For some weeks now, people have been e-mailing me to tell me why they are worried about this year’s presidential election. I was puzzled by this, as I left political writing behind some time ago and live on a farm in upstate New York, pretty far removed from the world of national political campaigns.
But this week, I realized that I might be able to be of some help.
So bear with me. The presidential election ended this week, for a number of reasons I will explain to you. I hope this doesn’t seem arrogant.
I was a good political reporter, and for a long time, and I am confident in saying that Donald Trump will not be the next president of the United States, and that for all practical purposes, the election is over. You will not read or hear this on TV, they are loving the campaign, they do not want it to ever be over..
If I am wrong, you are free to come back and jeer at me and roll your eyes. If I am right, I will have hopefully offered one reason why my blog, and perhaps my books, are worth reading and supporting. I am not a politician or an ideologue on the left or the right, I am not afraid to be wrong, or to admit it if I am.
In a world of labels, my politics are not simple. I believe in many conservative causes – small government, less regulation, the support of small business, the future both of individuality and prosperity. I totally reject the mind-numbing dogma of the left and the right, it is the closing of the American mind.
As a gun owner, I believe people should own guns if they wish, with a few restrictions, such as keeping them away from insane and murderous people. I believe government has a moral obligation to help the poor, and I hope a new Supreme Court will strike down Citizens United and give us our country back.
Most of all, I believe in liberty, and liberty for all. To find good work, to make a good living. To control your own body, life, birthing and death. To love and marry who you wish. To keep your way of life, free from government overreach or intrusion. To come to the country in search of liberty and be welcome. I believe in confronting our great racial divide with all the vigor, resources, authenticity and moral authority available. I don’t really have a foreign policy or a great plan for confronting terrorism beyond what is being done.
I do not believe terrorists will destroy us or come close.
I am happy to commit the unspeakable treason of changing my mind, of growing and learning, and of picking and choosing from the rigid ideologies that are smothering our democracy.
So why is the election over?
It is not because Trump is evil or wonderful or Hilary Clinton can be trusted or not.
It turns out the people who support Trump are not really just supporting Trump. How could they, since absolutely no one, including him, knows what he stands for? He is not campaigning on issues, but on emotion. His supporters are quite understandably and justifiably calling out for change.
They are The Left Behind, and one of the great challenges of the next president will be to speak to them and help them and restore their faith in democratic government.
Since Trump is himself a symbol of great, if ill-defined, change, he can be loved unconditionally, for whatever he says and does about policy or issues really doesn’t matter. As one supporter of his wrote on a blog, Trump is the match, Congress the gas can. That’s how he sees it.
And he sheds the poli-speak that defines conventional politicians. He says what is on his mind, he defies convention. That is change.
It is very important to understand that Donald Trump does not wish to be President, that is quite obvious.
He is destroying his own party and his own campaign. He has committed few of his own resources, hired few competent people, acted in the most self-destructive and irrational way. Even his fellow billionaires are abandoning him, and his own party is almost collectively gagging and holding their noses.
When he loses, he can return to his Golden Castles, his golf courses, wine and steak. He will be richer and more famous than ever. Since he is not a stupid man, it seems logical to assume that he does not care about winning, only getting all the attention an attention-addict could crave.
A close friend of his wrote last year that Trump never wanted the awful burden of governing the country, he is doing everything to destroy his own campaign but light dynamite in his tower. He has brilliantly identified and organized a coalition mostly of working-class men (and some women), almost all white and almost all left behind by the unthinking rush to globalization without human consideration. The Left Behind.
His people have been hurting for a long time, and no one was paying attention.
These people owe little to the system in Washington or the media, or either of the political parties. They do not have lobbyists and lawyers and super PAC’s to fight for them, no presidential candidate in years has even mentioned them. Until Trump. Trump has connected to them in a powerful way. He speaks right to them, and they to him. They seem to get each other.
But here is the reality: There are simply not enough angry and poorly-educated white people to win a presidential election in the modern United States.
Every week, mostly because of Donald Trump’s insanely irrational campaign, Clinton is solidifying her support among women, educated white males, African-Americans, gays, Latinos and the young. They are the New America, they are the future, and hardly a one will admit to supporting Donald Trump. More than anything, they hate Trump and will never vote for him.
This dooms not only his candidacy, but any political party that does not adapt. These are the people who believe in climate change, support gay rights, debt-free college tuition, limited gun control, income equality, equal pay for women, demand immigration reform, trust government to do good. That is not Donald Trump. He says he does not support or agree with a single one of those things.
Trump’s psychotic conflict with Mr. Khan has brought all of this great divergence into clear relief. He is doing little harm to Hilary Clinton, he is cannibalizing his own campaign.
Trump has already done a number of important, and I think, healthy things. He has brought the nation’s attention on The Left Behind, their work, cities and towns devastated by an arrogant and oblivious line of political leaders. They live all around me, The Left Behind, I see them every day, and their grievances are just and long simmering.
Like African-Americans and women and LGBT people, they are organized now, and speaking out. They are being heard.
Trump has also shot a big hole into the awful polarization of the country into two narrow and insufficient ideas, the left or the right. Those ideas are not broad or flexible enough to come together and lead the country. Trump has made a forceful case that we need something new, that the system needs a shake-up. He has taken all of the absolute ideological positions of his party – almost all – and tossed them over the side.
So has Bernie Sanders, and if the next president does not hear and respect that message, he or she will fail. Politicians, like most everyone else, are slow to get things, and are cautious about reacting to change. Great leaders always know when it’s time to change.
Hilary Clinton probably has a shrine to Trump in her campaign bus, she ought to pray to it daily. May he keep on ranting and offending. Day by day, he is teaching voters not to care about those e-mails. Bigotry and racism and lying is worse.
Trump won not because he is loved, but because the party beneath him was rotted by a cold and unyielding ideology that offered much hate and conflict but few real solutions. Trump blew the grip of that ideology away with a wave of his hand. If his party wishes to survive, it will have to shake itself up.
For better or worse, Hilary Clinton is not Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio. She is smart, tough and very well disciplined. Trump is none of those things. Clinton has apparently surrounded her self with competent and creative people. Whatever mistakes she has made in the past, she is not making them now.
In the weeks after a presidential nominating convention, support and preferences harden. Barring some spectacular and surprise series of events, the election is over. All Clinton has to do is nothing much.
No presidential candidate in history has lost an election when they are ahead in the polls a few weeks into August. At this rate, Trump will have horrified a whole new range of potential voters by then. He is not turning into an inspiring statesman by Labor Day. And even his closest advisers understand he will not change.
Hilary Clinton’s supporters cannot be won over by a nasty, sexist, bigoted narcissist like Trump. She is in no danger of losing her support, and as of now, that support is more than enough for her to win. The conservative movement, full of honest and intelligent people who are passionate about their cause, has largely abandoned Trump already.
In the coming weeks, you will see those confusing and volatile polls “bounce” up and down a bit, and then settle for the long haul. Trump has absolutely nowhere to go, his astonishingly dispiriting and profoundly stupid campaign has sealed its own fate, and 96 days are not nearly enough to turn it around.
His rhetoric and style is so repulsive to so many people that one of the most unpopular candidates in presidential history is now much more popular than he is.
I believe it is important for us to pay attention, but to stop fretting. Drama and hysteria are never useful. Democracy is messy, but better than anything else. I am not looking to argue my feelings, or to join the national hatefest that politics has become. I believe Trump has appeared for the good, and that we will be a better and stronger country for it, depending on how the new president responds. We needed a good wake-up call, and we got one.
Now it is up to us to make something good come out of it.
I will not soon take democracy for granted.
One of the greatest ironies of Trump’s great undoing is that it came about when an immigration attorney, an intensely patriotic Pakistani Immigrant Khizr Kahn spoke to the Democratic National Convention and electrified the country.
Khan, a very conservative and deeply religious man whose hero is Republican Sen. John McCain, proved too formidable and authentic for Trump and his people to dismiss or villify. He is certainly no campaign stooge for Hilary Clinton, as Trump has tried to suggest.
His pain and passion are written all over his face, something you rarely see in a seasoned politician. He speaks from grief, and from the heart, anguished that a man whose son died at the hands of terrorists should be defamed by a politician seeking to ban Muslims like him from the country he died for, all in the name of fighting terrorism.
How could Trump have walked into such a trap?
Khan made it clear than this election is not a “left” or “right” thing but a “right” and “wrong” thing.
HIlary Clinton could not have made that argument nearly as effectively by herself.
It seems there is at least one sacred taboo left when it comes to the morals of American campaigning, and that is not attacking the families of fallen soldiers. There is no good or justifiable reason.
Rather than apologizing and moving forward, as any rational or ambitious politician who wanted to win would, Trump attacked Mr. Khan and defamed his wife Ghazala, and continued attacking them for days – he’s still doing it – while his opponent raised tens of millions of dollars and campaigned successfully through the Rust Belt, the political epi-center of those left behind
The contrast between the very moral Mr. Khan and the unhinged Trump was stunning, it was really Trump’s first and only major defeat, but it will stick to him over the next few months like crazy glue, the Democrats will see to it. He simply unraveled in the face of real, rather than proclaimed, morality.
He has been defined, his lack of empathy and compassion is now stamped on his forehead, and once a candidate is defined, it is nearly impossible to re-define themselves this far along in the process.
Americans were paying attention last week, they won’t be again until the debates. I would be surprised if Trump agreed to debate Hilary Clinton at all, even more surprised if she didn’t chew him up and spit him out. One thing we know about her is that she can handle herself in a public brawl.
She is yearning to have someone try to bully her on national television.
So Trump is finished by any rational standard. I see it quite clearly, and I hope I am the first one to tell you, and that it lightens your load. We have enough to worry about in our world without worrying about Donald Trump running it.
The campaign is not over, but it really is over.
I will draft back into my new E.B. White persona now and we’ll chat again about this in November. Truly, I’d rather be writing about the farm and the dogs and the donkey, I’m heading outside to give Chloe her daily bath. This is where my heart is here and now.
I understand that people will tell you not to get complacent, the candidates will keep on scaring you into giving more money, and the media we are hearing so much about will surely not want to see the drama and audience and profit leech out of the campaign. As the head of CBS said earlier this year, “I don’t know about the country, but this campaign has been very good for us.”
Patriotism and responsible journalism is not a quality much sought after in network CEO’s these days.
Trump is learning an elemental lesson about media, they can make you and they can break you, all in a country minute.
A producer once told me that on TV, politicians can come to dinner or be dinner. Right now, Trump is dinner.
I can’t predict the future, really, and things may happen that cannot be foreseen. I don’t think that will matter much. Everyone’s suspicions about Trump have been confirmed, in a curious sense, he has united many different and formerly divided elements in the country. I think it is over but the din.
He reminds us that democracy is both imperfect and fragile, and if we loved it, we will occasionally have to fight for it.
If he frightens or shames the political and economic structure into finally helping The Left Behind, all the better. His rise and fall will have been a good thing for all of us. He is also reminding many of us – people like me – what we care about. I care about liberty.
Thanks much more to Mr.Khan than Hilary Clinton, Trump has shown himself to be the very thing the moral philosopher Hannah Arednt warned the world about as she analyzed the horrors of World War II. Trump is no monster, he is just a figure of ordinary evil.
The greatest evil, writes Arendt, is not radical, it has no roots, and because it has no roots, it has no limitations, it can go to unthinkable extremes and sweep over the whole world.