Let’s be honest: Deep down, we all knew this election would eventually just be about sex. And now that we’ve finally reached that point, the only question is why it took so damned long.
There certainly wasn’t any way around it. In a race between a serial adulterer and the wife of an accused rapist, it was foolhardy to think we’d make it all the way to November without mentioning either one, especially when the first of those candidates has absolutely no filter between his brain and his mouth.
Toward the end of last Monday’s debate, Donald Trump triumphantly declared, “I was going to say something extremely rough to Hillary, to her family, and I said to myself, ‘I can’t do it. I just can’t do it. It’s inappropriate. It’s not nice.’”
And then, on Friday, he did it. That is, he accused Hillary Clinton of “enabling” her husband to abuse various women while he was president and for “attacking” the reputations of those women after the fact. Media and the internet being what they are, Trump’s charges were immediately turned right around vis-à-vis his own history of sleeping with women who are not his wife and for generally being a pervy little creep his entire adult life. To this obvious point, Trump responded the only way he knows how: By making himself the exception to his own rule, saying, “I don’t talk about it.”
To recap, then: According to the Donald, cheating on your spouse is politically irrelevant, but being that same spouse disqualifies you from being president. And the mystery of Trump’s weak support among women continues.
Not to change the subject on you, but this seems like an opportune moment to rethink the 22nd Amendment, which prohibits any president from serving more than two terms. Passed in 1947 by a Republican Congress annoyed with Franklin Roosevelt’s precedent-breaking four electoral victories, the amendment has scrambled history in ways far more consequential than we typically appreciate—more often than not, I suspect, for the worse.
Since the 22nd Amendment went into effect in 1951, five U.S. presidents have won (and served) two full terms in office, only to be denied a chance at a third. Of those five, only George W. Bush entered his final year with an approval rating well below 50 percent, meaning that the remaining four—Eisenhower, Reagan, Clinton and Obama—had every reason to run again, if they so chose. Considering how beloved that quartet of leaders were in their respective times—and how much each of them seemed to relish the gig while it lasted—who’s to say that at least one of them wouldn’t have taken his chances with the electorate in pursuit of Term Number Three?
Think of it: Eisenhower vs. Kennedy in 1960. Reagan vs. Dukakis in 1988. Clinton vs. George W. Bush in 2000. Obama vs. Trump in 2016.
That last matchup is almost too delicious to pass up, and one can’t help but wonder how different this year would’ve been if Democrats had gotten what they truly wanted: Another four years of Barack Obama. For all that Obama has done to annoy his liberal base over the last eight years—particularly on foreign policy, civil liberties and Wall Street—the American left is nonetheless in general agreement that Obama’s presidency has been a net-plus for humanity—not least in comparison to his immediate predecessor—and were he eligible to run for a third term, not even Hillary Clinton would stand in his way.
More to the point: If the Democrats re-nominated Obama and the Republicans still nominated Trump, how could Obama possibly lose?
We know how savagely Obama can cut Trump down to size—and how much he thrills in doing so. We know what a happy-go-lucky campaigner he is and how dazzlingly he can command a crowd. On policy, he and Hillary are sufficiently interchangeable that their primary fight in 2008 essentially boiled down to character. And speaking of character….well, regardless of whether the allegations about Clinton’s secrecy and paranoia are warranted, Obama has faced no such charges in any way, shape or form. He may be controversial on policy, but on personal morality he is beyond reproach.
This doesn’t mean that Hillary can’t still pull this thing out, or that she wouldn’t make a perfectly decent commander-in-chief. And it certainly doesn’t mean that an Obama-Trump race wouldn’t feature a thousand and one glittering distractions, yielding a much more competitive race than anyone could’ve thought possible.
All the same, there’s no way around the fact that Hillary’s proverbial “baggage” is the only thing preventing the 2016 election from being something close to a cakewalk. Her penchant for concealing the truth has made Trump’s own dishonestly slightly more palatable, while her de facto tolerance for her husband’s philandering has—in the minds of our dumb electorate—all but neutralized the flagrant and appalling misogyny of her cynical, vacuous opponent.
It would be nice if a greater number of Americans could distinguish unscrupulousness from outright villainy, or could appreciate the difference between trashing your husband’s mistresses and trashing every woman you’ve ever met.
Then again, it would also be nice to live in a country that overwhelmingly recognized Donald Trump as the greedy, selfish, emotionally stunted man-child that he is, and thus never nominated him for president in the first place.
But apparently that country is unavailable this year, so instead we have to pretend that all sexual and ethical peccadilloes are created equal and that it makes total effing sense that the party of “family values” and “Christian conservatives” would ally with—and defend—a twice-divorced beauty pageant guru who cusses like a sailor and refers to the communion wafer as “my little cracker.”
As a non-Republican, I of course find this hilarious, just as I assume every true blue conservative finds it repulsive. For all that is wrong with the Democratic Party as a political organization, it nonetheless always manages to nominate for president an intelligent, clever, empathetic, even-tempered public servant; never in my lifetime has it succumbed to someone like Donald Trump—a fact that will have to serve as silver lining for the dumb rule that prevents any party from simply nominating the same guy over and over again until we’re actually sick of him.