beginning of World War II?

Was it during the 1940s, when Pearl Harbor was attacked, Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps, a plane crashed into the Empire State Building, and the world was at war?

Was it during the 1950s, the decade that saw the Korean War, the start of the Cold War, and the pushback from White Southerners wanting to uphold Jim Crow laws?

Was it during the 1960s, the decade of the Vietnam War, the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, the Manson murders, and the assassinations of JFK, Dr. King, Malcolm X, and Bobby Kennedy?

Was it during the 1970s, which saw the Kent State shootings, Watergate, the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, Ted Bundy, David Berkowitz (Son of Sam), the Jonestown Massacre, and two assassination attempts against President Gerald Ford?

Was it during the 1980s, in which the U.S. failed to rescue hostages in Tehran, the U.S. embassy in Beirut was bombed, AIDS spread like wildfire, the Challenger space shuttle exploded, the Iran-Contra affair happened, it was the height of the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski,  John Lennon was assassinated, there was an attempted assassination of President Reagan, and Exxon Valdez spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil?

Was it during the 1990s, which saw the Columbine Massacre, the Oklahoma City Bombing, Waco, Jeffrey Dahmer, Operation Desert Storm, the World Trade Center bombing, the police beating of Rodney King, the Centennial Olympic Park bombing, the murder of JonBenet Ramsey, the impeachment of President Clinton, the forceful removal of Elian Gonzalez, and hanging chads?

Was it during the 2000s, when the USS Cole was bombed, the Twin Towers were attacked and destroyed, the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act were signed into law, Enron and Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, the economy collapsed, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was murdered, the space shuttle Columbia exploded, hurricanes devastated parts of the American South, swine flu caused a public health emergency, the shootings at Virginia Tech and Fort Hood happened, and we went to war in Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Libya, and Nigeria?

A heterosexual, interracial couple holding a marriage equality sign at a rally before the US Supreme Court.

Image: Elvert Barnes/Flickr.

A lot of really good things have happened since 1900. The development of trade unions and a labor movement led to tremendous reforms like not using children for labour, having workplace rights, a 40-hour workweek, and minimum wages. Women earned the right to vote. Birth control and abortion were legalised. The Civil Rights Act was created to bar discrimination in employment on the basis of race and sex. Schools were integrated and couples of different ethnic backgrounds were allowed to get married. We made it illegal for a husband to rape his wife and made sexual harassment a form of illegal job discrimination.  The first Black person was elected President of the United States. Marriage equality was established. As a society, we have become more affluent, more equitable, and less violent.

This is called progress. What is radical is the conservative position that these things shouldn’t have happened. That women shouldn’t have control of their bodies, that LGBTIQ people are deviant, that people of colour are inferior, and that the wealthy are supposed to ride the backs of the poor. Ultimately, it’s a position that says there should be a ruling class of white, wealthy men.

Trump’s campaign is based on the idea that the lions are at the door. I hear this from older people often, but this is normal. Every generation feels things are getting worse, but feelings are not facts. The world is safer than it has ever been and conditions are improving. One reason you may believe otherwise is because you’ve been consuming a steady diet of violence-related mass media, which makes the world appear more dangerous than it is. Fear, uncertainty, and doubt are the currency of sales, marketing, and social policy. They are the foundations of Trump’s campaign.

Trump has no statesmanship. No ability, no qualifications, no political or military experience, no wisdom or skill in the management of public affairs, no charitable history. He has no grace, diplomacy, or integrity. For all the travelling he’s done, he doesn’t appear worldly. He doesn’t seem to be well-educated. He talks about the office of the President as if it were a CEO position and has said Clinton has failed to fix this or that. Only he can fix the country, he asserts. Is this rhetorical or is it that he doesn’t understand the relationships between the branches of our government and how legislation is created, developed, signed or passed into law? For some, strangely, Trump’s lack of government experience is the qualification they are looking for. A reasonable person would not hire an unqualified and inexperienced person to fix their car, build their house, or perform surgery on them.  But to lead one of the most powerful nations in the world? It’s incomprehensible. What makes anyone think that a Trump presidency will accomplish anything positive?

Trump insists he will return manufacturing jobs to the US. Here is a hard truth: jobs change. They always have. Industries die as others emerge. Rat catchers, milkmen, radio actors, lamp lighters, switchboard operators, and many other jobs have disappeared. Manufacturing jobs have been expanding in the US, but it will never be what it once was (or what people think it was). Other industries, such as coal, will become obsolete (some say it already is). Trump can’t change that.

Not Hillary

For some people, it’s enough that Trump is not Clinton. It doesn’t matter to them that Clinton:

  • graduated with honours from Yale Law School
  • worked on U.S. Senator Walter Mondale’s sub-committee on migrant workers
  • was a member of the presidential impeachment inquiry staff, advising the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives during the Watergate Scandal
  • was a faculty member of the University of Arkansas Law School in Fayetteville
  • worked on Jimmy Carter’s successful campaign for president while husband Bill was elected attorney general
  • joined the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock
  • was appointed to part-time chairman of the Legal Services Corporation by President Carter
  • was First Lady of Arkansas from 1979 to 1981 and 1983 to 1992 with her husband as Governor
  • chaired the Arkansas Educational Standards Committee
  • co-founded the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families
  • served on the boards of the Arkansas Children’s Hospital, Arkansas Legal Services, the Children’s Defense Fund, TCBY and Wal-Mart
  • was named one of the 100 most powerful lawyers in America by The National Law Journal in 1988 and 1991
  • was First Lady of the United States
  • headed the Task Force on National Health Reform
  • became the first wife of a president to seek and win public office and the first woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate from New York (and she was reelected)
  • was approved as the 67th U.S. secretary of state by the Senate
  • made women’s rights and human rights a central talking point of U.S. initiatives
  • became one of the most traveled secretaries of state in American history
  • promoted the use of social media to convey the country’s positions
  • led U.S. diplomatic efforts in connection to the Arab Spring and military intervention in Libya
  • won her party’s nomination for president, a historic achievement for women in the U.S
  • has far too many accomplishments to list here

Trump supporters focus on Clinton’s scandals while ignoring hi or claiming they are manufactured. They take at face value every charge Republicans have ever hurled at her. When it’s pointed out to them that she’s been exhaustively investigated, they turn to conspiracy theories, which, conveniently, cannot be proven by their very definition. Is Clinton perfect? Of course not. Nobody is and that’s not a question we bother asking of Trump because we know the answer and his supporters don’t care. At a campaign rally in Iowa, Trump said, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” Trump is admired for his callousness. Why the double-standard? Why is the bar so high for Clinton and so low for Trump?

I would call Trump a clown, but there is nothing funny about him. He’s petulant, arrogant, racist, misogynist, and ignorant. Nothing good would result from a Trump presidency. He would be unable to deliver on most of his shaky promises. He would be despised by many Americans and global leaders. He would jeopardize American relations with other nations. He would widen the gap between the poor and the wealthy. He would endanger civil rights and women’s reproductive rights. He would embolden racists and put the lives of already marginalised people at greater risk.

I know it’s more complicated than Trump versus Clinton. I know there are voters who dislike both candidates, whose preferences lie with other Republican, Democrat, or third-party individuals. But this is what we’ve got. I am a long-time Clinton supporter, but even if I weren’t, I would still vote for her. A progressive who votes for Trump is not upholding progressive ideals and is more interested in their own ego and dangerously making a point rather than in making a difference. The lives and well-being of people are more important than making a point. “Not Hillary” is not good enough.

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