Wit’s End: June Opines on the 2016 Election
I think we both know that it is not always possible to have reasonable conversations about the players and issues in an election cycle. But, soft and attractive as those covers of yours may be, I think we have to make the effort this time. The stakes are very high, from international destabilization to an ultra-right Supreme Court to mass deportations to increased class and race divisions here at home to threats against every aspect of our social safety net. Oh, and religious and reproductive freedom. And education. And the fate of the natural environment. And then there is the creeping sensation that, when we sit around drinking Pellegrino in cafes and talking about novels or neighbors or nail color or the Nets—sometimes veering into politics but only to ask if we’ve seen the latest poll, or to make sure everyone at the table agrees—we are doing pretty much what people were doing back in Weimar Germany.
I’ll try to get off the soapbox now. But, dear Wit’s or Wits’, we must at least try to make the case that Trump has to be stopped, and that voting for Hillary, a perfectly acceptable candidate, is the only way to ensure this. (Down-ballot contests are also crucial, of course, but that’s another story and another exhausting fight.)
So how do we converse with people who like Trump, and loathe Hillary? How do we do so with any hope of success, and without blowing out some important artery?
On balance, I think the Trump-lovers (even more than the Hillary-haters and diehard anti-Democrats) are the hardest to understand. I have some relatives, one neighbor, and a couple of Facebook “friends” who say they plan to vote for him because they actually like him; and I pretty much agree with you that it is hard to think of any non-ranting, nonviolent response to this except “You can’t be serious!” or “Let’s just order, shall we?” or “My, it’s getting late!” or “Unfriend.” I am so flabbergasted that any one of at least fifty things he has said or done is not an absolute deal-breaker—I mean, making fun of a disabled reporter? Using “America First” as a slogan? Declaring he won’t honor the binding and essential NATO treaty? The Mexican wall, the Muslim ban, the abortion punishment, the taco bowl?—that it is hard to know where to start a civil conversation.
Maybe the way to go is to ask people, politely, why they support Trump, and to try very hard not to jump down their throats the second they start answering, so that you can have some small hope of swaying them when you do respond. I have only tried actually conversing with Trump supporters about one-and-a-half times (opportunities, happily, are few), but from what I have seen and read it appears that the main reasons people give for supporting Trump, other than hating Hillary, are that he is an outsider and they are sick of insider politics-as-usual, that he is a businessman and the country needs to be run like a business, and that he is a regular guy who says what he thinks.
How to answer all this? First, drink water. The stress response can mess with your hydration and electrolytes. If you feel any palpitations or other signs of cortisol problems, say that you need to go wash your hands, or your hair. But if you feel okay, take a deep breath. Only then try to answer.
Actually, I am hard pressed to find any answer whatsoever to the pro-outsider thing, which is more a statement of basic distrust than any kind of reasoned stance. But you might gently point out that, in the case of the leadership of the free world, a certain minimal level of experience with the job—in this case, with the workings of government and diplomacy—might come in very handy, if only to know enough not to hire or believe crooks and nincompoops. This is just as true in government as in business.
Which brings me to the second argument, that we need Trump because he is a businessman. Years of policy wonkdom, as well as basic common sense, have convinced me that democracies and hard-nosed businesses should not, in fact, be run along the same lines; but a simpler and more obivious point to make is that Trump may be a businessman, but he is a very bad businessman. Even if his many projects have made more money than he would have made just by investing what his father gave him in an index fund or something— a debatable proposition, I have read—it is hard to dispute that he fleeced or short-changed his investors, contractors, employees, and host cities at every turn. His four bankruptcies alone demonstrate this. And why, at this stage of his career, is he hawking steaks?
The third argument— that Trump says what he thinks— can mean many things. One is that Trump says what the supporter secretly believes but has felt inhibited from expressing out loud—you know: bitterness, bigotry, and bile. Here you might tax the supporter by asking which things Trump has said on their behalf. This could lead to a fruitful exchange; or this might be where they realize they’re the one who needs to go wash their hair. I do not hold out much hope of changing a bigoted, angry mind, at least not through rational conversation. Another thing “Trump says what he thinks” can mean is that he does not let “political correctness” or any other consideration filter his thoughts. Again, I would ask for examples, since it seems to me that Trump’s PC is most people’s basic respect and consideration. Then there is the idea that, because Trump “says what he thinks,” without a filter, you know what he believes. This seems to me a delusional response to the man: based on what he has been saying over the past year, he is either lying to the public about what he believes, is changeable to the point of cognitive impairment, or does not know himself. One way to engage in discussion about this might be to point to one of Trump’s more outrageous positions, wait for your interlocutor to say that he doubts if Trump really believes that, and then say that this is one thing that worries you: how can you tell what he really thinks?
Like most of the people who read this magazine, I suspect that you meet fewer Trump supporters than people who are going to sit out the election, or vote for a third party, because they either hate Hillary personally or think that she and Trump are both part of the same corrupt and/or rigged and/or oligarchical and/or imperialist system— or that they are part of different but equally unpalatable systems, such as corporate-liberal (her) or authoritarian (him).
In recent days—I write this during the Republican convention— many Republican politicians seem to be working themselves up into a frenzy of Hillary hatred, perhaps because this seems like a more promising tactic than finding specific good things to say about Trump. I doubt if many longtime supporters of Trump will ever accept Hillary or vote for her, absent some truly spectacular blunder or scandal in the Trump camp, and I am not sure I would waste my breath or risk a cortisol spike if they came my way. But the “Hillary’s just as bad” folks, especially those on the left, seem more reachable— except, perhaps, for those who hold the criminally irresponsible view that a Trump victory would hasten all-out revolution by heightening the contradictions in modern capitalism.
I see three basic elements in the vote-for-Hillary case.
(1.) Trump must be defeated. The consequences of a Trump victory would be dire, while Hillary will do what she can to fulfill the promise of the Obama administration. As for which dire consequences a Trump administration may bring about, you can take your pick, maybe jot them on a napkin or index card if there is room. My favorites are: all the agencies and programs Trump says he will dismantle (there is even talk of privatizing the national parks!), the chance he might fill four Supreme Court vacancies, the climate-change deniers he has around him, Mike Pence, Putin, the Muslim ban, reproductive rights, and the way he is terrifying so many people, including children. My absolute favorite: what if he and, say, Kim Jong-un get in a pissing match and end up firing us all?
(2.) Hillary is one of the best-qualified candidates ever, based on intelligence and experience. This is hard to dispute, except by saying that, although she has had a long life in politics, her experience has only demonstrated her dishonesty and greed. Hence:
(3.) The narrative that Hillary is dishonest, in thrall to Wall Street, and scandal-ridden (if “scandals” need to have a basis) is largely fabrication. As for honesty, PolitiFact and others have shown that she has lied less in this campaign than any other candidate, including Bernie. As for Wall Street: yes, she did get those huge speaking fees, and she does take money from rich people. But there is little or no evidence that this has affected her policy positions, and she has come out in favor of overturning Citizens United. Sadly, there are so many attacks and “scandals” in the Hillary narrative, from Whitewater to Vince Foster to her private e-mail server to Benghazi, that you could be up all night defending her, which could be terrible for your cortisol level. It might be best, then, to ask your interlocutors which specific issues concern them. The two I hear about most are Benghazi (no, the official, Republican-drafted Congressional report says she did not give any stand-down order) and e-mails (careless, yes, but no grounds for prosecution, and remember that Colin Powell and others also used a private server). But perhaps the top “scandals” are different in your community.
As with almost any politician, many voters have issues with Hillary or the Clintons. For my part, I wish she were less hawkish, and more open, and I am still angry about the “reforms” during Bill’s administration that have led to mass incarceration and contributed to deep poverty. But she is accomplished, socially progressive, a stateswoman, and well within the pale, while Trump is far, far beyond it. As somebody wrote on Facebook, don’t say: This isn’t my favorite soda, so I plan to drink bleach.
There are some people— many, actually— who have trouble coming up with specifics, but say that they just don’t like her and can’t trust her. I am not sure that anything, even two solid terms in office, will change most of their minds. But I find it helpful to attempt to understand the phenomenon. Michael Arnovitz wrote an interesting article about this, and some other issues we have been tackling: check out his Thinking About Hillary— A Plea for Reason, which can currently be found at https://thepolicy.us.
For the short answer to your question, see my column here.
Cleaver’s in-house advice columnist opines on matters punctuational, interpersonal, and philosophical, spinning wit and literary wisdom in response to your ethical quandaries. Write to her at [email protected]. Find more columns by June in her attic.