Fitness To Serve
As election day, November 8, 2016, approaches, more voters begin to grapple with which candidate they will cast their ballots for President, Congressional Representative and/or Senator, along with a slew of statewide and local elected positions and various ballot measures. When it comes to electing the next President, the first of three face-to-face debates between Donald Trump, the GOP candidate and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, was held to (hopefully) better inform us as to the qualifications, policy positions and future aspirations of the two candidates and convince us to vote for them over their opponent.
To this point, the campaign has been marked by the unease of having two main candidates with low personal favorability ratings among the voting public as a whole. Clinton won the Democratic nomination after a spirited contest with Independent VT Senator Bernie Sanders, who ran a progressive campaign to her left politically. Allegations were made regarding how she ultimately ended up winning the nomination, some of which resulted in the resignation of the DNC Chair, but Senator Sanders has since endorsed her and campaigned on her behalf, particularly among his core constituency of progressives and younger voters.
Donald Trump, on the other hand, made his way through the Republican primary process in a much different fashion than Clinton. He specialized in using rhetorical bombast, personal celebrity (if not notoriety) and the resulting free media coverage, along with controversial policy proposals to rouse interest in his candidacy and support among many disaffected voters who have felt ignored by the party establishment for years. In particular, he has made many disparaging remarks concerning women, undocumented immigrants (primarily those from south of the border with Mexico), Muslims and every opponent he faced in the Republican primaries – including personal attacks against many of them and their loved ones.
Congressional Republicans, while wary of the attacks on themselves by Trump, dutifully expended ( read “wasted”) copious quantities of time and money holding hearings trying to discredit Clinton for her email improprieties and her handling of the Benghazi terror attack. Their inquiries have consistently come up empty, but Trump still regularly refers to her as “Crooked Hillary” and enjoys hearing calls for her arrest and imprisonment among his faithful supporters at rallies as well as the Republican National Convention.
Clinton has had detractors for decades, with much of the animosity starting when her husband was President. Many left-leaning Democrats see her as a Corporate Democrat defender of the status quo and being too willing to compromise with the GOP on important issues in order to make gradual progress on others in the future. She has also been seen as supporting positions her husband took as President, some of which led to deregulation of the financial sector that resulted in the economic meltdown of the great recession which faced President Obama as soon as he was elected. The distrust she faced from the left has, obviously, been more than doubled by the open hostility of her GOP opponents. She agreed to run with a party platform heavily influenced by Sanders supporters, but many remain wary that she will push for reforms embodied in that platform upon election.
Trump, meanwhile, parlayed his media savvy, name recognition and penchant for creating controversy into votes and delegates at primaries and caucuses throughout the land. His method of berating and belittling anyone and anything he saw as an obstacle to his winning the nomination on his way to the Presidency worked very well in whittling down the huge initial field of contenders until he had an insurmountable lead heading into the GOP Convention he dominated. Since then, most of his competitors have endorsed him in the name of party unity or in the hope that it will aid their future political careers.
Of late, some of Trump’s shenanigans have started catching up with him. Some in the media have begun fact-checking some of the more outrageous claims he has been making. The birther controversy he fed to anti-Obama forces for years (many still believe that President Obama was not born in this country) finally came unglued and he publicly announced that the President’s status was legitimate. Calls for him to make public his income tax records from past years have continued, undeterred by his claims that he cannot release them while facing an IRS audit. His trustworthiness as viewed by the general public has been under siege as his refusal to be more transparent makes more people wonder what, exactly, he finds a need to hide from public scrutiny.
The way Trump treats women, members of minority ethnic and religious groups, as well as his political opponents, has perhaps helped him to solidify his support among his core constituencies, but it has also strengthened the resolve of those he has been attacking to ensure his defeat in November. Several major publications that have been endorsing Republican Presidential candidates for decades have come out either endorsing Clinton outright or at least encouraging people to not to elect him President because doing so is too risky. The Clinton campaign and Super PACs supporting her have made ample use of Trump’s own pronouncements pertaining to women and minorities in their advertising.
Trump’s initial face-to-face “debate” with Clinton did not go particularly well for him, either in the minds of media pundits or in subsequent public polling. He appeared to fall prey to some of Clinton’s attempts to bait him on issues like his taxes and his treatment of a former Miss Universe, among others. His 3 AM tweet rants on the subject have probably not aided him in his quest to appear “Presidential”. Be wary of thinking he has totally blown his chance at the Presidency, however. I recall the aftermath of the first Obama-Romney debate, during which much moaning was expressed over the perceived weakness of the President during that performance. He bounced back well in subsequent debates and ultimately prevailed. Trump doesn’t seem to be in Obama’s league when it comes to debates, but October is a long month and plenty of time remains for unforeseen events to transpire.
Calls to include candidates from other parties in the debates have once again fallen on deaf ears – due to poor polling on the parts of the Libertarian and Green Party candidates (the ones with the most state ballot access). This, again, is sort of a Catch-22 situation, due to the fact that these other candidates have neither the free television airtime nor the financial resources necessary to purchase their own airtime to get the name recognition they would need to poll better. The incestuous relationship between the two major parties and the debate rules and conditions helps to ensure an exclusionary situation will remain in place for the foreseeable future – unless we can get another billionaire like Ross Perot to run as an independent or third party candidate. That doesn’t bode well for our future democratic prospects. It would be nice to have a non-millionaire in the Oval Office again someday, though.
As for the two most talked about minor candidates, Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, has pretty much lost credibility as to fitness for the office by squandering what little media attention he has been afforded by being totally dumbfounded on national TV by questions about Aleppo and which foreign leader he admires. Jill Stein, Green Party candidate, has struggled to go above 1% in popularity polls. In 2000, Ralph Nader was accused of spoiling the election and giving the Presidency to Bush over Gore in Florida. This year, it seems Johnson may do that for Trump, though I can’t for the life of me understand why left-leaning Millennials would prefer him over Stein. He’s still polling much higher than she in most areas of the country, and that seems to be detracting more from Clinton than from Trump.
How the election will turn out is still up in the air. Attention needs to be paid to House, Senate and state gubernatorial and legislative races as well. Turning GOP dominated legislatures and Congress more Democratic and less reactionary would help alleviate some of the gridlock at the Federal level and anti-worker, pro-economic inequality and social intolerance being practiced over the past several years in many states. The anticipated turnover in SCOTUS in the near future should also play a role in determining who to vote for in November. While it may well be true that those most fit to serve as President of this country would never run for the office, let alone win the election, I find it hard to believe that Donald Trump would be anything other than the worst President of the United States of America in my lifetime. This would be made even worse if he Presided over a GOP-dominated Congress confirming his Supreme Court and other judicial nominees.
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