Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016. It’s morning again in America. On this day, Americans will wake up, having chosen from two very different visions. We can peer across the Atlantic to former master and current ally, England, and see how another country faced a similar suite of two dramatically divergent choices. Confronted with mounting resentment, feelings of doom and gloom, and a tidal wave of elusive and deceitful false promises, our English brethren opted for ‘Leave,’ spurring Brexit. The alternative option, ‘Stay,’ would have been a vindication of the European project, of internationalism, and of an optimistic outlook for the country and its position in the world.
With Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Americans face a similar referendum. The former expounds a vision of robustness and vitality, one that—while conceding and addressing the many problems we face—is a fundamentally positive, proud, and hopeful—if a bit audacious—outlook. The latter serves as a loud wrecking ball to political norms and protocol, promulgates unbridled pessimism, has the instincts of a sophist and the characteristics of a demagogue, relishes in his swaggering egotism, and paints a picture of America as a country teetering on the brink of collapse while propping himself up as its lone redeemer.
Trump’s crass assumptions and dark depictions of America are shared by vast swaths of the electorate. His aversion to all things expected—following the teleprompter, chastising the alt-right and David Dukes of America, respecting the legitimacy and fairness of elections, and ignoring petty criticism or taunts—signals a watershed moment in American politics. His popularity and widespread appeal are indicative of an electoral tipping point. Resentment toward the ‘Establishment,’ immigrants, the United Nations, NATO, and other scapegoats has reached such a fever pitch that an inexperienced and unknowledgeable outsider like Trump has ascended through the ranks of the GOP and reached its apex, as the party toils through a new era of infighting and existential threats.
Clinton offers America a consummate career in public service, a cautious approach to decision-making, and a more rounded and nuanced understanding of the trials and tribulations of the hard choices required by public office. She is bedeviled by the normal issues that attend career politicians: a long paper trail of voting records and previous policy stances, transparency concerns, and fears of an unassailable alliance with entrenched and moneyed interests in D.C. and on Wall Street. She faces questionable and inescapable concerns, notably her record of hawkishness and a shady email server, which was emphatically brought once again to the fore just 11 days before the election by FBI Director James Comey (allaying any conspiratorial concerns that the FBI was in bed with ‘Clinton, Inc.’).
If he wins Tuesday, Trump will undoubtedly be an agent of change. It could not be more obvious that with his apolitical background, unique proposals, and cult-like following, he is the renegade candidate in this election, the one that will march into D.C. on Jan. 20 and proclaim that he is here to ‘stir things up’ (another unprintable three-word phrase might more appropriately describe his intentions). Some Bernie Sanders supporters, and even “some who saw change in Obama,” are flocking to Trump as a result of their dissatisfaction with staying the course.
Clinton, as detractors quip, is to some extent “four more years of Obama.” The Sanders movement succeeded in pulling her toward the left flank of the Democratic Party, so much so that she is the most progressive candidate in years, yet she has a center-left, relatively conservative record for a Democrat. Despite her shift to the left, she represents the pinnacle of Establishment and the embodiment of status quo.
And all things considered, Trump’s idea that a hegemony of business titans, journalists, editorial boards, politicos, and foreign leaders are backing Clinton isn’t false—it is undeniable. Clinton has received more than 200 endorsements from daily and weekly newspapers, including apolitical editorial boards, such as USA Today, and historically conservative ones, like the Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, and the Arizona Republic. Scores of career Republicans, George Bush and Ronald Reagan staffers and high-level aides, and national security advisers have endorsed her. George H.W. Bush is voting for her. W. Bush very well may be, while the Libertarian ticket vice presidential candidate, Bill Weld, is ‘vouching’ for her.
Trump takes all of this in stride, chalking it up—in typical conspiratorial fashion—as a global Illuminati-esque scheme to stifle his candidacy. But these realities don’t reflect some sort of global, neoliberal, elite conspiracy in which a ruling class is trying to impose its dogma on the people writ large. Instead, these endorsements reflect what they are: self-interested, honest assessments of each candidate, from individuals who have experience and exposure to every realm of policy that the president must work in daily and meticulously.
Why would members of the press be favorably disposed to Trump, when he routinely threatens, sues, and berates them for printing what he says and does? Why would the national security community be inclined to support him when he boasts that he knows more than the Pentagon and senior military officials?
Alas, across the pond, Brexit may not be set in stone. A court ruled last week that Parliament must vote to approve Brexit. Amid unease in the financial services sector, the prospect of multinationals leaving the country, well-founded economic and trade concerns, and the prospect of Irish and Scottish withdrawal from the United Kingdom, members of Parliament very well may reconsider if Brexit is in the country’s best interests. In a similar vein, Americans would be well-served to question whether dramatic, unprecedented, misguided, and extreme change is in the country’s best interests.
This Tuesday, voters will cast their ballots, polls will close, tallies will commence, a winner will be declared, and Americans will fall asleep. The next day, it’ll be morning in America, but the sun could rise over two starkly different countries with completely antithetical prevailing beliefs and outlooks. One vision—like that of Reagan’s famous 1984 television advertisement—is optimistic, yet cautious and controlled; informed by reason and ambition, yet tempered by reality and experience; illustrative of a path forward, but cognizant of the difficulties and unsteady times of a turbulent world. The other vision resembles that of Barry Goldwater or Joseph McCarthy—daring and untested; hysterical and unsteady; extreme and unconcerned. The election is more than just a referendum on a package of policies—it is a decision on whether we steer our country forward or back, how we view America and its position and the world, and whether we tolerate jarringly un-American ideals and precepts.
Featured Image by Ross D. Franklin and Gerald Herbert / AP Photo