Public Comment

Campaign 2016

Arthur Blaustein
Friday October 28, 2016 - 09:57:00 AM

As if the country doesn't have enough problems a new malady has hit the American public--ESD, "election stress disorder" has affected more than half the voters in the nation. According to a new report by the American Psychological Association the symptoms are headaches, nausea, sleeplessness, light headedness and spiking of blood pressure. Small wonder given the sordidness and tawdriness of the past political year. It began with the Republican primary debates, not unlike 8th grade food fights in the school cafeteria and transitioned into "boy talk" in the locker room. And as we head into the final weeks Trump has said the election is rigged and called for vigilantes to monitor voting "in neighborhoods you know where." History will say that this election cycle, like none in our history, demeaned public discourse, denigrated the public good and diminished the democratic process.

As we head down the home stretch I think I can sum up the over-arching stakes in a nutshell. Hillary Clinton is an imperfect person in an imperfect world. She will not lead us into an ascent to heaven but she can prevent Donald Trump from leading us into a descent into hell. And it would serve the nation well for the following groups-- millennials, white male working-class , moderate Republicans, the undecided, and those planning to stay at home on election day-- to reflect upon their choices.  


White working-class voters are supporting Trump because they say they want change. But change can be for the worse as well as for the better. Do they really want to go back to the pre-Obama policies of George W. Bush when the country was on the edge of financial bankruptcy and steeped in two losing wars in the Middle East? Yes, worker wages have been depressed and communities hollowed out but that was because of 25 years of trickle-down Republican economic policies. And the economic and tax policies of Trump are worse than those of Bush--more breaks for the wealthy and nothing for the workers who Trump stiffed. 

Obama took the initiative and tried everything within his power to change that-- to right the wrongs. And what did the Republicans in Congress do? They opposed every one of Obama's proposals that would provide economic opportunity and strengthen the social justice safety net: the economic recovery stimulus package, health care reform, climate change reform, consumer protection reform, extension of emergency unemployment benefits, raising the minimum wage, expanding community development block grants, , immigration reform and affordable housing, among other legislative initiatives. Moreover, they did not even bother to offer any reasonable or constructive alternatives to help the working-class or the middle-class, whatsoever. These are the very same Republicans who ran the country into a ditch and didn’t want to pay for the tow-truck. The truth of the matter is that if folks want real change they'd vote out the Republicans in a do-nothing Congress and replace them with Democratic Senate and House members who want to make the necessary and crucial changes. 

Now let’s examine the “boy talk" on "The Tape" because it sheds some light on the issue of the candidates character and integrity. Trump says it was simply locker room banter. So, in seven months we have moved from 8th grade cafeteria food fights to guys’ locker room bragging. I guess that it’s progress of a sort but hardly the qualities one wants of the leader of the free world. I don't believe him for a minute. Like so much else that he's said in the campaign; facts and truth are irrelevant; he makes things up as he goes along, for convenience. He learned this strategy at an early age from his friend and lawyer, Roy Cohn, (possibly the second most despicable American of the 20th century); who worked as the hatchet man for Senator Joseph McCarthy (arguably the first most despicable). Cohn taught Trump to never admit being wrong and if you're accused you swing back--the best defense is to go on the attack with counter punches 

. Some of his lies-- “After 9/11 Muslims were dancing in the street in New Jersey." "The judge from Indiana in the Trump University case is biased because he's of Mexican-American heritage. The whole "birther movement" over the past several years. Anyone over the age of 12 should have known that this was designed to undermine the legitimacy of President Obama because of his color. It was a pure and simple racist ploy to give Trump some media traction and Fox News something to play games with--over and over-- on the theory that if you keep repeating lies people will eventually begin to believe them. Now Trump says that the election is "rigged" ; the media is out to get him; and he may not accept the results. Blame, blame, blame... To ensure his getting more media attention he now wants to delegitimize the next president. 

The Tape exposed, in a graphic way, the crass, crude, misogynist and vulgar side of Trump the sexual predator. So, what was his response. He huddles together with his two closest surrogates and advisers, Rudy Giuilani and Newt Gingrich, and they come up with a strategy. This Trump Triumvirate--with nine wives between them-- have had lots of experience in dealing with marital infidelity so their plan was to attack Bill Clinton for his affairs and cast Hillary as "the enabler." And assault the integrity of the nine women who came forth and confirmed his sexual aggressiveness. Not an ounce of contrition on the part of Donald . What puzzles me is the response of evangelical leaders who are among his strongest supporters. There is substantial amount of biblical teaching that is concerned with ethical and moral behavior, serving the community, helping the poor and fidelity to family values; and nothing about using a private email server. Yet there doesn’t seem to be many leaders taking leave of their support of him. It was President Franklin Roosevelt who reminded us that, “the sins of the warm-hearted are weighed on different scales than those of the cold-blooded.” Clinton’s transgressions contrasted to those of Trump are akin to failing to pay a fine on an overdue book at her local library. 

Finally, for the past year I have listened carefully to Trump, I’ve watched all the debates, I’ve heard his surrogates and three campaign managers. All of it has reminded me of a passage in “The Heart of Darkness”. Joseph Conrad puts it this way: 

Their talk was the talk of sordid buccaneers; it was reckless without hardihood, greedy without audacity, and cruel without courage; there was not an atom of foresight…. In the whole batch of them , and they did not seem aware these things are wanted for the work of the world. 

These words fit the Trump campaign; they contain the mood and moral nullity of his self-serving enterprise that seeks to tear apart the public good. It is almost as though the thought never occurred to the campaign team that it is impossible for a country to sustain itself, much less mature, on a fare of angry one-liners, re-run ideas, hot-house theories, paranoia and the rantings of a carnival barker. 

Professor Arthur Blaustein taught Community Development, Politics and Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. He served a Chair of the National Advisory Council under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan and served on the Board of the National Endowment for the Humanities under President Bill Clinton. His most recent books are “Democracy Is Not a Spectator Sport….” and “The American Promise—Justice and Opportunity.”