A vote against as much as a vote for
It felt good to vote for a woman for president of the United States. But it felt even better to vote against Donald Trump.
I’ve now cast votes in a dozen national elections, and since becoming a columnist, this is the first time I have ever reported my vote. And that’s because Tuesday’s was the first election in which I voted against a candidate with as much enthusiasm as I voted for a candidate.
I don’t recall feeling this way before; ideally, you’re not supposed to. A vote in a presidential election should be an affirmative action.
But mine — and I suspect that of many other Americans — was a vote against rewarding the bully Trump with the Oval Office.
For many of those who voted the other way, I’m sure it was a similar feeling, in the reverse: A vote for Trump was importantly a vote against Hillary Clinton.
Given what the polls indicated — that a majority of Americans were unhappy with their choices — that’s a logical conclusion.
Back when some Republicans were urging Trump to get out of the race, I wanted him to stay. Staying would allow us to vote against sexism and macho vulgarity, xenophobia and bigotry, ignorance of the Constitution, personal invective and ad hominem attacks, and reckless disregard of facts. It would be a vote against the refusal to acknowledge humancaused climate change, against know-nothingness and dangerously loose talk about foreign policy; against the hypocrisy of not paying taxes while complaining about the shortcomings of government.
I wanted to believe that a majority of Americans wanted to vote against all that, too, but it turned out much closer than I thought.
Trump’s fear-mongering about immigrants, his incessant claims of Clinton criminality, and his easy lies and exaggerations appealed to angry white men, many of whom had never before been politically active. It emboldened them to appear at rallies and express themselves in the most profane ways. Some even advocated violence against Clinton.
A man in Baltimore County drove an SUV with the words “Kill The Bitch of Benghazi” in large letters across the rear window. At Monday’s Trump rally in Manchester, N.H., as Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence spoke of Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state and the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, NBC reporter Katy Tur reported a man yelling, “Assassinate that bitch.”
Political expression in the United States has been getting uglier, angrier and loonier for years, led at first by right-wing talk radio and now by the trolls of social media.
Into this came Trump, a cynic willing to say just about anything to excite those who hated the Obama presidency and men, in particular, who could not imagine a woman as commander in chief. The cable news channels fully accommodated him.
Trump ridiculed and demeaned his way to the Republican nomination, and political expression reached the dank bottom. He tried for five years to delegitimize President Barack Obama by questioning his national origin. Similarly, in 2016, Trump encouraged his followers to demonize Clinton. And they responded. They heard the nightingale’s song.
That’s a reference to a book by Bob Timberg, the Marine veteran and superb journalist who died in September. “The Nightingale’s Song” was about Vietnam veterans who became enmeshed in the IranContra scandal during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Those men, Timberg proffered, had been attracted to Reagan after they heard him call their war a “noble cause.”
Timberg suggested that those Reagan loyalists were just like young nightingales: “The bird cannot sing unless its song is first triggered by the song of another nightingale.”
And so, decades later, we had Trump triggering all that pent-up resentment about Obama, the nation’s changing demographics and the emergence of powerful women.
In some way, I suppose it’s good that Trump came along and unleashed this anger and frustration. The eyes of more Americans are now wide open to just how much racism, sexism and ethnic and religious intolerance remains in this country.
But Trump did not lead the nation through this experience for cathartic reasons. He became the Republican nominee by exploiting the worst instincts of Americans.
The country has been through rough-andtumble presidential campaigns before, but none in my lifetime as brutal and as divisive as this one.
It’s one thing — an appealing thing — for a qualified outsider to campaign against Washington and the status quo. But it’s quite another for someone with no experience in governing to declare the entire country a disaster, to suggest its institutions are illegitimate and his political opponent a criminal.
That’s what Trump did. That’s how he got this far. That’s how we got to where we are.