Election Day

“We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”    -George Orwell, 1939

Evidently Orwell was getting a little exasperated on the eve of World War II. I think many Americans today might sympathize.

It’s officially Election Day now, just barely. I have no illusions that this post will influence anyone’s vote, but as I have been tweeting a fair amount about this historic election I thought I might briefly collect a few thoughts here.

I’m proud to be voting for Hillary Clinton. I’m also proud to be heading up to New Hampshire in a few hours (!) to volunteer once again for her campaign. I supported her in the primaries in 2008 as well as this year and I’m very excited about the prospect of her becoming president. Her intellect, competence, work ethic, and constant emphasis on both detail and feasibility in policy have long impressed me, dating to her time as First Lady and Senator (when she was in the Senate, I was working on the House side, for Representative Tom Lantos of California, whom I also greatly admired). I agree with her proposals on a wide range of topics. She’s not an electrifying speaker, but in my view that quality is badly overvalued. Most of the important work of politics is subtler and more strategic and she is extremely effective in those realms. Not coincidentally, our idea of what makes a great president doesn’t really code for these strengths, which are less masculine.

Excited as I am about the positive case for Hillary, I’m even more eager for the country to declare that we reject Donald Trump. His advocacy of hate and political violence, open threats against the press and other democratic institutions, and outrageous personal conduct are unlike anything I ever imagined possible in a major party nominee. The one quality that unites the foreign leaders Trump praises—Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Kim Jong Un, and of course Vladimir Putin—is their authoritarianness.  He admires them for being “strong,” that is it. During the debate after Hillary came down with pneumonia, it felt like we were one sneeze away from turning America over to a strongman of our own.

That Paul Ryan and the overwhelming majority of the Republican leadership have fallen in line behind Trump gives me little confidence that they would act as a check if he wins or exorcize the demons he’s awoken if he loses. In fact, it’s hard to see a scenario where even a mediocre showing by Trump today doesn’t strengthen his hand within the party. They are locked in there with him now, not the other way around. His manic thuggery has proven to be a winning strategy for a Republican presidential primary, and for the time being, their voters are his voters.

* * *

I can’t add anything new to the myriad smart and varied opinion pieces and speeches making the case against Trump. But I would like to suggest that there is no shame in casting a vote for Clinton primarily as a way to defeat Trump.

In conversations with Republican friends this year, I have tried to emphasize the binary nature of the question presented in this election. Today, I hope that enough Republicans and others who for whatever reason don’t like Hillary can summon the courage of a French socialist to hold their nose and vote for civilization.

Facing a similar dilemma in 2002, French socialists stampeded the polls to vote for Jacques Chirac, their sworn enemy, in order to reject his white nationalist opponent (Jean-Marie Le Pen of the National Front). I hope conservatives take similar action today—to deny Trump nuclear weapons, if nothing else. Particularly given the electoral college math, it’s not clear to me that she can win without the votes of principled conservatives. The same goes for liberals, but occasional reports to the contrary notwithstanding they seem quite motivated to vote for her. I have tremendous respect for people who have serious differences with her but are nevertheless choosing to cast their vote for her now and fight another day.

* * *

Orwell wrote the above words at a benighted historical inflection point that was more than two decades in the making. Who knows where the world will be in 20 years. All we can do today is say, unequivocally, that we have glimpsed what Trump has already enabled in our own country, we recognize his authoritarian instincts and demagoguery in the history of foreign horrors, and that we reject it absolutely. That’s plenty reason to vote for Hillary.

Now, how fortunate are we that the mechanism by which Trump will hopefully be defeated will also result in the election of an exceptionally well qualified person, one whose instinct is to  pursue change incrementally and collaboratively rather than through demolition? In other words, a wonk, and a Burkean conservative? And a woman.

If Hillary is elected, I expect we will begin to discover and appreciate this before long. A byproduct of her campaign strategy of prioritizing the case against Trump over her own affirmative case is that expectations are low. Nearly half of her own voters say they are primarily motivated by defeating Trump, not by her candidacy. If she wins, I think they—and many others—will find themselves pleasantly surprised by the kind of president she turns out to be.


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