Although this particular nightmare of a presidential campaign has already been causing me anguish for what seems like far longer than its fifteen months, now that Labor Day has come and gone, many say that we have moved into what has traditionally been considered general election season. Judging by some of the latest developments, it would appear that the political world will continue to be crazily disturbing during the final months of this campaign and very possibly for the next few years.
As a conservative whose first presidential election as an eligible voter saw a victory by the... ummm... rather shady Bill Clinton over the much more upstanding President George H. W. Bush, and who has seen the only two subsequent results that favored my preferred candidate take place in quite harrowing and narrow fashion, I have for a very long time been quite disappointed by and critical of the choices many of my fellow citizens have made in selecting so many liberal Democrats as our Chief Executives. Now, though, trying to make sense of what people find acceptable or desirable in a president or what they see as making someone a good leader is even more incredibly baffling, as I find myself also disagreeing with those who support the Republican nominee.
Donald Trump’s numbers in more recent polls have shown a much closer race between him and Hillary Clinton, so it appears that more and more potential voters are deciding that this tabloid and reality show “celebrity” is qualified to be the President of the United States. I am well aware that Mrs. Clinton is a candidate with many flaws, but it seems to me that the extent to which Trump shares those faults is largely being disregarded. For example, it is often reported that polls show most people do not think Clinton is honest or trustworthy, and the almost-daily stream of stories about her e-mails and the Clinton Foundation are unlikely to help her improve those perceptions. However, I don’t find the argument that “Clinton is dishonest and corrupt, therefore we must vote for Trump” at all persuasive. In fact, I find it rather mind-boggling, so let’s take a quick tour of just a few of Trump’s less-than stellar qualities.
Donald Trump is a habitually dishonest man. He has been lying about things big and small throughout this campaign. From his claims that he, in his superior wisdom, always opposed the war in Iraq and that his strong Christianity has led the IRS to hound him with constant audits since the administration of George W. Bush (not-previously known for an anti-religious bias), to his assertions that he was the one to promote Cleveland as the site for the Republican convention and that the NFL had written him a letter expressing dissatisfaction with the fall debate schedule, Trump apparently has no qualms about foisting an amazing number of untruths on the American public. Since he does this even when his statements can easily be proven false, he doesn’t seem worried that a lack of honesty will hurt him, which is interesting for someone who felt assigning the nickname “Lyin’ Ted” to one of his chief primary opponents would be particularly damaging. Perhaps Trump expects that, no matter how much contrary evidence there may be, voters will actually believe what may be his biggest lie of all: that he will always tell them the truth.
During his run for president, Donald Trump has taken multiple and often-shifting positions on many issues. Recently, he even spent around a week very publicly dithering about whether or not he would “soften” the tough stance on illegal immigration that people have come to identify as one of the most prominent features of his campaign. In the end, he stuck to some plans about the topic and left others up in the air for the future. To me, this was just another indication that no one should have much confidence that a President Trump (perish the thought) would actually pursue any particular policy that he proposes as a candidate, but Trump’s supporters don’t seem to let such things trouble them for long. I don’t know if they assume that whichever of his contradictory ideas they like are the ones he really means or if they just trust Trump so much that they believe whatever he finally decides to do will be the right thing. For the latter scenario to be true for any significant number of people would be a pretty scary and depressing thought. After all, in addition to his frequent flip-flopping, Trump’s long record of breaking promises and violating people’s trust, including his failure to live up to contracts and business deals, his personal/marital history, and his questionable business enterprises, should serve as ample demonstration that he is completely undeserving of any such devoted faith. (By the way, why was that Trump University fraud court case postponed from summertime until after the election, again?)
It’s certainly understandable that many people are concerned about corruption in government and about the possibility of politicians using their positions for personal gain. Donald Trump has spent quite a bit of time telling us that pretty much everyone in political life, especially in Washington, is bought and paid for by their campaign donors and that he would be different because he was paying for his own campaign. This may sound good to voters at first glance, but Trump also told us that he knows about this terribly corrupt system because he himself was part of it for years, donating to various politicians so that they would do things for him down the line. Furthermore, Trump’s claims to be self-funding during the primaries weren’t really true, but, in any case, he openly moved to a donation-seeking model for the general election phase of the campaign. Others have pointed out before that Trump’s own characterization of the relationship between donors and candidates would seem to mean that he would now be “owned” by those who give him money, but we needn’t dwell on that at the moment. More to the point are eyebrow-raising stories about Trump spending some of the money donated to his campaign in ways that benefit him, his family, and his businesses. Using campaign funds to cover steadily increasing office-space rent at Trump properties or to purchase large quantities of Trump books for distribution to convention-goers, for example, don’t exactly epitomize good stewardship of supporters’ money or altruistic public service. I would also point out that it seems those wishing to wield influence over Mr. Trump’s judgment don’t necessarily need to give him money or material gifts, but can merely offer a bit of flattery to sway his opinion. For instance, Trump has repeatedly praised and defended Russian leader Vladimir Putin, even when interviewers point out that Putin has invaded neighboring countries and is believed to have had opponents and journalists killed. Why does Trump have a positive view of Putin? Well, in his own words, “if he says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him.” How reassuring to think that the pronouncements of our president might be determined by such criteria. Finally, for those who believe that, no matter what, the Clintons and their friends are the champions of self-serving political corruption, we should not forget that, until very recently, Donald Trump was part of that very circle himself. He praised Mrs. Clinton’s work at the State Department, said she would make a good president, and donated to both the Clinton Foundation and to Hillary’s 2008 presidential campaign, and she (in return, according to his comments in a debate last year) attended his most recent wedding.
It would be wonderful to have an honest, trustworthy candidate free from suspicion of corruption to wholeheartedly support in the presidential election, but the primary process has ensured that no such option is available from the major parties this year. Hillary Clinton’s shortcomings in these areas are under near-constant discussion, but if dishonesty and questionable political or financial dealings disqualify her from the presidency, we’ll have to rule Donald Trump out of consideration, as well. Of course, barring some stunning development, one of the two will be our next president, and it seems that, for whatever reason, Trump’s chances improved quite a bit during August. We’ll see how things turn out, but no one should be under the illusion that, should Trump win, we’d have a Lincolnian “Honest Donald” rather than a Nixonian “Tricky Trump” in the White House.