The People v. Donald J. Trump

I can tell you the exact moment on Election Night when I realized the world was about to explode.

It was when PBS (or whatever I was watching) flashed a series of exit polls across the screen, and it was revealed that 53 percent of white women had voted for Donald Trump.

Seeing that figure, and performing a bit of number-crunching in my head, it was all I could do to reach for the whiskey bottle and think, “This is gonna be one long f**king night.”

Of all the statistics about how America chose its 45th president on November 8, none was more painful or disappointing than that, in the end, women did not come together as a bloc to elect their country’s first female commander-in-chief.  We knew that men couldn’t be counted on to get this done, nor could we expect that white people, as a whole, would ever make any bold, progressive move if they could possibly avoid it.

But women voting for Trump under any circumstances, let alone against Hillary Clinton?  It boggled the mind:  Whatever you might think about Trump’s so-called policies, how could any self-respecting woman throw her lot in with a candidate who regards all women merely as sexual objects and who has bragged about committing sexual assault and been accused by a dozen women of doing exactly that?

But then I recalled the moment in FX’s The People v. O.J. Simpson, in which Marcia Clark assumed that having a largely female jury would guarantee that O.J. Simpson would be found guilty of murder.  Clark’s thinking was that women jurors would instinctively sympathize with Nicole Brown as a battered wife and condemn Simpson as a brute who controlled, tortured and ultimately killed her.

It made sense in theory.  In practice?  Not so much.

As it turned out, the ten(!) women on the O.J. jury were more sympathetic toward Simpson—a beloved athlete, actor and all-around celebrity whose natural charisma and calculated charm proved as irresistible in court as in all other facets of his life.  In the end, the Simpson trial became a referendum on the Los Angeles Police Department and 400 years of institutional racism in America, and not—as Marcia Clark hoped—a narrow case of spousal abuse gone berserk.  If anything—and quite counter-intuitively—Clark’s own standing as a strong, independent woman only made matters worse.

The gender dynamics in the O.J. trial proved nearly as compelling as the racial dynamics, and the entire Simpson saga is instructive to us now in understanding the $64,000 question, “How could Donald Trump possibly be elected president of the United States?”

In truth, the answer is almost exactly the same as it was in the fall of 1995, when every white person in America asked, “How could O.J. Simpson possibly be found not guilty by a jury of his peers?”

In short:  Because the team responsible for preventing it fundamentally misread its audience.

In 1994-95, Clark and company thought their case was about male aggression when it was actually about the racism of the LAPD.  And now, in 2016, Hillary Clinton and the Democrats thought the presidential election was about the character of Donald Trump when it was actually about the “forgotten Americans” who’ve felt screwed over by their government and want radical change in Washington, D.C.

In both cases, the two sides weren’t just making separate arguments:  They were speaking entirely different languages.

In the Simpson trial, the prosecution argued that O.J. had to be guilty because the science said so:  A trail of blood containing his, Nicole’s and Ron Goldman’s DNA was found leading from Nicole’s house to O.J.’s house via O.J.’s white Ford Bronco.  That’s to say nothing of the pair of matching gloves and O.J.’s long, long history of violent behavior toward Nicole.

Like any confident prosecutor, Clark trusted that the 12-member panel could put two and two together; all she had to do was present the information that would enable them to do so.

Same thing with Hillary:  Beyond her wonkiness and stamina, her entire campaign boiled down to quoting Donald Trump’s most vulgar and outrageous statements and assuming the electorate would realize how obviously unfit he is to hold any public office, and then vote for Clinton by default.

If your brain worked the same way as Clark’s and Clinton’s, you viewed their cases as offers you couldn’t refuse.  Of course O.J. was guilty!  Of course Trump is a moral disgrace who doesn’t belong within 100 miles of the White House!  How could anyone possibly think otherwise?

Fairly easily, as it turned out.  Not because they disagreed with the evidence, per se, but rather because they rejected the premise that the evidence could only be interpreted one way.

Sure, the DNA showed that O.J. murdered Nicole and Ron.  But how do we know the DNA itself wasn’t tainted?  The LAPD had proved itself corrupt and bigoted in the past; why should we give it the benefit of the doubt now?

And sure, Trump has made racist and sexist comments on an almost hourly basis and has no experience in government.  But that’s exactly what we need:  A disruptive outsider who tells it like it is.

Of course, O.J. was guilty and Trump is stupendously unqualified for high office, and deep down, I suspect many people who claim otherwise secretly know the truth.

But what we cultural elitists didn’t appreciate was the overwhelming power of symbolism, and the notion put forth by New York Times columnist David Brooks, who mused that “Trump is the wrong answer to the right question.”

In the mid-1990s, with Rodney King still fresh in everyone’s minds, the question within Los Angeles’ black community was, “How can we stop law enforcement from brutalizing us with impunity?”  Although O.J. Simpson had spent his entire life running away from his African-American identity—associating with a mostly white crowd and marrying a white woman—his arrest and trial became an opportunity—maybe the only opportunity—for black America to strike back loudly and clearly by asserting its right to exist.  O.J. was hardly the ideal vessel through which to transmit this righteous anger, but that doesn’t mean the anger itself wasn’t real or justified.  It was both, and if it meant allowing a black man to get away with murder—after four centuries of white men getting away with murdering black men—then so be it.

Likewise, prior to last year, Donald Trump was nobody’s idea of a working class hero—or, indeed, as someone with even a shred of interest or compassion for anyone who isn’t exactly like him.  And yet, through a combination of Trump’s own cynicism and the genuine fear and panic among America’s blue-collar white folk, that’s exactly what he became.

As O.J. suddenly decided to embrace his blackness when it served his own selfish purposes, so did Trump embrace his “silent majority” when he realized it could enhance his brand and maybe even make him president.

The tragedy in all this—and the central lesson we can glean from the Simpson fiasco—is that few lives are ever made better through latching onto false idols.

The O.J. verdict undeniably provided catharsis for much of black America—demonstrating that it was possible for a black defendant to cheat justice the way white defendants have for centuries—but it certainly didn’t bring an end to police brutality or the glaring racial disparities at all levels of the American justice system.

And now that Trump is heir apparent to the most powerful job on Earth, there is little reason to think he will follow through on any of his promises to the economically dispossessed—a group of citizens who will presumably be hung out to dry just like every other sucker that Trump has ever used as a means to an end.

When push comes to shove, Trump does what is best for Trump.  Through his greed, vulgarity and unhinged narcissism, he is the human embodiment of everything that is wrong with America, and now that he has somehow risen to the highest office in the land—both despite and because of his shortcomings—his story has become intertwined with that of the country itself.

The inherent tension of such a consequential, outsize life was the driving force of Ezra Edelman’s O.J.: Made in America, the eight-hour documentary from earlier this year that is not only the best movie of 2016 to date, but also a defining document of what it means to be an American today—for better and for worse.

Donald Trump is the latest chapter in that story, and every last one of us has a stake in how it all plays out.  We are about to learn just how much abuse the American way of life can sustain without collapsing under its own weight and, once again, we’ll be able to watch every riveting moment as it unfolds.  Live and in color.

Scumbag-in-Chief

The next president of the United States is a selfish, narcissistic, vindictive prick.  For good measure, he is also a racist, sexist, fascist con man, as well as a lying, cheating sexual predator and a shameless, manipulative, vulgar hedonist.

On the bright side, he also appears completely in over his head, not knowing anything about the country he is soon to lead or the position he is about to fill, and has so far surrounded himself with a rogue’s gallery of losers, crooks and slimeballs.

Many of us have spent the past week searching desperately for a silver lining to the rise of Donald Trump, but in the end it’s a bit like realizing you won’t need to pay your electric bill because your house just burned down.

There is no silver lining to this election—no scrap of good news hidden in the raging dumpster fire of madness that the American people ignited last Tuesday.  We have all boarded the crazy train to hell and there is no turning back.

As a white male—ostensibly the most pro-Trump demographic of all—I will forever defend my vote for Hillary Clinton as the easiest decision I’ve ever made in a voting booth, and I’m proud to have broken Massachusetts law by photographing my marked ballot for posterity, in case there’s ever any doubt as to which side of history I was on.

Now that the election is behind us (ah, what a beautiful phrase!), we have been told the Clinton campaign’s fatal flaw was to have effectively written off America’s white working class, either by ignoring them altogether or dismissing them as “a basket of deplorables.”  Trump, sensing this untapped reservoir of potential support, exploited the fear and desperation of those who despise the Washington establishment and the status quo, and it turned out there were enough of those people to reach 270 electoral votes.

Politically, Trump played his hand superbly, and we liberals certainly deserve blame for not taking him seriously enough to assume he might actually win.

However, a brilliantly-executed con is a con nonetheless, and I confess I am still struggling with the theory that all the blue-collar folk who pulled their levers for Trump are owed our empathy and respect, and that they were justified in voting the way they did.  (David Wong’s recent Cracked article, “How Half of America Lost Its F**king Mind,” offers the most persuasive argument for this that I’ve read so far.)

President or not, Trump is still the guy who casually suggested that his opponent be assassinated, and who encouraged physical violence against protesters at his campaign rallies.  He’s still the guy who fostered contempt toward the entire country of Mexico and the entire Muslim faith.  He’s still the guy whom at least 12 women have accused of sexual assault and who was caught on tape bragging about having sexually assaulted various women (what are the odds?!?).  And he’s still the guy who earned the endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups and never quite figured out how to tell them, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

None of that should be either forgotten or forgiven, and Trump has no right to expect the nation will simply “move on” from the fact that he’s a wretched human being who will do and say literally anything to get what he wants.  He could undergo a complete personality transplant tomorrow and end up being the second coming of FDR, but he cannot unsay all the things he has said or undo all the hurt he has inflicted on those Americans who have been the victims of his hateful, dangerous rhetoric—in particular, the Muslims and Latinos who justifiably feel that a permanent target has been callously branded on their backs.

As for the 47 percent of the electorate who supported this unconscionable degenerate:  They may well have voted for Trump on the basis of economic desperation and/or white hot rage at everyone in Washington, D.C., but that does not absolve them of responsibility for casting their lot with a man who is a declared enemy of such fundamental American values as multiculturalism, pluralism, a free press and the right to peaceably assemble.

At best, Trump voters collectively decided that issues of character simply don’t matter anymore; at worst, they agreed with most or all of what Trump actually said.  Call me cold-hearted, but I don’t find anything sympathetic in either of those explanations, and you’ll excuse me for casting aspersions on people who define themselves based on which ethnic groups they don’t like.

Of all the false equivalency that occurred during this abysmal campaign, the most irritating to me was the suggestion that all hate is created equal:  That there is no substantive difference between hating someone because of who they are vs. hating someone because of what they think and do.

Of course there’s a difference.  The hatred that drives a white supremacist to beat and torture a random black person exists in an entirely separate moral universe from the hatred that that victim comes to feel for white supremacists everywhere.  The latter is a product of experience and intelligence, while the former is a product of sheer, irrational prejudice.

Sure:  In the end, all hatred is poisonous, and the only way humanity can survive is for love to flourish from one end of the globe to the other.

But the way you guarantee that our country never gets there—and instead grows ever more suspicious of itself—is by electing someone like Donald Trump, who goes out of his way to divide America by race, ethnicity and gender and thereby license the most paranoid and violent among us to act on those noxious views.

This is not going to end well, and it will be almost entirely Trump and company’s fault.  We can beat up on the Democrats all we want for their fecklessness and alienation from the entire American heartland (if such a thing still exists), but there is no excuse or justification for the terror and mayhem that only deep-seated bigotry can unleash—bigotry that, at the risk of generalizing, tends only to emanate from one end of the political spectrum.

As the leader of all of us, the president is supposed to be a high moral exemplar.  By contrast, in his 70-plus years on Earth, Donald Trump has proved himself to be a moral disgrace in every sense of the word, and has demonstrated neither the ability nor the interest in becoming a better person while in office.

We can hope that he will somehow rise to the challenge, transcend all his worst instincts and be a president for all the people—indeed, we have no other choice—but we have been given precious little on which to hang that hope.  In the meantime, we are left with our fears and suspicions that Trump will continue to be exactly what he’s always been, in which case we will spend the next four years rooting for the success of a man whom our conscience tells us to hold in contempt.

Fasten your seat belts.  Things are about to get weird.

When the Unthinkable Happens

A few years back, historian Joseph Ellis wrote a terrific little book called Revolutionary Summer, which revisited the events of 1776 in Philadelphia and New York, and concluded that the entire fate of the Revolutionary War—and, therefore, the United States itself—was sealed in those few extraordinary months.

The essence of Ellis’s case was that, although Great Britain enjoyed overwhelming tactical advantages throughout the war—its troops were better-armed, better-trained, more experienced and, by far, more numerous—in the end, the Continental Army was fundamentally unbeatable.  As the war’s home team—its soldiers culled from the very land on which they were fighting—George Washington’s troops were an endlessly renewable resource with everything to gain and very little to lose.  As miserable as their experience was, they were never going to give up the fight, since, unlike the British, they had nowhere else to go.

“Whereas most people have said, ‘How in heaven’s name did a ragtag group of amateur soldiers defeat the greatest military power on the planet?’” said Ellis upon the release of his book, “The real issue is:  Did the British ever really have a chance?  I don’t think they did.”

It’s a compelling piece of historical revisionism, and a companion to Ellis’s assertion in his most celebrated book, Founding Brothers, that “no event in American history which was so improbable at the time has seemed so inevitable in retrospect as the American Revolution.”

So improbable at the time, so inevitable in retrospect.  Those words have been floating around my head a lot over the last 48 hours, as I continue to grapple with the fact that a racist, authoritarian windbag has been elected the 45th president of the United States, despite assurances by just about every political pundit on Earth that such a thing could never, ever occur on American soil.

Well, it did occur.  Practically no one expected it, but it happened, anyway.  And as half the country reaches for the cyanide tablets, stuck somewhere between denial and depression on the Kübler-Ross scale, we have to wonder how history is going to handle the events of 2016 many years from now.

Will the ascendancy of Donald Trump be seen as an inexplicable aberration in an otherwise logical series of events?  A perfect storm of madness caused by a handful of Mississippi Klansmen and an Electoral College snafu?  An insane historical theft of America’s first woman president by a boor who never really wanted the job in the first place?

Or—to Ellis’s point—will we instead come to view Trump’s victory as completely foreseeable?  As a natural progression of American populism that began with extreme anger toward George W. Bush and gradually transformed into extreme anger toward Barack Obama?  In other words, after spending the balance of 2016 more or less assuming Hillary Clinton had this thing in the bag, will we ultimately conclude that a Trump win was the only possible way this election could’ve ended?

History has a way of surprising us in big ways, and it’s the job of both historians and the general public to continually re-interpret everything that ever happened in the past to understand what the hell is happening in the present.

After 9/11, for instance, many people decided that the late 1990s weren’t quite as peaceful as they seemed at the time, as bands of jihadists worked secretly on a plan to totally upend the world order.  More than eight decades earlier, the entire nature of Europe was reassessed after a 19-year-old Serb murdered the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, somehow triggering a world war that claimed 16 million lives and ended four empires.  I dare say that few people saw that coming prior to 1914.

While it is yet to be seen whether the rise of Donald Trump will stand as an equally cataclysmic event in human affairs—and, if so, what sort of cataclysm it will be—we are already tasked with reverse-engineering the narrative of 2016 so it matches up with what it produced in the end.  Had Hillary Clinton won on Tuesday—as we thought she was destined to do—the story of this election would’ve been the shattering of the glass ceiling, the vindication of Barack Obama’s presidency and the rejection of the brutalism that Trump and his “basket of deplorables” so proudly and execrably represent.

Instead, we got the exact opposite in every respect, and it will take quite a while for us to collectively agree on just what that means in the long arc of history.  We could conclude—as many analysts have—that Trump’s win signifies that his anti-establishment, anti-immigrant, isolationist bellowing resonated with a majority of Americans, but how do we square that with the fact that Hillary Clinton actually received more votes nationwide?  While the Electoral College allowed Trump to become the next president, how can we say that Trump’s message won the day when his name was marked on only the second-highest number of ballots?

In time, we may know for sure.  For now, we can only guess.

The journalist I.F. Stone famously said that history is more of a tragedy than a morality tale.  At the moment, perhaps an even more fitting sentiment comes from James Joyce, who called history “a nightmare from which I am trying to wake.”  Either way, the essential lesson is that events don’t always unfold as you think they should—or, indeed, as you think they must—and that sometimes the unthinkable is staring us right in the face, if only we had the nerve to see it.

Like America itself, the notion of Donald Trump as president was a crazy, reckless, impossible idea right up until the moment that it became a living, groping reality.  We all assured each other the American people had a certain moral firewall that would prevent certain things from ever happening, yet now we have all become President Muffley in Dr. Strangelove, bitterly informing General Turgidson, “I am becoming less and less interested in your estimates of what is possible and impossible.”

That is the correct attitude to strike about the nature of human events, and history has borne it out over and over again.  Now that an American Mussolini is going to be the most powerful person on planet Earth, we no longer have the luxury to assume the world will ever again make any sense.

Keep Calm and Carry On

Well, you can’t win ’em all.

If history proves anything, it’s that America is an ideological pendulum, swinging back and forth every four-to-eight years, rarely allowing the same political party to rule the executive branch for more than two presidential terms in a row.  Indeed, only once since 1945 has the electorate diverged from this pattern—namely, when George H.W. Bush was elected in 1988 on the coattails of Ronald Reagan.

Considering how inherently divided our country is, there is a certain beauty to this arrangement, since it guarantees that no individual citizen will feel bitter toward—and underrepresented by—his or her government for more than eight years at a time.  It means that by age 30—if not sooner—every American will have felt both the joy of victory and the sting of defeat—and, more crucially, the experience of living, day-to-day, as a member of both the political majority and the political minority.

At 29, I can now affirm this theory from personal experience, having endured eight awful years of George W. Bush only to be enraptured by Barack Obama for nearly the same amount of time.  (If that isn’t the definition of “night and day,” I don’t know what is.)

Understanding that I can’t get everything I want every minute of every day—and that half my countrymen do not share many of my core values—I’ve had no illusions that I would always be as lucky in my commander-in-chief as I’ve been since January 2009.  It just wouldn’t be fair to everyone else.

So I can accept—intellectually, at least—that my least-favorite candidate prevailed in the 2016 presidential election, and that even though I didn’t vote for him myself, he will nonetheless be the leader of all of us and we’re just gonna have to deal with it.

I say this, of course, as a way of dancing around the giant, orange elephant in the hall, which is that the next president of the United States is arguably the least-qualified and most temperamentally inappropriate person to have ever sought the presidency, let alone win it, and his victory does absolutely nothing to change that fact.  From a cursory view of American political history, only Andrew Jackson comes to mind as someone whose violent temper and flamboyant flouting of basic social mores are equal to those of Donald Trump.  (We could also add Richard Nixon to the mix, although he did a slightly better job of hiding it.)

And yet—after the longest and most surreal night of any of our lifetimes—I am somehow reluctant today to re-litigate, for the gazillionth time, all the ways that Trump is a Category 5 disaster for the United States and the world.

Not that we shouldn’t start right up again tomorrow—or, at any rate, on January 20, 2017.  Of course we will continue to defend the principles of free expression, civil rights, diplomacy and all the rest against a vulgar demagogue who cares about nothing but himself.  Of course we will fight tooth-and-nail for the America we believe in against a man who represents its absolute antithesis.  Of course we will hold Trump to account for every appalling, stupid decision he makes over the next four years.  And of course we will not be intimidated by any and all efforts to suppress our Constitutional right to dissent.

But today I just want to rest, and reflect that democracy—still the greatest political system on Earth—requires yielding the floor to people with whom you violently disagree when the election results say that it’s their turn to take charge.

Maybe that’s a recklessly sanguine attitude for a liberal like me to strike.  Maybe I’m just so exhausted and relieved about the election being over that I can’t quite think straight.  Maybe—no, definitely—the fact that I’m white and male has partially insulated me from the raging existential panic and sadness that have swept across the entirety of Blue America throughout the day.  Maybe the magnitude of last night’s results, like a death in the family, hasn’t yet fully sunk in.  Or maybe I’m just a much more optimistic person than I realized and have faith that a President Trump will somehow not bring ruin to America’s most cherished institutions and dial our culture back to an era when life was absolutely miserable for all but rich, heterosexual white men.

To be sure, I can’t say I’ve ever felt more ashamed of my Y chromosome or my pale complexion, and I don’t begrudge my fellow liberals for refusing to play nice for even a moment, and/or for feeling that this might be the worst day of their lives and that the next four years will be one horrible nightmare after another.

But this morning I re-read David Wong’s October 12 article on the website Cracked, titled, “How Half of America Lost Its F**king Mind,” and really understood—maybe for the first time—the perspective of, say, a struggling working-class man from the Midwest who has become so alienated by his government—indeed, by his very society—that he felt he had no choice but to roll the dice with a human Molotov cocktail, buying into Trump’s sales pitch, “What the hell do you have to lose?”

I think that perspective is misguided—that Trump represents everything that blue-collar worker should fear and detest about both government and human nature in general—but I cannot deny the logic of it from the eyes of those who really have been stiffed by their representatives in Washington, D.C., and are resentful that liberal bastions on America’s coasts are getting all the attention and having all the fun.

Trump’s silent majority (or whatever he’s calling it) represents a group of Americans who have felt let down for far more than the eight years that most of us are used to, and while Trump is most certainly not the answer to their problems, his victory demonstrates how very wrong we elitist city folk were about what kind of country this really is.

Trump has forced us to reconsider things that we thought we knew for sure, and while none of those revelations are good—indeed, only in time will their badness become fully apparent—at least they have humbled us into recognizing that there is more than one way to see the world and that nothing can be taken for granted.

We liberals had our moment in the sun for the last eight years, and now it’s time for conservatives to have theirs.  Eventually, inevitably, the pendulum will swing back in our direction, and hopefully we’ll be there to seize it when it does.

Hillary Clinton for President

What is the absolute worst thing you could credibly say about Hillary Clinton?

That is, once you remove the sexism, paranoia and conspiracy-mongering that define—if not consume—so many of her most passionate, deranged critics, what is the central compelling argument against Hillary being elected president of the United States?

I don’t know about you, but I’d hazard that her pathological duplicity will always take the cake.  The view that Clinton is inherently dishonest—that she fudges the truth even when it serves no strategic purpose—has dogged her for the better part of a decade now, not least with me.  Ever since her 2008 primary fight with Barack Obama, I have consistently doubted Clinton’s basic integrity and judgment whenever she’s on the campaign trail, suspecting that her pursuit of power has become so all-encompassing—and her protective shell so thick and impenetrable—that she can’t help but look shady whenever she finds herself in a political and/or ethical bind.

Oftentimes this criticism is unfair.  The authoritative fact-checking site PolitiFact has characterized 51 percent of her public statements as “true” or “mostly true” and another 24 percent as “half-true,” meaning that she outright lies only about one-quarter of the time—a fairly impressive batting average for such a high-profile figure.

And yet I must say—based on what is directly in front of our noses—that, on multiple key occasions, she has more than lived up to those worst elements of her reputation.

Consider, for instance, the way she reacted to Bernie Sanders’s demands to release transcripts of her highly-lucrative speeches to Goldman Sachs.  Accused of being dangerously close to Wall Street and the big banks—and issued a direct challenge to prove otherwise—Hillary and her supporters’ two-pronged response was to insist that a) It wouldn’t be fair for only Clinton to expose herself in this way, and b) There’s nothing interesting in those speeches, anyhow.  Trust us.

Surely I don’t need to spell out why that combination of non-answers is such a glittering red flag for someone running as a champion of the working class?  If there really isn’t anything surprising or incriminating in those talks—if they are as innocuous as we are led to believe—what’s the justification for keeping them a secret?  What is the political benefit of stonewalling about something that—according to Hillary—is no big deal in the first place?

There’s nothing conspiratorial in looking at baldly evasive behavior and concluding the person in question is hiding something that, if it became known, would imperil his or her chances of being elected leader of the free world.  As a rule, public officials do not go out of their way to conceal information that makes them look good.

During the Watergate investigation in 1973-74, Richard Nixon attempted to keep his White House tapes private because he understood that once their contents became public, his presidency would be over.

However, what Nixon did not understand—and what Hillary Clinton and every other 21st century politician damn well should understand—is that everything becomes public sooner or later, which means that any concerted effort to suppress information is indicative of either extreme paranoia or actual wrongdoing.  While Clinton has never once been found guilty of the latter—despite the GOP’s best efforts—her clear and ongoing penchant for the former counts as a serious character flaw that, if she is elected, will inevitably cause unnecessary and utterly avoidable problems for her in the Oval Office.

(As a footnote:  Thanks to WikiLeaks, some of those speeches were released last month.  While they did, indeed, reveal a cordial relationship between Clinton and various Wall Street fat cats, they were evidently not damaging enough for the public to ultimately give a damn.)

Now, I’ve written about all this before—as has virtually every other political junkie on planet Earth.  I mention it again now as a reminder—to myself and others—that we all must enter Election Day 2016 with both eyes open.  The choice America makes today will have enormous global consequences—good ones, bad ones and everything in between—and each of us needs to assume a measure of personal responsibility for how we mark our ballots this time around.

My own model for how to do this is Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher whose “categorical imperative” theory of ethics intoned, “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.”

In the context of a presidential election, I take Kant’s commandment to mean:  Cast your ballot on the assumption that it will actually determine the winner.  Presume every race—presidential, congressional, mayoral, etc.—is an exact tie the moment you enter the voting booth, and that you will be held personally liable for what happens thereafter.

In other words, don’t vote for merely symbolic reasons and/or to make yourself feel morally superior.  Don’t vote strictly as a form of protest against a system you don’t like, or based on an imagined, ideal version of America that doesn’t exist.

I wonder:  Of the 5 or 6 million people voting for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, how many really, truly want him to be the most powerful man on Earth?  How many of his supporters saw that interview with Chris Matthews, in which Johnson couldn’t name a single foreign head of state, and thought, “Yup, that’s the guy who should be in charge of the world’s indispensable superpower”?

None of them, I hope.  From his (admittedly rare) public appearances in national media, Johnson has revealed himself to be a total dunderhead on issues of major global importance, and had he gotten even a fraction of the coverage that the two major-party candidates have received, he likely would’ve come off as even more ignorant than he already has.  Had he opted to run in the Republican primaries instead, he would’ve been knocked out in a week.

In truth, Johnson isn’t a serious alternative to the two-party system so much as an idea of one.  As with all protest candidates, his supporters are voting for him because he can’t win, illustrating that third-party voting is the ultimate expression of cheerful abdication—a way of participating in the democratic process without having skin in the game once the dust has settled and the business of governing resumes.

It’s a pretty neat trick, when you think about it—the electoral equivalent of having your cake and eating it, too.  You can rest easy about having exercised your most elemental democratic right, while also smugly bragging, to yourself and your posterity, that you bear no responsibility—none, I say!—for the unholy mess that ensued when the rest of America didn’t follow your lead.

If that helps you sleep at night—makes you feel pure and clean and leading a life of high principle—I guess there’s nothing I can do to stop you.  I’m sure that in some parallel universe—or perhaps some past or future life—I, too, have drunk the alluring elixir of the Lost Cause.  Indeed, it was just last March that I voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries, and that’s gotta count for something.

But the fun, hopeful part of this election ended a long time ago, and I have since resigned myself to the depressing fact that the universe does not always give you precisely what you want every minute of every day.  And when your favorite dish is no longer on the menu, you have to suck it up and move on to Plan B.

In this case, Plan B involves a woman who understands the intricacies of Washington politics and the intrigues of international relations as deeply as anyone who has run for president in my lifetime.

Hillary Clinton will make many mistakes while in office, will alienate much of the country most of the time, will always be under a cloud of suspicion for behavior both real and imaginary, and will never be as naturally charismatic and hip as her predecessor and former rival, Barack Obama.

And yet—on this day, with the choices that are in front of us—Hillary Clinton is the last best hope for an America whose values I share.  Values like pluralism, multiculturalism, rule of law, religious freedom, sexual freedom, marriage equality, gender equality, racial equality, diplomacy, free trade, environmental protection, a free press, and the principle that healthcare should be a fundamental human right.

I voted for Hillary on October 24, the day the polls opened in my home state of Massachusetts.  It was not the most enthusiastic I’ve ever been at the finale of a presidential election.  However, given the alternatives, this was by far the easiest decision I’ve ever made in the sanctity of a voting booth.

I knew exactly what I was getting myself into.  I understood the risks, the drawbacks and all the horrible, terrifying unknowns.  But life itself is a risk, with every choice we make riddled with possible complications that we may or may not be able to anticipate.

And in the end, I find there is no amount of personal reticence toward Hillary Clinton that can outweigh the fact of two of the most powerful words in the English language:

“Madam President.”

Crawl Space

In the event that Donald Trump is elected president on Tuesday, I will probably be too busy digging a hole to the center of the Earth to comment on the results in a timely fashion—and most of you will be too busy helping me dig to read it—so instead I will get ahead of the game and offer my reaction to a Trump victory now.

Well, we did it, America.  Presented with the opportunity to elect our first female commander-in-chief—something Iceland did 36 years ago and Ireland has done twice—we opted, instead, for a man who judges all women on a scale of 1 to 10 and has sexually assaulted at least 12 of them to date (allegedly).

Faced with a candidate who graced the White House and the Senate for eight years apiece and helmed the State Department for four, we selected for our president a callous, selfish, avaricious businessman whose entire public life has been a massive pyramid scheme for the benefit of exactly one person:  himself.

Offered the chance to anoint to America’s highest office a legendary policy wonk who understands legislative nuance the way Bill Belichick understands defensive strategy, we decided the best choice for Leader of the Free World is a guy who once held three different positions on abortion in a single afternoon and, from various public statements, is apparently unaware of at least three-fifths of the First Amendment.

I could go on—oh, how I could go on—but after spending a solid year and a half explaining how the very existence of Donald Trump stands as a permanent blot on the character of the United States—how he personifies literally every negative stereotype the world has ever dreamed up about the Greatest Country on Earth—I think we all feel a bit like Walter White lying in his basement crawl space, overwhelmed by an avalanche of failure and madness, finding there’s really nothing left to do except maniacally laugh ourselves into a state of blissful oblivion.

Through eight years of George W. Bush, our generation discovered there are consequences to making an incompetent dolt the most powerful person in America, and now—after an eight-year reprieve headlined by a brilliant, thoughtful, compassionate hipster—we are about to learn that lesson all over again.  Rock bottom, here we come.

However, rather than merely despair over what is unquestionably the most disgraceful and dangerous election result in the United States since at least 1972, I propose rounding up a search party for a set of silver linings—a collective glimmer of hope to get us through the darkness of the days and months ahead.

As we think more deeply about what good might come from the worst presidential candidate—and, in all likelihood, the worst president—of any of our lifetimes, here are a few shallow thoughts to tide us over between now and January 20.

  1. Trump could drop dead on a moment’s notice.

Notwithstanding Lewis Black’s axiom, “The good die young, but pricks live forever,” America’s president-elect is, after all, an overweight 70-year-old man who apparently eats nothing but fast food and considers public speaking his primary form of exercise.  Actuarially-speaking, the fact that Trump has lived this long is a goddamned miracle.  For him to somehow survive another four years would be the most persuasive evidence to date that God exists and has a rather twisted sense of humor.

Should Trump succumb to the massive heart attack that we all know is coming, the nation would then, of course, fall into the hands of Mike Pence—an ultra-conservative, scientifically illiterate homophobe who nonetheless possesses the ability to speak in complete sentences, understands the rudiments of legislative give-and-take and, most encouragingly of all, does not especially relish having to defend the rougher edges (i.e., the entirety) of Trump’s personality, meaning that once Trump is gone, President Pence would feel no particular responsibility to mold himself in Trump’s image for the sake of continuity.  As president, he would serve as a comparatively ordinary, across-the-board Republican who, for all his horrifying faults, would not pose an existential threat to global stability and constitutional law.

  1. In the election of 2020, the Democratic Party will boast its deepest and most youthful bench since, well, possibly ever.

Earlier this year, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni—as if to raise his own spirits—ran a story highlighting 14 up-and-coming Democratic elected officials under the age of 45—a concept totally alien to this year’s primary fight between a 68-year-old elder stateswoman and a cranky, 74-year-old socialist.  Bruni’s list is commendable, above all, for its sheer variety, boasting representatives of different races, ethnicities, sexualities and geographic origins—a clear and obvious contrast to the GOP’s stubbornly white, male complexion.

Needless to say, this group includes its fair share of women—as does the party as a whole.  (Among all the women in Congress, nearly three-quarters are Democrats.)  Indeed, to take even a casual look at the field of potential future presidents on the Democratic side is to realize how very silly it was to declare Hillary Clinton the one and only chance to have a female president in our lifetimes.  Surely by now we know better than to pin all of humanity’s hopes on a single human being.

Then again, perhaps not.

  1. The next four years will be a veritable golden age of piercing political satire.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that what is bad for America is great for the nation’s professional funny people, and the inherent comedic potential of a President Trump is as rich as it is bottomless.  As a man both obscenely powerful and profoundly clownish—and totally incapable of recognizing the latter—Trump will never cease being a walking, talking punch line for as long as America retains the right to free expression as a founding principle of our society—something that even Trump can’t completely stamp out.

What’s more, the very fact that Trump manifestly cannot take a joke at his own expense—let alone a string of vicious insults that he is all-too-willing to unleash upon others—means that every new public mockery of this eminently mockable creature will carry an added layer of danger and subversion—a sense that America’s court jesters are just one gag away from being rounded up in the middle of the night and shipped off to Guantanamo Bay.  The Daily Show ran an entire episode to that effect on Halloween night and—speaking of which—if the continued presence of Trump means the reemergence of Jon Stewart—in whatever guise he chooses—then the whole thing will have just about been worth it.

But that’s easy enough to say for an educated, non-Muslim white man who can pass for straight and lives in a magical place (Massachusetts) that guarantees health insurance regardless of whether Obamacare survives to fight another day.

For everyone else—women, religious and ethnic minorities, the poor, the uneducated, the unemployed and the uninsured—this is not a great day for America, and it will get a lot worse before it ever gets better.

But at least democracy itself prevailed.  The election was not rigged and there will be neither a month-long recount nor a coup d’état in its wake.  Trump won, America lost, but civilized society endures.  For now.