I don’t think of myself as having an alarmist type of personality. So please give me a chance to explain exactly why I think that the upcoming presidential election is nothing short of a referendum on morality and civility in the United States. In fact, I think that it isn’t enough for Donald Trump to lose this election. He needs to lose badly. Like in a landslide badly. Like Walter Mondale badly. I think Donald Trump needs to lose so badly that no one will ever again dare spend the time, and money, and effort to run a presidential campaign predicated on a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic platform. My concern, frankly, is that Donald Trump has—with his dismissive talk about the role of political correctness in a civilized society and his encouragement (incitement?) of violence against his rivals such as Hillary Clinton–uncovered a very ugly underbelly of American society that find in him their grotesque hero. Now that Pandora’s box has been opened, the only way we can hope to close it up again is with a resounding loss of epic proportions.
It’s not that I didn’t know that this element existed in our society. Of course I knew that there are white supremacists, neo-Nazis, bigots of all ilk living in this country, and that there are people who have shrines in their homes devoted to the Confederate flag and what it represents. It’s just I felt in my almost 50 years of life that in my country–the country to which my own ancestors fled to escape hatred and persecution over 100 years ago–no one in a position of power and authority would ever sanction those views.
We all know the story of Trump’s unlikely climb towards the GOP nomination. First, we laughed at his candidacy, taking it as seriously as we would if Ryan Seacrest or any other reality TV star suddenly said he was running for POTUS. Then, we recoiled when he doubled down after Megyn Kelly called him out at the GOP debate, asking him to explain sexist, misogynistic language he has used in the past to describe women. We thought that no one would continue to support him after he said that Mexican immigrants were rapists and criminals or after he mocked a disabled reporter. Of course, we now know all too well, we were wrong. Despite the 16 Republicans running against him, all vastly more qualified than he is for the job, Donald Trump went on to win the GOP nomination handily. Since then, those in his own party who hoped he would suddenly transform himself into a “new” Donald Trump have been sorely disappointed as he continues to disparage Muslims—even Gold Star families, and weave farcical (and completely false) tales that President Obama and Hillary Clinton “founded” ISIS. Even as GOP leaders have started to distance themselves from him, with some prominent Republicans going so far as to say they will vote for Clinton, there remains a solid base of Trump support that seems to be indestructible.
You see, I subscribe to the theory that nothing much distinguishes angry and frustrated Trump supporters from the Germans in the 1930s who were searching aimlessly for a scapegoat to blame for their troubles. Like 2016 America, Germany was a highly civilized country and we all know who came to power there and what he went on to do to those that he and his followers decided to scapegoat—the Jews, homosexuals, the disabled. Once we strip away what Trump and his supporters call with no small measure of contempt “political correctness,” but in fact is decency and civility, we are set adrift in a sea that has no boundaries. For if Trump can speak so freely and be so successful in the political arena, and if his supporters–previously closeted bigots–feel free to openly express hatred for their fellow Americans and not face any social or political ramifications, then where does it end?
This is why I am so disappointed when people I know who are pro-Clinton and anti-Trump talk as if Clinton has the election all wrapped up so why bother making an effort. Yes, yes, I have read the articles about polls in battleground states and dire portraits of Trump’s campaign becoming the proverbial sinking ship, but no matter. First of all, voters can be fickle and Clinton’s support to date has been said to be less than exuberant. But more to the point, it is not enough for Clinton to win this election. When Clinton’s platform is the most progressive in history and touts equality as an ideal to which we must continue to aspire, and her opponent is steeped in nationalistic jargon of going back to a bygone era when minorities and women had even fewer rights than they do today, then how can Americans view this election as anything but a referendum on equality, core American values and, yes, morality and civility?
All of this is to say: no one who cares about making America even greater than it is today, by continuing to pursue the ideals that made us great in the first place, can afford to sit out this election (or even to vote for a third party candidate who has no chance of winning in November). If you believe that we, as a nation, are made up of people who are very different, but that we are stronger when we band together than we are when we build walls—physically or metaphorically—to keep out those who are different, then there is no choice. Vote for Clinton, volunteer for her campaign, contribute to her campaign, and speak out loud and clear against those who try to tell you that a vote for Trump isn’t a vote for racism and divisiveness in this country. Because the only thing standing between an America that continues on the path to a more perfect union, and one that goes backwards in time to the days when it was perfectly acceptable to openly hate others, is all of us.