A Pox on Both Your Houses? No

Donnie Boy says the darnedest things, but of course you would expect that of someone with the maturity of a ten-year-old. One of his latest whoppers is that President “Obama is the most ignorant president in American history,” afterwards Trumped, as it were, by accusing the President of being “the founder of ISIS,” not even figuratively, but literally. Conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt tried to give him an out by suggesting that surely he meant that Obama effectively allowed ISIS to come into being, but Donnie refused the exit and said that he meant it literally. Apparently he was imagining the President and Hillary in the Situation Room conspiring with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to let Baghdadi be the Operations Chief as long as Obama’s name was at the top of ISIS letterhead. And if Donnie imagined it, it must be true, like the non-existent videos of all those Muslims celebrating in New Jersey after 9/11.

But the “most ignorant president” comment was astonishing in revealing Trump’s horizonless ignorance of American history. Not only do James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson (said to have been taught to read by his wife), and Warren G. Harding pop to mind, but the reputations of all three would skyrocket by comparison if Trump joined their ranks as president. But further, the statement begs for a new word. “Ironic” would be the closest word, but even raised to the third or fourth power it seems pathetically inadequate to describe an abysmally uninformed philistine like Trump calling a former professor of Constitutional law and a man as articulate, reflective, and knowledgeable about world affairs as Obama “ignorant.” Love him or hate him, or something in between, Obama is hardly ignorant. What would be the word to use if, say, a pathological mass murderer called Gandhi or Pope Francis a threat to peace? What word captures that level of titanic irony? So beside all the accurate commentary about Trump’s temperament, his micro-thin skin, his demagoguery, his insecurity, his bullying, his offensiveness, his ostentatiousness, and his total disregard for truth as disqualifiers for the presidency, what about the simple fact that the GOP candidate who considers himself a “genius” and challenged the Muslim mayor of London to an IQ contest is in fact a know-nothing ignoramus?

Meanwhile, as for the fifteen percent of Bernie-istas who said in a recent poll that they would either vote for Trump, a two percent party, or no one at all, what are they smoking? Columnist Joe Klein calls them the dead-enders, comic and former Bernie supporter Sarah Silverman calls them the “ridiculous” Bernie-or-bust people, and I call them the left-wing equivalent of the right-wing Tea Party. They could also be called utopians, and not in a good way. In the same sense that Thomas More’s Utopia literally meant “nowhere,” Bernie himself spoke of “the real world” as a counterpoint to his most avid supporters who feel that they cannot dirty their hands or foul their souls by voting for Hillary, flawed as she may be. They seem to say that Hillary and the real world are imperfect, and thus depraved, and nothing short of utopia—nowhere—will do. But if they choose to sit out the election, or throw away their vote on the two-percenters and zero electoral vote-getters Jill Stein or Gary Johnson, they might consider the consequences of their moral superiority. And a claim of neutrality, the pox-on-both-your-houses defense, won’t wash—they are helping Trump. The catchphrase from my college years, “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” calls out the utopians. The pox-on-both-your-houses stand means you’re part of the problem.

So, to the utopians, the dead-enders, the Bernie-or-busters, if you don’t vote and Trump is elected, don’t complain. If a Thomas- or Scalia-like hard-right conservative gets on the Supreme Court, don’t complain. If that court hands down decisions you don’t like on abortion, guns, gay rights, voting rights, Obamacare, or a multitude of other issues, don’t complain. If Trump embarrasses the country through his bombast and ignorance, don’t complain. If Trump becomes the arrogant, authoritarian ruler he has already shown signs of being (“I alone can fix it”), don’t complain. If a Republican congress passes objectionable laws that Hillary would have vetoed, don’t complain. If your hourly wages don’t go up, if women’s equality does not advance, if the Trump tax plan favoring people like himself is enacted, if a de-regulated Wall Street leads to another crash, if corporate welfare continues apace, if we get into military conflicts that diplomacy would have prevented, don’t complain. If a hyper-sensitive President Trump uses the bully pulpit to denigrate or otherwise punish private citizens such as journalists who offend him, don’t complain. And, just one more, if a President Trump continues to view man-made climate change as a Chinese “hoax,” don’t complain.

It has become a political cliché to state that any particular election is critical to the history of the country, and it’s true, they all are. But this one really is unique. This is not merely a choice between two contending political persuasions, two visions of America’s future, two individuals of differing ideology but both within the elastic bounds of political competence. Trump, unlike any of his Republican predecessors running for president, is an amoral self-seeker of fundamentally despotic temperament, a crude misogynist, a liar exceeding anything we have seen in decades, a demagogue oblivious to and dismissive of inconvenient facts, a purveyor of conspiratorial innuendo, and a mercurial bully far too uninformed and narcissistic to wield the power of the presidency. I have compared him to Kim Jong-Un, ruler of North Korea, except that as president Trump would have a Constitution, a congress, and a free press to at least partially clip his wings. And so, Bernie-or-busters, you cannot congratulate yourselves for your high principles by sitting this one out. If you have to hold your nose while voting for Hillary, fine, do it. And then—but only if you vote for her—if she does something you don’t like, complain at will.