Newspapers and TV newscasts are biased in one way more than any other: They focus on what is new. Lately, they’ve focused on a statement by FBI Director James Comey that emails on Anthony Weiner’s computer may inform the investigation into how Hillary Clinton handled classified information as Secretary of State. Though the content of the emails remains unknown, the chattering classes pounced on the story like cats on balls of yarn. You’d think nothing mattered more in the election.
At their best, commentators offer context and perspective about the news so that the newest information is synthesized with what was already known. Then citizens can draw more circumspect, sensible conclusions. With days to go before an election that role is especially vital. The public and its news media have short attention spans. And it would be folly to ever let the last news cycles determine our leaders.
At The Week, Damon Linker, who is no fan of Clinton, argues that despite all her weaknesses and petty corruptions, the choice on November 8 is an easy one. Trump “is a menace to American democracy,” he writes, “a know-nothing demagogic con man who hasn’t released his tax returns, who brags about assaulting women, who has invited Vladimir Putin to meddle in the presidential election while also suggesting on the basis of no evidence at all that the election will be ‘rigged’ against him, and who regularly uses social media to promote white supremacists and neo-Nazis (who increasingly feel emboldened to spew their civic poison in public). And that's just the most minimal accounting of Trump's offenses.”
As if to agree, Paul Waldman at the Washington Post reviews Trump’s “history of corruption, double-dealing, and fraud” with this “partial list” of his discreditable behavior:
- Trump’s casino bankruptcies, which left investors holding the bag while he skedaddled with their money
- Trump’s habit of refusing to pay contractors who had done work for him, many of whom are struggling small businesses
- Trump University, which includes not only the people who got scammed and the Florida investigation, but also a similar story from Texas where the investigation into Trump U was quashed.
- The Trump Institute, another get-rich-quick scheme in which Trump allowed a couple of grifters to use his name to bilk people out of their money
- The Trump Network, a multi-level marketing venture (a.k.a. pyramid scheme) that involved customers mailing in a urine sample which would be analyzed to produce for them a specially formulated package of multivitamins
- Trump Model Management, which reportedly had foreign models lie to customs officials and work in the U.S. illegally, and kept them in squalid conditions while they earned almost nothing for the work they did
- Trump’s employment of foreign guest workers at his resorts, which involves a claim that he can’t find Americans to do the work
- Trump’s use of hundreds of undocumented workers from Poland in the 1980s, who were paid a pittance for their illegal work
- Trump’s history of being charged with housing discrimination
- Trump’s connections to mafia figures involved in New York construction
- The time Trump paid the Federal Trade Commission $750,000 over charges that he violated anti-trust laws when trying to take over a rival casino company
- The fact that Trump is now being advised by Roger Ailes, who was forced out as Fox News chief when dozens of women came forward to charge him with sexual harassment. According to the allegations, Ailes’s behavior was positively monstrous; as just one indicator, his abusive and predatory actions toward women were so well-known and so loathsome that in 1968 the morally upstanding folks in the Nixon administration refused to allow him to work there despite his key role in getting Nixon elected.
An elite team of investigators would need months to plumb the depths of all those stories. Individual instances of unethical behavior related to them could fill 100 news cycles.
Trump has escaped a lot of that scrutiny because no one expects any better.
None of this means that bad news about Clinton should be ignored. It is proper for journalists to keep informing the public about her misdeeds as new information becomes available, whether it concerns her emails or her family’s nonprofit foundation and its donors. There are so many politicians, many Republicans among them, that I would rather have as America’s president. If not for Trump, I would not even consider voting for her. And yet, strikingly, Clinton’s behavior doesn’t come close to the depths of awfulness displayed by her opponent. He isn’t just a little bit worse. He is orders of magnitude worse, and would do irrevocable damage to the country in ways totally unrelated to his preferred policies.
To begin the comparison I invite readers to delve deeper into the new Clinton email information.
The best explainer I’ve encountered comes from Julian Sanchez, a journalist with expertise in the Espionage Act, who reads deep into that statute to explain why the decision against charging Clinton was almost certainly correct, based on all the information we possess. It really does appear that she did not violate that oft-abused statute’s provisions, even though using a private email server did show poor judgment and was almost certainly designed to thwart Freedom of Information Act requests. Voters ought to punish that poor judgment when evaluating Clinton. But if their vote flows from a cumulative comparison of both candidate’s flaws, rather than reflexive disgust at the one that they read about most recently, Trump would easily lose to Clinton even if her emails did violate the law.
And it isn’t even a close call.
It isn’t just that Trump has a staggering record of deliberate cruelty toward strangers and even family members; that he unlawfully used the Trump Foundation to funnel money to an elected official while she was deciding whether to charge him with fraud; or that he deliberately does the most dangerous thing a politician can do in a diverse country, willfully stoking ethnic tensions and anxieties against minority groups in hopes that it will increase his chances of gaining power.
Those things alone would be enough to make him the inferior choice. But they don’t come close to exhausting his flaws. NATO is a lynchpin of global stability. Trump suggested ending NATO as we know it. Trump suggested seizing foreign oil fields. Trump said he would order U.S. troops to perpetrate torture and to kill innocents. Trump spoke chillingly about using nuclear weapons. An erratic, easily baited quasi-authoritarian obsessed with projecting strength cannot be trusted with nukes.
To elect him would immediately crash markets as panicked investors braced for instability. And it would immediately harm America’s global standing, not in a wishy-washy way where Europeans make fun of us, but in concrete ways that court danger. Ross Douthat sums up the stakes in a column about the most likely risks of a Trump presidency, where he charitably assumes that Trump won’t misuse nukes. Still, he writes, a “highly-plausible peril, and by far the most serious, is a rapid escalation of risk in every geopolitical theater.” He goes on to give examples:
It’s probably true that Trump, given his pro-Russia line, would be somewhat less likely than Clinton to immediately stumble into confrontation with Vladimir Putin over Syria. But it’s silly to imagine Moscow slipping into a comfortable détente with a President Trump; Putin is more likely to pocket concessions and keep pushing, testing the orange-haired dealmaker at every opportunity and leaving Trump poised, very dangerously, between overreaction and his least-favorite position — looking weak.
That’s just Russia.
From the Pacific Rim to the Middle East, revisionist powers will set out to test Trump’s capacity to handle surprise, hostile actors will seek to exploit the undoubted chaos of his White House, and our allies will build American fecklessness into their strategic plans. And again, all of this is likely to happen without Trump doing the wilder things he’s kind-of sort-of pledged to do — demanding tribute from allies, trying to “take the oil,” etc. He need only be himself in order to bring an extended period of risk upon the world.
The history of geopolitics prior to the Pax Americana is rife with examples of why this sort of testing should be feared. Overall, Trump’s foreign policy hazing, his rough introduction to machtpolitik, promises more danger for global stability — still a real and valuable thing, recent crises notwithstanding — than the risks incurred by George W. Bush’s interventionism, Barack Obama’s attempt at offshore balancing, or (yes) Hillary Clinton’s possible exposure of classified material to the Chinese, the Russians and Anthony Weiner’s sexting partners.
There is so much more.
Trump once lost almost a billion dollars in a single year. He bet on the housing market just before history’s biggest real estate crash. He invested in failing Atlantic City. As for his character, it would take a whole article to even begin plumbing the depths of his contempt for basic moral norms, but for our purposes one anecdote is instructive:
In 1977, Donald asked Freddy to be the best man at his first wedding, to the Czech model Ivana Winklmayr, an honor Donald said he hoped would be “a good thing for him.” But the drinking continued, and four years later, Freddy was dead.
Over the next decades, Donald put the Trump name on skyscrapers, casinos and planes.
In 1999, the family patriarch died, and 650 people, including many real estate executives and politicians, crowded his funeral at Marble Collegiate Church on Fifth Avenue. But the drama was hardly put to rest. Freddy’s son, Fred III, spoke at the funeral, and that night, his wife went into labor with their son, who developed seizures that led to cerebral palsy. The Trump family promised that it would take care of the medical bills.
Then came the unveiling of Fred Sr.’s will, which Donald had helped draft. It divided the bulk of the inheritance, at least $20 million, among his children and their descendants, “other than my son Fred C. Trump Jr.” Freddy’s children sued, claiming that an earlier version of the will had entitled them to their father’s share of the estate, but that Donald and his siblings had used “undue influence” over their grandfather, who had dementia, to cut them out. A week later, Mr. Trump retaliated by withdrawing the medical benefits critical to his nephew’s infant child.
“I was angry because they sued,” he explained during last week’s interview.
To evaluate Trump’s life as a whole is to see that however distasteful one finds Hillary Clinton––I will never forgive the Democrats for nominating her––to regard them as equivalently bad candidates for the presidency isn’t just absurd, it is reckless. Whether one is a liberal, a conservative, or a libertarian, a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, or an atheist, Trump is the inferior candidate, and clearly so.
The trouble with calling both candidates bad and leaving it at that isn’t just that it doesn’t capture how much worse he is, though it doesn’t, or that it is unfair to Clinton. I don’t actually care about her. I do care about us––about Americans who have to live in this country going forward, who will suffer if we elect a man as unfit for the presidency as any major party candidate for that office in generations. His inexperience matters, his indiscipline matter, his ignorance matters, and so do his character flaws, which render him a greater danger to others the more power he is given.
Don’t let the new blind you to what is obvious.
The already stated assessment of Trump’s flaws, in number and gravity, far surpass Clinton’s, and we haven’t even discussed Trump’s exploitation of charity. We haven’t even discussed the time he told Howard Stern that Stern could call his daughter, Ivanka, “a piece of ass.” What kind of man lets his daughter be degraded that way to millions! We haven’t even talked about Trump spreading the absurd smear that Ted Cruz’s father conspired to murder John F. Kennedy and publicly attacking Cruz’s wife as ugly. We haven’t even talked about Trump attacking an American born judge of Mexican descent in a manner that even Paul Ryan called “a textbook example of racism.” We haven’t discussed the multiple women who accused Trump of sexually assaulting them in exactly the way that he had previously bragged to Billy Bush about assaulting women. With the worst choices of my lifetime on the ballot, the inferior candidate, the much greater of two evils, is remarkably easy to determine. Trump is worse—much, much worse—than Clinton. Voting to deny him power will make the country and the world a better place.