A lot of people are upset about the harsh mood of the election, the aggression and ferocity of the campaigns. Of course, the stakes are high; the effort is to defeat the opposite side, preferably with a knock-out blow. But the bitterness of the adversity, the venomous charges levelled against the candidates, have left many stunned. Granted that the two sides will attack each other, but few expected the degree of hate and contempt the campaigns would spew.
I have lived through ten US presidential elections, six of them at close range as a Washington resident. I have not seen an election as full of anger and acrimony as the current one. Even as I say this, I realize how badly I represent the reality. The vulgarity of the exchanges during the election owe squarely to the plebeian character of one candidate, Donald Trump. He is restrained neither by a sense of decency nor a minimal respect for the truth, and can merrily state as a fact what is at best a surmise and at worst the wish fulfillment of an ailing mind. Trump makes allegations with no allusion to evidence and levels charges with no respect for reality. This has sadly created an atmosphere of animosity that spells a danger sign for normal democratic dialectics.
Nor is it a policy to bar people from entering the country, as a refugee or immigrant, on ground of religion. It is rather a trial balloon, to gain some people’s support by fomenting distrust of a community. A similar idea is to initiate close police surveillance of Muslim communities simply because they are Muslim. These are preposterous ideas that can never become policy, for they are blatantly unconstitutional.
Just as ridiculous – not just loathsome – are the ideas that we should torture adversaries or kill their family members. Or that we could eliminate the Islamic State by indiscriminate endless bombing without any concern for civilian casualties.
Trump advances these infantile ideas simply to warm the cockles of the simple-minded hearts who are yearning for simple solutions to vexing problems. Clearly he has not thought out these ideas or taken the advice of people who have thought them out. These are in fact not policy prescriptions at all. These are just mantras that the gullible can spout to other gullible people and feel that a solution is at hand.
That is the tell-tale sign of a man who does not intend to play by the critical rule of a democratic society: you must tell the people what you intend to do and let them decide whether they want to let you do it. You must unfurl your policies and humbly let the voters choose what they like. If you are not ready to do so, then you are unfit to play the game at all. Kicking the chess board does not qualify as a style of playing chess.
Hillary Clinton, likable and credible or not, has clearly entered the arena with a readiness to observe the rules of the game. You may scoff at that as the guiles of a policy wonk or the wiles of a sly politician, but you cannot but accept her as a legitimate player. It is better than being just an astute charlatan.