Monday, July 11, 2016

The Lesser of Two Evils

By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

We hear it during every Presidential election.

Average voters bemoan the two choices placed in front of them, and grit their teeth as they select the "lesser of two evils." It's a tired cliché, usually followed by America electing another President, similar to the last, and our lives go on as usual.

But this election feels a little different, doesn't it?

Sure, plenty of people threatened to move to Canada in 2008. I mean, there was a freshman Senator (who was black!) running against a 72-year old Senator, who was sliding further to the right by the day, and had taken on, perhaps, the least informed Vice Presidential nominee in American history.

Still, it didn't feel like the end of the world if either was elected. Republican nominee John McCain was an aging establishment politician. As long as he kept breathing, and we were spared a Sarah Palin presidency, not much would change.

As it turned out, Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States, and employed mostly left-centrist policies. Yes, his race played a role on both sides, as the left and center celebrated his status as the first African-American president, while the far right did a poor job of hiding its racist feelings toward the new leader of the free world.

Or maybe I'm wrong. Perhaps those in the "birther" movement would have asked for, and questioned the validity of, any president's birth certificate. I'm sure race had nothing to do with that.

But, despite what both Fox News and MSNBC will tell you, America hasn't fundamentally changed over the last seven-plus years. The world has, as globalization's effects, both good and bad, changed the American economy, but as far as social policy goes-

Obama never came for your guns.

Racism still exists.

Obama's attempt at health care reform passed, eventually, but it wasn't a single payer system that removed private sector insurance companies. Though nearly every Republican presidential candidate this cycle has labeled "Obamacare" a failed experiment, many have called for health care solutions and changes that already exist because of the Affordable Care Act. 

Guess it wasn't so radical after all.

For all the cries of spending and government waste, the budget deficit has decreased from over a trillion dollars (about 10 percent of of US GDP) in 2009, to $435 billion (about 3 percent of GDP) in 2015.

Of course, the fact that we still have a deficit means the US National Debt continues to grow, but that's not unusual either. In fact, in the last 40 years only two presidents have turned a budget surplus. Those would be Jimmy Carter, whose term from 1977-1981 is widely used as a Republican punch line, and Bill Clinton, who reduced the debt in both his 1990s terms.

The tax cuts and military spending of Ronald Reagan and both George Bushes collectively increased the debt by over 60 percent of American GDP, only interrupted by a 9 percent reduction under Clinton. Again, it would seem that Obama, whose much criticized stimulus package and continued military action around the world, costing the government trillions, is far closer to a traditional Republican than many would like to believe. 

But this year, things are different.

As much as Obama looked different than a traditional candidate, he ended up being a relatively moderate president. This time around, Hillary Clinton would seem to fit that bill. She's an establishment, moderate Democrat, who has changed her mind on several issues to align with popular opinion. Much like Obama, who "evolved" on the issue of gay marriage, Clinton has, along with the general population, become slightly more socially liberal in the past decade.

Still, that's far from the whole story with Hillary Clinton, a career politician who never seems to be able to shake the shadow of scandal. While the FBI did not recommend criminal charges against Clinton, who used a personal Email server to handle sensitive, and sometimes classified information, FBI Director James Comey did call Clinton's actions "extremely careless," and called into question her judgement when it came to handling American secrets during her time as Secretary of State. 

While many Democrats breathed a sigh of relief at the FBI's recommendation not to prosecute Clinton, it was far from a ringing endorsement, and actually called into question the one thing she's truly been running on: Her competency.

After all, polls have shown that voters don't find Hillary to be "honest" or "trustworthy," so the only thing left was her seemingly impressive résumé. 

Now Democrats are left with a candidate nobody trusts, nobody finds to be honest, nobody really connects with, and now we believe to be incapable of handling sensitive information. Not a great place to be, and it shows up in her "unfavorable ratings." RealClear Politics gives Clinton a 55.5 percent unfavorable rating, based on several national polls, a number which would spell certain doom, were she not running against an even less likable candidate.

Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has re-written the rules of American politics over the last 14 months. Through a combination of social media bluster, raucous rallies, populist appeals and tough talk, Trump obliterated a crowded Republican primary field, and now sits within four or five points of Clinton in most general election polls.

However, much like Clinton, those surface-level facts don't express just how dire the situation is for Republicans.

There's a reason why 61.1 percent of Americans hold an "unfavorable" view of Trump.

Last week Trump, depending on your feelings about him, either committed another gaffe, or again showed his overt bigotry. When the avid Tweeter posted a meme traced back to a Neo-Nazi message board, featuring Hillary Clinton's face on top of a pile of money, next to a six-pointed Star of David, the usual outrage followed.

Trump, of course, claimed no knowledge of the meme's origins, and pleaded ignorance regarding the star, which was reminiscent of the symbol German Jews were forced to wear during the Third Reich. With the star, the cash, and the claims of corruption, the meme was two spots away from anti-Semitic bingo, but still the Trump camp claims the thought never crossed anyone's mind, and that this was a creation of the "dishonest" media.

As with Hillary, who is either untrustworthy or incompetent for her poor handling of state secrets, Trump is, in this case, either an outright bigot (or at least actively courting bigots), or a moron.

Trump's willingness to push an anti-Semitic meme from a white supremacist source, along with well documented anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim policy suggestions would seem to make him unelectable, but not in 2016.

This is the same man who mocked a disabled reporter, insulted a female opponent's appearance, discussed the size of his genitalia during a presidential debate, and asked an American citizen judge to recuse himself from a lawsuit pending against Trump University, simply because said judge is of Mexican descent.

If Hillary should be disqualified for poorly handling state secrets, accepting money from Wall Street and foreign governments for speaking engagements, and through the Clinton Foundation, and for being unable to save diplomats during the Benghazi attack, then surely Trump should be disqualified for either being a bigot against multiple races, nationalities, disabilities and sexes, or being too stupid to see how his rhetoric inspires and empowers those who actually do hate Muslims, Jews, women, the disabled and Hispanics.

Whether or not Trump is actually a racist may be a somewhat moot point. What is important is he is riding a wave of white supremacy, xenophobia and jingoism all the way to the Republican National Convention.

Already, this should disqualify Trump from the office of the Presidency, but even if he were the most sensitive, egalitarian candidate, it wouldn't change the fact that he is comically unqualified, and presenting ideas that would destroy the American economy.

While Trump has largely avoided stating concrete positions on, well, anything, he has given a few thoughts on immigration (building a wall, making Mexico pay for it… somehow, and deporting over 11 million undocumented immigrants), and the Federal Debt (defaulting on the debt, or renegotiating with out debtors).

The first position is where Trump initially earned political support. You'd be hard-pressed to find anybody, on either side of the aisle, who doesn't want a secure border, and doesn't want to know who is coming into the country. The idea of a wall, when there is already plenty of fencing, different barricades, check points and patrols, seems like expensive overkill (especially in a country where drug dealers are famously good at digging tunnels), but sure, as long as he can magically make another country pay for it, why not?

But rounding up 11 million people is a disaster of an idea, morally and pragmatically. First of all, many of these people are law-abiding citizens, working jobs nobody else will take, trying to raise families and give their children the American dream.

Now, anyone who is here illegally that is a violent criminal should either be in prison or deported. I'm pretty sure the majority of people on both sides would agree with that sentiment.

But are we really to believe that the "moral" thing to do is to round all 11 million undocumented immigrants up, with thousands of new officers (or by taking thousands of officers, who are already overworked, away from their normal duties), and separate the undocumented parents from their US-citizen children? Or, should we just revoke citizenship from children born in the United States, simply because their parents came here illegally? Now we're headed down a dangerous path.

Ethically, it's a bankrupt idea (insert joke about Trump's numerous bankruptcies here), but just getting together the man-power to do it would be logistical nightmare. If we're to believe that police departments across the country are undermanned as it is, what's going to happen when border states, or federal law enforcement agencies, begin losing officers to Trump's relocation project?

Next, let's take a look at Trump's other dangerous idea: Defaulting on, or renegotiating our national debt.

PolitiFact spoke with numerous experts, who each gave a plethora of reasons why Trump's ideas are either dangerous or make no sense, but the larger point is this: American debt is the most stable investment in the world, which is why foreign and domestic entities keep buying it.

The only reason people do business with the Lannisters in Game of Thrones is because they always pay their debts, and US Treasury bonds work the same way. Lose that trust, and lose the consistent financial support of the world (or The Iron Bank... Or Bronn).

Now, this could all be a moot point in Trump's eyes because, as he once said, the US will never default on its debt because it "prints the money." This is a statement so out of touch with global economics, and even the idea of value in currency, that it would seem to come from a 10-year old, not someone claiming to be worth $10 billion.

Again, either Trump is advocating an economic policy he knows will have dire consequences, or is incredibly ignorant. Neither is encouraging.

As if all that wasn't enough, Donald Trump's admiration for brutal dictators, genocidal strongmen and human rights violators should scare the daylights out of American voters. Yet, the same party that actively worried about Obama issuing executive orders, calling him a "tyrant" on multiple occasions, seems content to watch their nominee praise Vladimir Putin, marvel at the rise to power of Kim Jong-un, give Bashar al-Assad an "A" grade for leadership, and bemoan the downfalls of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, along with Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

It shouldn't surprise us that Trump has such reverence for actual tyrants, because he acts like one. Trump has done everything in his power to impede the work of America's free press during the campaign, even revoking access to his campaign events from the Washington Post for what he deemed to be "unfair coverage."

Like most tyrants and bullies, Trump puffs out his chest, but instantly plays the "unfair" card whenever somebody actually hits him. 

Trump also recently attempted to overtly assert his authority on Capital Hill, meeting with Republican Congressmen in an attempt to unite the party heading into the convention.

How did that go?

Well, Trump called one Senator who has opposed him a "loser," and started several heated exchanges with the lawmakers who have not bowed to his every will, even claiming that three who opposed him will lose their upcoming reelection races (though only one is actually up for reelection this November).

So, American voters, you are faced with a grim decision this election season.

You truly must choose the lesser of two evils, but the choice seems clear to me.

Is Hillary Clinton trustworthy? No.

Is Donald Trump trustworthy? No.

But, does Hillary Clinton have relevant experience? Yes, tons of it, while Donald Trump doesn't seem to understand the difference between declaring bankruptcy on a failing casino, and risking the full faith and credit of the United States government.

Is Hillary Clinton stoking the flames of racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia? No, but that's pretty much Donald Trump's platform.

Can Hillary Clinton at least pretend to carry herself with dignity for the length of a state dinner, and act like an adult while meeting with foreign leaders? Yes, we've seen it.

Can Donald Trump? Uh, maybe, but that seems like a stretch at this point. The guy can't even go a week without Tweeting something that offends millions of people. And yeah, I know, his supporters love that he speaks his mind, but shouldn't a president not offend large swaths of the American population? And, shouldn't they maybe consider the ideas in their head before just blurting them out, or worse, typing them to be preserved on the internet forever?

Both candidates are bad, but please, stop drawing this false equivalency of "Hillary had emails on a private server and got money from Wall Street, so that makes her just as bad as a man riding a white supremacist wave, with no experience or idea how government works."

Look, nobody wants to vote for more of the same, and plenty of Americans are sick of the status quo, but change just for the sake of change isn't a great idea either. If you spent your whole year eating chicken nuggets, it would probably be a great idea to change your diet, but if you're only choice was more chicken nuggets, or eating a hand grenade, you'd probably continue eating those nuggets.

Sorry America, nobody's happy about it, but eat the nuggets. At least you'll keep your head, though it may eventually hurt your heart.


Alex said...


This piece didn't address third parties and I am curious about your stance.

Most people I talk to tend to agree that a third major party would be a good thing for American politics and this seems to be a good year to pull for one considering how unfavorably people view Trump and Clinton

On the other hand, I personally think it is incredibly important not to split votes in order to avoid Trump winning a plurality.

What say you? Should people jump to the minor party candidate if they like her or him more? Or should they vote for the lesser evil to prevent the greater evil?

Joe Parello said...

I knew the 3rd party candidate issue was coming, and I have a few thoughts on that.
First of all, while I find Gary Johnson to be an entertaining character, and a seemingly well-meaning guy (he was great on Bill Maher recently), he isn't a much better choice all around either.
Now, if he were polling better and actually had a chance to win, I'd say go with him if you find him to be less scary than both major-party candidates. But, given the fact that all a vote for Johnson would be, at this point, is a protest vote, I'd say this isn't the election to throw your vote away on a losing proposition. Yeah, given the "unfavorable" numbers for both candidates, this would seem like an election where a 3rd party candidate could garner some support, but I think people who fear Trump vote for someone other than Hillary at their peril.
Especially in swing states like Florida :)
If Hillary were running against Rubio, or even a former GOP nominee like Romney or McCain, I'd say a protest vote against the establishment of both parties would be well worth it, but, as I wrote above (multiple times, haha), this is a very special election.
I would argue that a vote against Trump, even for Hillary, is this election's equivalent of the "protest vote." It's a vote against fear-mongering, totalitarianism and anti-intellectualism. It would be telling all the people in the Trump fringe of the Republican party that you can't win by dividing people up, and you should have some substantive policy proposals if you want to be the leader of the free world. In essence, it's a vote to say that our President should care about all Americans and should have some idea how the government works.
The only difference is that, while a protest vote usually goes to someone who can't win, this election it will go to someone you know won't be the kind of president you want. But, at least they'd be a president, and not wanna-be strongman.
So yeah, to answer your question in a million words, vote for the lesser evil to prevent the greater evil, because Trump isn't just a right-wing politician. He's something far scarier than that.

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