Amid Tumult, Trump Is Still a Threat
Persuading voters requires listening to them.
The first week of summer brought a bewildering barrage of news, both good and bad.
President Obama designated the Stonewall Inn a national monument. We learned that the Pentagon will announce an end to the military ban against transgender servicemembers on July 1. House Democrats staged a historic sit-in to demand gun control. On Sunday, Hillary Clinton marched in the New York Pride parade. Abroad, Pope Francis said the Church should apologize to gay people, women, and others it has harmed.
The panicked response to the British vote to leave the European Union wiped out $2 trillion from global markets; the pound sank to its lowest value in thirty-one years; and London banks faced the loss of business to rivals in Paris and Frankfort. Prime Minister David Cameron said he would step down, and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn suffered mass resignations from his shadow cabinet. Donald Trump, visiting one of his golf courses in Scotland, praised the result and was roundly mocked by Scots who had voted to remain.
Brexit leader Nigel Farage exulted about winning “without a single bullet being fired,” one week after Labour MP Jo Cox, who supported remaining in the EU, was killed by a man shouting, “Put Britain first.” Many Brits searched Google the morning after the vote to find out what they had voted for. Young people voted to remain; their parents voted to leave. Pro-Leave forces had no post-Brexit plan, while Cameron smartly left the triggering of Brexit to his successor. Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon talked of blocking Brexit.
A similar tide of resentment and isolationism is sweeping the United States. Those who say the British crackup cannot happen here have a few factors on their side: American voters are more racially diverse than British voters; our economy is much stronger; and Clinton has a double-digit national lead over Trump. On the other side is America’s history of destructive irrationality: witch hunts from Salem to McCarthyism; genocide against Native Americans from the Trail of Tears to Wounded Knee; internment of Japanese Americans in World War II; race riots like those in Springfield, Omaha, and Tulsa; and the rush to war in Iraq, in which news media acted as cheerleaders. With such a grim catalog, we have no business criticizing others.
Clinton has electoral math in her favor, and prominent Republicans have rejected Trump, with some endorsing Clinton. On the other hand, a New York Times reporter, in line with a prevalent anti-Clinton media narrative, writes, “Mr. Sanders and Mr. Trump won a combined 25 million votes during the primary season, compared with 16 million for Mrs. Clinton.” With that level of creativity, anyone can devise favorable math.
Trump taps into a deep vein of nativism. His national polling numbers, while down, are higher than they ought to be given his disgraceful behavior; and he is close in key states. He is running against someone who has been the target of relentless smears for a quarter century. Liberals take a win for granted at their peril.
We cannot change other people’s minds. But we must try to help people see the implications of their decision. One candidate is sane and experienced, has a detailed grasp of policy, and knows world leaders. The other is gaspingly ignorant, shoots from the hip, and is openly contemptuous toward women and minorities.
The Brexit vote shows the danger of ignoring people who disagree with the political elites. The costs of Britain’s austerity policy were not evenly distributed. Given a chance to vote their frustrations, people did so. The fact that leaving the EU will not return them to an idealized past, and that they cannot wall themselves off from the global economy, hardly matters now. Buyers’ remorse will not undo all the damage.
If we want to prevent a conservative Supreme Court that will reverse all our gains, we should stop our premature self-congratulations and try to persuade people, which requires listening to them. Secretary Clinton is mocked for her listening tours, but her improved campaigning style shows that she has indeed been listening. With reason for hope as well as concern, let us be about our work. We have nineteen long and uncertain weeks until the election.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. Email Richard Rosendall