The two bad choices are not equally bad

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - Michael Gerso

— It is ex­tra­or­di­nary how, in the last stage of this dis­mal cam­paign, both can­di­dates are re­vealed as the most ex­ag­ger­ated and grotesque form of their stereo­type. The car­toon ver­sions of Don­ald Trump and Hil­lary Clin­ton are, in fact, pho­to­re­al­ism.

Who can now deny that the in­hab­i­tants of Clin­ton world are so ac­cus­tomed to cor­rup­tion that they can’t even see it any­more? The State Depart­ment, the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion, Bill Clin­ton’s cronies and both Clin­tons’ per­sonal fi­nances were all one thing — an in­stru­ment of en­rich­ment de­signed to main­tain red-car­pet so­cial stand­ing and po­lit­i­cal rel­e­vance. The lawyers who sur­round Clin­ton have ceased to care pri­mar­ily about the law. They are en­ablers who could not rec­og­nize the risk of con­duct­ing pub­lic busi­ness on a pri­vate server, the prob­lem with elec­tron­i­cally shred­ding thou­sands of emails, or the im­pro­pri­ety of rou­tine self-deal­ing and (at least) the ap­pear­ance of in­flu­ence ped­dling.

What does all this tell us about Hil­lary Clin­ton? It re­veals a leader who seems to value loy­alty above in­tegrity; who sur­rounds her­self with yes-per­sons; who re­sponded to a life­time of con­tro­versy by grow­ing a thick shell of Nixo­nian para­noia; who seems to re­gard her own con­sid­er­able pub­lic con­tri­bu­tions as per­mis­sion for prof­i­teer­ing.

Who can now deny that res­i­dents of Trum­p­land — the can­di­date and his small in­ner cir­cle — are ev­ery bit as rad­i­cal and re­volt­ing as ad­ver­tised? They seem in­tent on re­duc­ing turnout by mak­ing pres­i­den­tial politics so ran­cid, so rank, so ra­dioac­tive, that only his cheer­ing, froth­ing par­ti­sans will be mo­ti­vated to vote. The Trump cam­paign has em­braced a po­lit­i­cal strat­egy first out­lined by ag­i­tated call­ers on con­ser­va­tive talk ra­dio. Alex from Amar­illo — such a big fan of your show — would in­vite Bill Clin­ton’s ac­cusers to a pres­i­den­tial de­bate, or prom­ise to put Hil­lary in jail, or hint at her com­plic­ity in mur­der.

What does all this tell us about Trump? He pulls peo­ple close to him who re­in­force his anger, his prej­u­dice, his mega­lo­ma­nia, his con­spir­acy-mind­ed­ness. He is both im­pos­si­bly ig­no­rant and in­sanely con­fi­dent in his own flawed judg­ment. He thinks he should be ex­empt from the nor­mal rules of trans­parency — by re­fus­ing to sup­ply his tax re­turns — while us­ing a pres­i­den­tial cam­paign to pimp his brand. He is act­ing as a pro­pa­ganda arm of the

WASH­ING­TON

Putin ad­min­is­tra­tion, de­fy­ing the judg­ment of Amer­i­can in­tel­li­gence agen­cies, in a man­ner that raises se­ri­ous ques­tions about his true mo­tives. He has tried to ex­plain away the lan­guage of sex­ual as­sault as locker room talk and at­tacked the char­ac­ter and ap­pear­ance of women who say they ex­pe­ri­enced his tech­nique. Trump has dra­mat­i­cally low­ered pub­lic stan­dards of ci­vil­ity, of hon­esty, of tol­er­ance, of de­cency and of ethics.

Those who deny the rough ac­cu­racy of ei­ther of th­ese pic­tures — and there are plenty of Amer­i­cans who would — are par­ti­sans. They not only hold a set of po­lit­i­cal opin­ions, they are de­ter­mined to live in their own ver­sion of re­al­ity, from which in­con­ve­nient facts are ban­ished by edict. They have al­ready made up their minds; per­haps al­ready voted.

But how about the rest of us? It does not help to point out that there has been a mas­sive fail­ure of the pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion process in both par­ties; one can­di­date stale and tainted, the other va­pid and vile.

In ad­di­tion to bit­ter com­plaint, vot­ers have sev­eral op­tions. They can write in a name (let’s hear it for Paul Ryan or Condi Rice). They can sup­port the well-in­ten­tioned but not par­tic­u­larly qual­i­fied Evan McMullin. Amer­i­cans can jus­ti­fi­ably refuse to vote in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. There is no demo­cratic prin­ci­ple that forces some­one to pull the lever for a politi­cian who morally of­fends them.

Or they can re­luc­tantly and strate­gi­cally vote for Clin­ton, who lacks es­sen­tial el­e­ments of in­tegrity but not the qual­i­fi­ca­tions for high of­fice.

Only one op­tion is pre­cluded — to vote for Trump. And here are the post­card rea­sons: Trump is a man of dan­ger­ously er­ratic tem­per­a­ment who should not be al­lowed to con­trol Amer­i­can for­eign and mil­i­tary pol­icy. Trump lacks a com­mit­ment to demo­cratic ideals and in­sti­tu­tions, demon­strated by his at­tempt to dis­credit any elec­toral out­come un­fa­vor­able to him. Trump op­er­ates by a ma­te­ri­al­is­tic, Ni­et­zschean ethic — an ethic of dom­i­nance and re­venge in which power and suc­cess are wor­shiped and the weak are treated with con­tempt and cru­elty. And Trump is deeply and de­fi­antly ig­no­rant, with no ba­sis or back­ground to make in­formed choices on com­plex is­sues.

Amer­ica has two bad choices, but not equally bad.

Michael Ger­son is a syndicated colum­nist. Con­tact him at michael­ger­son@wash­post.com.

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