As the 2016 US Presidential election slithers to a close, the world looks on with a mixture of fascination and horror. The race has been a long and arduous battle for all involved, and, with ten days to go before the majority of American voters cast their ballots, a consensus has emerged among the media experts forecasting the election. The majority believe that Hillary Clinton, Democratic nominee for president and heir apparent to incumbent president Barack Obama, will defeat the Republican nominee, television personality and businessman Donald Trump, on 8 November.
Of this much we can be certain: Donald Trump has unwittingly done everything he possibly can to torpedo his own candidacy, from engaging in a weeks-long battle with a Gold Star family to bragging about sexual assault on tape. Of late, the polls, which prior to the reveal of the aforementioned tape were extremely close, have shifted to reflect this reality. Each day brings a new set of polls that show Hillary Clinton possesses a commanding lead. Some experts have forecast that states which haven’t voted for Democrats in over forty years could potentially be in play, and although the numbers certainly look promising for the Democratic nominee, it’s important not to let these prognostications cloud one’s judgement. While the impact of Trump’s leaked comments about women shouldn’t be understated, I don’t believe it has altered the fundamental dynamics of the race. Each time Trump has found himself falling behind due to some self-inflicted wound, he comes close to catching up with Clinton in a period of weeks. Indeed, as of today, the polls seem to be tightening. And while early voting trends thus far look promising for Clinton, Republicans currently hold the lead over Democrats in early votes cast in Florida, a pivotal swing state. Perhaps most importantly, 15% of Americans still claim to be undecided voters— an unusually high number that could easily tip the scales either way.
To put it simply, those who predict a Clinton landslide—a victory à la Roosevelt in 1936 or Reagan in 1984— are kidding themselves. In today’s incredibly polarized political environment, this election is going to be very close. Come 8 November, if Hillary Clinton indeed emerges the victor, it will be in spite of the fact that nearly half the country has voted against her. Not only this, but as the polls in Florida and Ohio continue to tighten, Trump has begun promising a “Brexit-plus” victory in November, stating repeatedly that “[he] will shock the world.” There’s a strong temptation this election cycle to believe that the polls, just like they underestimated support for Brexit, are similarly underestimating support for Trump— the comparable “politically incorrect” option.
Now, people who know me tend to realize very quickly that I’m quite outspoken about my political beliefs. You don’t have to talk to me very long to figure out my opinions on world affairs. But this blog post is a first for me: it marks the first time I’ve written extensively about politics. In an ordinary election cycle, I would cast a ballot for my preferred candidate and attempt to persuade my friends and family to do the same. But this is no ordinary election cycle. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that a Trump victory would herald the end of civilization as we know it, it is my belief that it would represent a clear and present danger to the United States and the world. It isn’t just that I believe Donald Trump is the single most unqualified individual ever nominated by a major political party (although he is); nor is it the fact that I disagree with the majority of his political positions, from his views on abortion (disturbing) to gun control (horrifying) to climate change (delusional). It isn’t even his dangerous claim that the US electoral process is somehow being rigged, a claim which undermines the very fabric of democracy and is disqualifying all by itself.
The true danger of Trump is that he represents something far more sinister: the potential to shatter the equilibrium that has emerged post-World War II. This developing global order, while flawed, represents the greatest hope for humankind. In the past few years, from the economic recession of 2008 to the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East to the United Kingdom’s catastrophic decision to leave the European Union, this order has seen itself under increasing strain. The sweeping rise of nationalist movements across Europe combined with the descent of Syria, Yemen, and Libya into complete chaos have created challenges and threats the next president will undoubtedly grapple with throughout their term. Donald Trump has demonstrated a complete disinterest in the complex geopolitical factors at play in today’s world, from his repeated confusion in the debates regarding the Syrian Civil War to his bizarre adoration of dictatorial rulers to his pledge to ban all Muslims from entering the United States. Instead of highlighting a clear foreign policy and setting forth a concrete agenda, Trump has instead opted to take up isolationism as his rallying cry, styling himself as the voice of the dispossessed masses harmed by globalization.
Now, to some, as wrongheaded and backwards as many of Trump’s positions may seem, his isolationism is the least offensive. Many people on the left as well as the right would argue that every instance of US intervention since the Iraq War (and actually before then) have been ill-conceived ventures; that America should give up playing the world’s policeman and focus on its own, very real domestic problems. But it’s debatable whether Trump even believes his own anti-globalist rhetoric, and this is the true danger a hypothetical Trump presidency represents.
The truth is that no one can predict what he’ll do with this power if elected because he constantly contradicts himself. Does he mean to ban all Muslims from entering the United States if elected, or is he just talking about “extreme vetting,” whatever that means? Who knows? What is his plan to defeat the Islamic State? Who knows? He isn’t telling us. Is the border wall with Mexico even a serious proposal anymore? Who knows? Definitely not Trump, who seems to shift positions on this issue every time he opens his mouth. When all of these positions— which have defined his campaign from the beginning— seem to change with the wind, it becomes readily apparent that there is no conviction behind them whatsoever.
None of this, of course, does anything to detract from the appalling nature of many of the ideas he has given voice to over his political career. In particular, Trump’s willingness to indulge the absurd notions perpetuated by some of his most fanatical supporters is particularly troubling. When I compare this election to that of 2012, in which Obama defeated former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, it becomes clear there is a fundamental lack of respect for the institution of democracy present in Trump’s campaign. Although in my opinion he had many faults as a candidate, Romney repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to work within the democratic system. Trump, conversely, routinely engages in ad hominem attacks against his political rivals, opines that the media is full of liars and is “rigging” the election, and refuses to offer substantive policy to back up the many radical proposals voiced by him and his surrogates. The contrast with Romney, who ran an issues-oriented campaign from start to finish, could not be greater.
As tempting as it is for many journalists to pretend that this is an ordinary election between two candidates with competing philosophies, this election is nothing of the sort. Only one candidate has articulated a clear, reasoned, and defensible vision for the future of America, while the other is demonstrably uninterested in governing. While I sympathize with many of the arguments that have been raised against Hillary Clinton, all these arguments hold little weight when the alternative is Donald Trump. Like her or not, Hillary Clinton has spent over thirty years in public service. She has a pretty good track record of holding high profile positions and not bringing about the wholesale destruction of civilization. Donald Trump, a candidate who has shown no attempt to meaningfully articulate his vision for America, has proven himself to be completely undeserving of the immense responsibility the presidency endows.
Lastly, a personal note to everyone reading this article: For those who aren’t American citizens, first, I’m sorry you have to put up with our insanity; and, second, if you have American friends, encourage them to vote. To my American readers, as voters we are endowed with great responsibility. Like it or not, in today’s increasingly interconnected world, the choice we make in a couple of weeks will affect not just the future of the United States, but that of the entire world. So if you read this far, I strongly encourage you to read at least a few more articles with other perspectives on the upcoming election. Read viewpoints you may disagree with as stepping outside one’s comfort zone in order to understand differences of opinion is vital to a healthy democracy.
Americans, it may seem easy at times to take our right to vote for granted. Certainly it doesn’t seem that individual votes possess much power. But I would remind you that five hundred votes in Florida determined the 2000 election that set in motion every decision that the United States has made in the past sixteen years. One needs only to look at the current state of Iraq to see the consequences our votes carry. We owe it not just to our country, but to every country affected by our choice of leader to vote with the gravity of these consequences in mind. In 2016, the stakes demand nothing less.
(For United States citizens abroad who still do not possess an absentee ballot, go to www.FVAP.gov to view your state’s individual deadlines. )