NEW YORK >> A great many adjectives and nouns come into my mind when thinking about Donald Trump, a political candidate and man who viscerally repels me. My loathing goes far beyond the fact that he constantly shifts his policy positions, which are usually little more than bursts of demagogic rhetoric and barroom swagger, or the propagation of a deluge of false claims-- but to his very essence as a human being. Watching him appear on television before countless rallies of adulating supporters leaves me exasperated, enraged, and fearful for the future.
How can a narcissist, sexist, sadist, compulsive liar, con man, authoritarian, and racist continue to garner more than 40% in the polls? Trump is a candidate who equates running a country to running a business — self-interest and deal making is all — and who lacks the discipline to control his temper tantrums and infantile behavior, and is never able to apologize for his conduct. He also seems utterly ignorant of the complexities of shaping policy and unwilling to learn about them, feeling that his impulses and instincts are always the best guide.
Trump is crude and sleazy to the extreme, and a man clearly without a moral compass. So, the tendency of a minority of Sanders supporters and millennials to fecklessly repudiate Hillary Clinton and draw a false moral equivalence between her and Trump is an act of willful blindness.
Mark Singer, a New Yorker author who profiled Trump in the 1990s, has recently said that he's despairing that some voters, stoked by the email scandal and the Wikileaks revelations about her attempts to undermine Bernie Sanders, think Clinton is more dishonest than Trump, who utters a lie almost every other time he makes a political statement. He says, "It makes you think, when was the moment where we stopped being willing to fund public education in this country, that it became so egregious that we no longer could have people who understood the Constitution, the checks and balances"?
Among this group are people ready to vote for the Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, a politician who is blissfully unaware of Aleppo, Harriet Tubman and I assume many other facts and issues of political importance, and more significantly is running on an absurd platform that calls for the end of the IRS and Social Security.
The Green Party's candidate' Jill Stein's appeal to the millennials is more understandable than Johnson's. She takes political positions that Sanders' supporters would find alluring, and that I myself am in sympathy with: health care as a basic human right; reenactment of the Glass-Steagall Act; and universal childcare, to name a few of them.
However, Stein proposes a political agenda so pure and so reflexively left that according to a writer in The Nation, sympathetic to the Greens, "Stein's critique of the Democrats is often unmoored from reality." He goes on to justify his support of Clinton because she is running on a Democratic 2016 party platform that is the most progressive in the party's history. In addition, I feel one shouldn't forget that the new president will be appointing Supreme Court justices, and that Clinton's stance on civil rights and women's issues is exemplary.
Yes, I may be wary of Clinton's hawkishness and her deep Wall Street connections. However, if one looks closely at any part of Trump's agenda and his rhetoric about an issue like law-and-order it's clear which of the candidates is the more socially aware, caring and coherent of the two.
Trump's notion of establishing order is based "on stop and frisk, greater incarceration and more aggressive policing for inner cities," which he hyperbolically sees as more dangerous than Afghanistan. Trump offers an apocalyptic view of the inner city, turning a kernel of truth into a sweeping generalization about an out of control urban world. Clearly, the feelings he expresses for the plight of inner city residents are patently inauthentic, no more than a political strategy.
For the racists and the extreme right-wingers who passionately support him know that whatever politically calculated gestures he makes towards minorities, Trump is the man who promoted the ugly birther lie about Obama. That's why David Duke, the former Imperial Wizard of the KKK, is on his side. Clinton, in turn, has countered Trump's racial attitudes by calmly discussing institutional racism, the need for community policing and support for criminal justice reform.
The New York Film Festival has opened with a documentary, "13th," directed by Ava DuVernay ("Selma") focusing on a prison system whose population is disproportionately African-American. "13th" may be built around a few too many eloquent talking heads, but it has some riveting archival footage that highlights American racist violence through the years.
Duvernay's title refers to the constitutional amendment that freed the slaves, but left them abandoned to a crushed economy and a culture that had little use for them. Blacks were treated like dangerous criminals, with the film viewing mass incarceration as another form of slavery. That may be a bit overstated, but the film incisively conveys how Nixon and Reagan, to frighten the electorate, skillfully used violent law-and-order rhetoric against blacks for political gain.
Duvernay's film would have been even stronger if it dealt with the fact that black crime is not just an invention of white racism, but a reality that circumscribes and threatens the lives of many inner city blacks. Still, the police shootings don't come out of a historical vacuum. They are a consequence of a lengthy history of white repression. And an apoplectic Trump is in a long line of politicos who use law-and-order rhetoric to arouse the figurative lynch mob in his supporters.
Leonard Quart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org