In Blog No. 99, we described the contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as a “World Series of Weevils.” (For anyone late to the party, background on choosing the lesser of two weevils can be found on YouTube.) Now, Bernard Goldberg has perhaps gone us one better in describing the present dismal situation. He introduced a word that was as unfamiliar to us as we suspect it may to be many of our readers: kakistocracy. As Goldberg explained in assessing the contest between Clinton and Trump:
There’s a word that describes the kind of country we would have with either of these two at the helm. It’s a word with a lineage that goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks. The word is kakistocracy. Kakistos means “worst” in Greek – and the whole word, invented by an English poet in the early 1800s, refers to “a government under the control of a nation’s worst or least-qualified citizens.”
Goldberg did not identify the English poet, but he turned out to be one Thomas Love Peacock. For the etymologists among us a brief history of the word after its creation by Peacock has been assembled by Amro Ali, an enterprising scholar at the University of Sydney.
If public opinion is any guide, application of the term kakistocracy is amply justified. We have previously noted the unprecedented levels of unpopularity of both candidates. That fact was further documented by extensive research presented by the Washington Post in an article by Dan Balz and Emily Guskin, “In every state, pessimism about Trump, Clinton and the impact of the election.”One key finding: “Nationwide, 55 percent of registered voters say that a Clinton presidency would threaten the nation’s well-being, while 61 percent say a Trump presidency would threaten the country’s well-being.” Further evidence to support those feelings was provided by the national security interviews of Trump and Clinton on Wednesday.
Trump again demonstrated why he is, in our view, the gold standard of presidential unfitness. His comments have been well reported, so we will mention only a few highlights:
- characterizing American Generals as “rubble.”
- sleazy abuse his privilege of his intelligence briefing by purporting to interpret the “body language” of the briefers as disagreement with the President.
- doubling down on his bromance with Vladimir Putin.
- repeating his harebrained promise to to “take the oil” from Iraq (an action that is militarily impractical, would violate international law and would make the United States a pariah around the world and especially in the Middle East).
- repeating the lie that he opposed the Iraq war before it began.
- blaming sexual assaults on having men and women serve together. (52% of victims of reported assaults were men)
- promoting a wholly undefined approach to defeating ISIS. (A cavalry of unicorns perhaps.)
For her part, Hillary Clinton was far from a tower of strength. She spent much of the interview once again attempting to extricate herself from her email debacle. On substance, she was, in comparison to Trump, knowledgeable and responsible. She did, however, err in categorically ruling out ever deploying American ground troops in Iraq and Syria–where we already have 6,000 ground troops (and, in our view, may need more). The following day she qualified her statement by saying that she only opposed a “big contingent” of American forces, but did not define a big contingent.
Apart from the matters covered in the national security interviews, we find both Trump and Clinton off the mark in their opposition to the TPP trade agreement (which Clinton was for before she was against). And both are lacking in fiscal responsibility. Neither candidate appears willing to consider, let alone discuss, entitlement reform and neither has shown a serious interest in the burgeoning national debt. As pointed out by Maya MacGuineas in the Washington Post on August 29:
In June, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimated that Hillary Clinton would keep the debt on its currently unsustainable track—allowing it to rise from 75 percent of GDP today to 87 percent within a decade — while Donald Trump would explode the debt to 127 percent of GDP by 2026.
The third party candidates appear to even less inspiring. We had entertained some very modest hopes for the Libertarian ticket of Gary Johnson and Bill Weld, both of whom had served as successful Republican Governors. But that ticket has gained little traction and may have suffered a fatal blow when Johnson, appearing on national television seemed unaware of what Aleppo is or its importance. (Johnson’s gaffe exposed the fact that he did not read our Blog 110, “The “A Words” of the 2016 Election Campaign: Aleppo and Afghanistan.”) Nevertheless, the question Johnson could not handle, “What would you do about Aleppo?” should be put to both Trump and Clinton at their September 26 debate, if not before. The other independent candidate, Evan McMullin, seems an attractive and intelligent fellow, but is unlikely to make a perceptible impact except possibly in Utah.
So what are poor RINOs, and other responsible Republicans to do? Some Republicans, including some readers of this blog, recognize Trump’s manifest deficiencies but find Clinton such an anathema that they are prepared to vote for Trump. We respect that view, but reject it categorically. We regard Trump as the infinitely greater weevil: the most dangerous candidate of a major party in our lifetime and perhaps the entire history of the country. Other Republicans, however, have insisted that they will not vote for Trump, but have not indicated how they will vote.
In an op-ed in the New York Times, James K. Glassman, a former senior official in the George W. Bush administration, made an impassioned plea for his fellow Republicans not to stand on the sidelines, but to support Clinton:
Last month, 50 former officials from G.O.P. Administrations issued a scathing indictment of Mr. Trump, saying he would be the “most reckless president in American history.” Yet only a few of these Republicans have so far said they will vote for Mrs. Clinton.
I have some sympathy with this position, but it is a cop-out. If you think Mr. Trump is so lacking in experience and judgment that he shouldn’t have his finger on the nuclear trigger, then you are saying he is not just a bad candidate; you are saying he is a threat to the nation. You have an obligation to defeat him, no matter what you think of Mrs. Clinton.
I’m voting for Mrs. Clinton because, despite her deficiencies, she will make a better president. But I have another reason. Defeating Mr. Trump soundly will help save the Republican Party. If he wins, a party built on freedom and internationalism will become entrenched as a party of authoritarianism and isolation, which means that within a few years it will atrophy and die.
We find Glassman’s argument to be compelling, with one codicil. His argument focused on the necessity of voting for Clinton in “swing states” and has less force for voters who live in states where the outcome appears unshakably inevitable (our own California comes to mind). Republicans in such states may be pardoned for casting protest votes for any independent or third-party candidate on the ballot (or, indeed, for writing in the name of their Uncle Fred or Aunt Harriet).
Many Republicans have already opted for the course urged by Glassman and have joined r4C16.org or Together for America to support Clinton. The website of the latter provides a lengthy list of distinguished Republicans and Independents (including the writer’s colleague in the Ford Administration and later law partner, Carla Hills.) For others, he decision to support Clinton will be difficult for many. and unprecedented for others, but there will be a growing number who find the courage to make that choice. For example, on September 7, the Dallas Morning News, which has consistently supported Republicans for the presidency since before World War II, endorsed Hillary Clinton. The paper did not overlook Clinton’s shortcomings, but found them overcome by the specter of Trump:
Trump’s values are hostile to conservatism. He plays on fear — exploiting base instincts of xenophobia, racism and misogyny — to bring out the worst in all of us, rather than the best. His serial shifts on fundamental issues reveal an astounding absence of preparedness. And his improvisational insults and midnight tweets exhibit a dangerous lack of judgment and impulse control.
After nearly four decades in the public spotlight, 25 of them on the national stage, Clinton is a known quantity. For all her warts, she is the candidate more likely to keep our nation safe, to protect American ideals and to work across the aisle to uphold the vital domestic institutions that rely on a competent, experienced president.
In summary, we join the Dallas Morning News and others in urging Republicans (and particularly those in swing states) to support Hillary Clinton, difficult and distasteful as that act may be.