Why this elec­tion mat­ters so much

Tues­day’s vote is an op­por­tu­nity for the coun­try to show it isn’t swayed by Mr. Trump’s dem­a­goguery.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

WE’VE SAID it be­fore, but it bears re­peat­ing, and with em­pha­sis: The stakes are higher than usual, much higher, in Tues­day’s elec­tion. At is­sue is not sim­ply the fu­ture of fed­eral leg­is­la­tion on health care, taxes and many other pol­icy mat­ters, im­por­tant as they are. Rather, the piv­otal ques­tion this Novem­ber is whether the Amer­i­can elec­torate will re­ward a cam­paign based on di­vi­sive­ness and dis­hon­esty.

The pres­i­dent of the United States, cam­paign­ing on be­half of the Repub­li­can Party, is, in ef­fect, betting heav­ily that vot­ers can be swayed by ap­peals to their worst in­stincts: anger, ha­tred and fear. Con­trary to the prac­tice of all pre­vi­ous recent oc­cu­pants of his of­fice — in­clud­ing those who might have dab­bled in sim­i­lar pol­i­tics but, at least, em­ployed eu­phemisms and in­ter­me­di­aries — he has de­liv­ered this di­vi­sive mes­sage in his own voice from his own bully pul­pit.

Char­ac­ter­iz­ing a car­a­van of Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grants mov­ing through Mex­ico to­ward the United States as “an in­va­sion,” Pres­i­dent Trump has stood in the White House and sug­gested gun­fire would be the right re­sponse to mi­grants if they should throw stones — at the Amer­i­can sol­diers he has made into po­lit­i­cal props by or­der­ing them to pa­trol the south­ern bor­der. And on his own Twit­ter ac­count, the pres­i­dent has posted a video ad that de­picts a Mex­i­can who mur­dered two U.S. po­lice­men while in the coun­try il­le­gally and that claims “Democrats let him into our coun­try. Democrats let him stay.”

This ad’s mes­sage would be in­flam­ma­tory and re­pug­nant even if it were strictly true, which it is not. At least one of the man’s il­le­gal re-en­tries to this coun­try took place af­ter the Demo­cratic ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton had de­ported him in 1997. And it would be in­ap­pro­pri­ate even if it were not be­ing pitched to vot­ers just days af­ter an anti-Semitic mad­man had mas­sa­cred 11 in­no­cent Jewish wor­shipers in Pitts­burgh which, in turn, fol­lowed a se­ries of bomb threats against lead­ing Democrats by a Florida man who fes­tooned his van with pro-Trump stick­ers and posters.

Mr. Trump thus seeks not to soothe a trou­bled pop­u­lace but to ex­ploit its anx­i­ety. It cer­tainly is a bold gam­bit. His first goal, al­beit un­stated, is to fi­nal­ize his cap­ture of the Repub­li­can Party by show­ing that his in­cen­di­ary brand of pol­i­tics works. Con­versely, his sec­ond, and broader ob­jec­tive, is to demon­strate that his op­po­nents’ in­sis­tence upon more de­cent po­lit­i­cal dis­course does not work.

That is where the vot­ers, and their sense of in­tegrity, come in. They have an op­por­tu­nity to re­ject those politi­cians who sup­port, or even coun­te­nance, Mr. Trump’s deeply cyn­i­cal cam­paign. They have an op­por­tu­nity to re­ward those — of ei­ther party — who stand up against it.

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