I watched every Republican and Democratic primary debate this election season. Every one. Yes, even the ones where it seemed like the Republicans had unloaded a clown car onstage and everyone spoke for about 7 minutes. I watched through the cracks about Carly Fiorina’s face and Chris Christie’s takedown of Marco Rubio.
Perhaps it’s election fatigue, or perhaps it’s the depressing realization that most humans are emotional and don’t care that much about researching issues. I think it hit me this morning at CVS when the cashier said, “So, are you going to watch tonight?”
“Of course,” I said, trying to sound civic-minded but hoping to not discover that the mild, smiling woman I greet several mornings a week was about to reveal a Trump preference.
“It’s incredible, right? This election is a disgrace. Both just as bad. Both want to talk only about themselves and not about the country.”
A younger me would have gotten into it with her. This new, resigned me smiled and paid for my dish detergent, uttering a noncommittal, “What can you do.”
And therein lies what’s so depressing about this election. Because, no, they’re not the same. One is a thug with no preparation or intellectual curiosity, whose entire campaign has involved insulting groups and individuals. I feel for my friends who are true conservatives. I really do. Because, guess what? There’s no conservative running in this presidential election. There’s a pandering demagogue with no actual thoughts of his own, other than a bottomless pit of the need to self-aggrandize.
When Hillary tries to talk about issues, pundits rail on her for being boring. When Trump attacks her, commentators say she looks weak if she doesn’t respond. But, when she does, the narrative becomes “They’re both the same. We should get the mudslinging out of the race.” When one guy slings mud and you duck for cover or wipe the mud off yourself, that does not make you the same.
I actually caught this on CNN the other day: the commentators were juxtaposing clips from Trump and Hillary’s campaign manager, Robby Mook. Trump said something nonsensical, ripped from a third-grader’s schoolyard fight, “It’s gonna be great. Believe me. You’ll see.” Just nonsense. Robby Mook addressed the issue with more words, some of which contained three syllables.
“You see? Here’s the problem?” said the commentator. “Trump uses words that people understand. He gives them certainty. But then Hillary’s team uses these big words, and they’re not as emotional. So who is going to inspire more confidence?”
Ummm… the person who knows some three-syllable words?
When did it become a virtue in America to not know big words? When did we get to the point when the most complex thought we are believed to be able to digest is that we’re going to be “great”? When did we lose the capacity to discern that just because one candidate is wholly unqualified, unprepared and unserious, it does not necessarily follow that the other person’s flaws must rise to that same level of national danger? When did the media decide that “fair reporting” meant equally fifty-fifty parts of scrutiny on both candidates, when one is lying and proposing things that would bankrupt us and bring us to the brink (or beyond) of war and disaster, and the other’s biggest crime is having been in the public eye long enough for a lot of false allegations to be made against her?
I want to scream at everyone who ever says, “Oh, they’re both just as bad,” the following: “If Republicans had something concrete they could actually bring her down with, some real proof of wrongdoing, don’t you think they would have delighted in doing that some time in the last 25 years? Do you think she’s that crafty and that lucky that she’s been able to do everything that it’s alleged she’s done… and gotten away with it? Under the biggest microscope on Earth?”
Serious, thoughtful and experienced people on both sides of the aisle have been trying to sound the alarm for months now. TRUMP IS DANGEROUS. It’s not that they’re both equally unpalatable. Trump is volatile, childish, thin-skinned and has no understanding of how government or economics actually work. (Putting aside for a moment the fact that he’s actually been a terrible businessman, bankrupting company after company and stiffing the little guy repeatedly, even if he was an amazing businessman, that still is not preparation for being the steward for the biggest national economy in the world. It’s like saying that running a lemonade stand qualifies you to be a Fortune 500 CEO. The scale is so different, one thing is not training for another. Anyone who thinks it is is as incurious and ill-informed as the candidate they follow. Oh, and, besides, he’s actually a lousy businessman, as most successful business people will tell you).
So… will Hillary be more prepared, articulate and sane during the debate? Of course she will. But I’m not excited to watch because it will probably not make a lick of difference. The people who want to hate her hair, or her jacket, or who think she doesn’t smile enough will continue to blithely disregard that this is a fight for the soul of our nation, not a high school popularity contest. Like her, don’t like her. But, for goodness’ sake, people, listen to reason. Even if some of it comes in three-syllable words.