It is clear that the U.S. 2016 presidential campaign will be unlike any other. It will pit the first woman to be a major party’s nominee for the presidency against a man who is, without argument, the least qualified candidate to be president in the country’s history — a man who has embraced hate speech, racism, and misogyny as platform planks of his campaign.
In a moment, I will help you make this choice. But, first, let me talk a little bit about the framing of Donald Trump as a candidate.
I’m not going to spend much time here presenting the case that Trump represents a threat to the U.S. political system and to American values unlike any significant presidential candidate since, perhaps, George Wallace, Alabama’s racist governor who ran in 1968. That case has been made frequently and well elsewhere, most notably and more recently by the estimable and thoughtful Bob Kagan.
Rather, I want to address the issue of how the media has covered Trump and notably why I refer to Trump as I do. No doubt some of his supporters will consider my references to him thus far in this column to be biased. My view is the opposite. My view is if a candidate who runs for president is racist (see: his express views on Mexicans and Muslims here), misogynist (see: his history of disrespecting women here), and is someone who has no experience in government, no experience or understanding of foreign policy, and a business track record that is checkered at best, then objectivity dictates that those with platforms in the media must report and comment on these facts as they are. Donald Trump does not get a pass because he has millions of supporters. He does not get to argue that the statements he has made are somehow protected from judgment because they are offered in the context of a campaign.
If we rely on honest, unbiased reporting to guide our views on Trump as a candidate, then we are allowing him to be defined by a clear record — one he has created for himself in the public eye. And if we use that record, then it’s impossible not to characterize him, objectively, by his reckless would-be policies and his displays of ignorance and hatefulness, qualities in a president that would be dangerous to America and the world.
It is dishonest to present an impostor as the real thing, a poseur as a statesman, a buffoon who plays to the cheap seats as an artist or an innovator. The great error of the media in its coverage of the 2016 campaign has been and continues to be its attempt to legitimize someone who is inherently — in each and every strand of his DNA — illegitimate.
The examples of Trump’s recklessness — including his failure to understand nuclear policy in Asia, the role of NATO in Europe, and, especially, his lack of understanding as to why Mexico is such a vital friend of the United States — are manifold. Do you feel that past presidents with experience got us into trouble? That’s certainly true. But here’s a cold, hard fact: Those situations would only have been worse with an arrogant, know-nothing, loose cannon like Trump in the Oval Office.
In fact, here’s an interesting thought experiment supporting the case that not just experience but experience in the White House matters to be a successful foreign-policy president. Pick the best foreign-policy presidents of the past century from both parties and then ask yourself, what was the one background factor they all had in common? Go on, try it. Let’s start with a few presidents: George H. W. Bush, Richard Nixon, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Harry Truman, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt. Each had a very high level of experience and regular contact with the White House on foreign-policy issues before he became president. Four of them were vice presidents. One was supreme allied commander. And one was a top official in the Department of the Navy in the days when it was absolutely central to U.S. defense. There is no substitute for high-level experience in or with the White House, and it is the only reliable preparation for a commander in chief and architect of U.S. foreign policy.
It is impossible to know anything about foreign policy or care anything about America’s interests in the world and support a man like Trump. To suggest that just because many in the establishment are corrupt or dysfunctional, therefore, someone from outside the establishment automatically deserves a chance and must be better is a logical folly. The odds are, given that experience matters, the person without experience will be worse. If, as it happens, that person has, throughout his adult life, seemed dedicated to exercising serial bad judgment — in his business affairs, in his associations with mobsters and other dubious characters, in his treatment of women, in his public statements, in his private behavior — then the case that he might be the answer rather than an even worse problem is made even more ridiculous.
So, what is a responsible voter to do when presented with a candidate like this? There are several options, but voting for such a man is clearly not one of them. A vote for Trump is a vote against women, Mexicans, Islam, and America’s national interests. If you care about a strong defense, you can’t support a man who does not understand the value of alliances or the dangers posed by retreating behind our borders. If you care about fiscal responsibility, you can’t support a man who advocates for proposals that would bust the U.S. budget. If you support fair trade internationally, you can’t support someone who chose to make among his first acts as a candidate verbal assaults on our most important trading partners.
But deciding not to vote for such a man is not enough. Democracy is not a spectator sport. You cannot opt out. Apathy or inaction has an effect. It strengthens those who act. So, at the very least, you have to actively support whichever opponent he might face that actually has a chance of beating him. In this case, that is Hillary Clinton. Whether you love her or are tepid about her, the only way to actively play a role in stopping Trump — which is, as I view it, a patriotic duty — you must support her. There is no alternative. In fact, if you recognize Trump as the monumental threat he is, you should actively support her campaign — and help her defeat him.
As it happens, Clinton is not just the only viable alternative to Trump. She is an extraordinarily gifted woman who would make an excellent president. She would come to office with more foreign-policy experience than any president since George H. W. Bush (and would be the first secretary of state to become president since the middle of the 19th century … despite the fact that prior secretaries of state-turned-president have included Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams). She has extensive White House knowledge and was an acknowledged thought leader during the presidency of her husband. She has been a leader on a wide array of domestic issues from health care to advocacy for first responders. She showed a great aptitude for management during her tenure as secretary of state, winning widespread respect across a massive, far-flung, complex global organization.
Moreover, since her earliest days as a lawyer and advocate, she has been known and respected for her brilliant mind, her studiousness, her mastery of her brief. She is known to engender great loyalty among her staff. She is a listener, an empowerer, someone who has a reputation for wanting to be told the truth. I have met with her many times and have cultivated this view over years of writing about her and the administrations in which she has served. I can honestly say that she may be the most impressive candidate for president and one of the most impressive public figures I have ever met. If she were running against the best of the Republican Party, she would deserve to win.
But she is not. She is running against a menace who must be stopped.
Trump’s misogyny only underscores one other aspect of this race that is important. Clinton, when elected, will become the first member of America’s majority population to hold its highest office. She will undo nearly two-and-a-half centuries of institutionalized sexism. She will take a step that is essential for American democracy. Because no democracy can be said to be fully functional or truly representative if the majority population — women — are kept from top offices.
Is being a woman reason enough to vote for Clinton? No, gender alone is not enough. But that does not mean it is not a big deal or that it is not every bit as big of a breakthrough for a country with a troubled racial past to elect a black man as president.
In fact, in the midst of this very dark and disturbing campaign year, there is, in fact, a bright prospect. Due to the wisdom of the American people (and the arithmetic of our electoral system … not to mention the odiousness of Trump), Hillary Clinton is likely to be elected the first woman president of the United States in November. We dare not — we must not — take that for granted. But were it to happen, it will produce a watershed in U.S. history that will send an important message to our daughters and sisters and mothers and to all the rest of us. We will have elected a woman president. And we will have done so because she was one of few people in the country best qualified for the office.
Which raises an interesting prospect. In 50 or 100 years from now, when historians look back on this period, with some luck, Trump will be forgotten or seen as an oddity or, better yet, a cautionary tale. But the big story will be that in 2008 American voters elected a black man and that in 2016 they elected a woman. That is to say, in the future, there is a good likelihood that people will look back on the current American electorate and, rather than see the depressing shit show that we lament daily, they will see us as perhaps the most progressive and enlightened in U.S. history.
Of course, that will only happen if voters from both parties have the courage to recognize the unprecedented threat posed by Trump for what it is and see the necessity in taking action against that threat and the manifold benefits of doing so. The action needed is supporting Hillary Clinton to be the first woman to be president of the United States of America — the kind of experienced candidate this country and the world need for the fragile and complex times in which we live.
Author’s note: The views expressed above are my own personal perspectives and are not intended to represent an official position on the part of Foreign Policy nor will they impact in any way the fairness of our coverage going forward.