A vote against as much as a vote for

Baltimore Sun - - ELECTION 2016 - Dan Ro­dricks dro­dricks@balt­sun.com

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.

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