Not in at least a half-century have we witnessed a national presidential election in which the candidates hold such vastly different views. On the Democratic side, we have Hillary Clinton, whose credentials are unmatched and who is committed to expanding upon President Obama’s legacy of progressive reform. The Republican standard-bearer is businessman and reality-TV performer Donald Trump, whose chief contribution to political discourse is his mainstreaming of bigotry and hate.
In addition to exposing the sad truth of racism’s continuing appeal, Trump’s rise also reflects a widespread rejection by Republican voters of politics as usual. Large swaths of Trump supporters are frustrated with the inability of their elected representatives to improve their lives. Although the economy has rebounded, for too many, higher wages and economic stability have given way to rising unemployment, economic inequality and rates of suicide and substance abuse.
The mass media also deserve much of the credit for Trump’s popularity. No candidate has ever received as much free publicity and air time. Reflecting the stance of media executives, CBS Chairman Les Moonves said of Trump’s candidacy, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”
Moonves added, “Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.” And the blustering bully has brought it on, heaping abuse on his adversaries and just about anyone unwilling to bow in his presence.
But elections are about much more than the candidates at the top of the tickets.
Elections are also about the policies of the candidate’s party. And they are about the forces behind the candidate, and about how those forces would be affected by the candidate’s victory.
A Trump victory would give credibility, oxygen and political space to some of the most bigoted, reactionary elements in the land. His victory would represent a major setback for every progressive movement in our nation.
In contrast, the Clinton campaign has brought under its tent and to its table all sectors of society. With her are all of the nation’s major labor unions, ready to advance the fight against economic inequality, for a living minimum wage and the right of all workers to unionize.
The movement for women’s equality has a seat at the table, fighting with Clinton for equal pay and the right of women to control their bodies. All the major civil rights organizations are working for a candidate who in her words is “committed to addressing systemic and implicit racism.” The LGBTQ community has an advocate who understands the concerns of people represented by each letter of the abbreviation.
People with disabilities know that they will be respected and represented rather than mocked. The immigrant rights movement and its allies will be better able to forge a path to equality and citizenship. And Muslims will be in a far better position to preserve their citizenship rights and their rightful place in society. Seniors and others near retirement age will have a president who will fight to strengthen rather than weaken Medicare and Social Security.