Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump: The irrelevance of American politics

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump: The irrelevance of American politics

The dominance of the Trump and Clinton campaigns is not a problem of our political system, but an indictment: Their nominations would be proof of its failure.

The Clintons and Trump: Peas in a poisoned pod?
The Clintons and Trump: Peas in a poisoned pod?

WASHINGTON, Jan. 12, 2016 — The fact that the front-runners in the 2016 presidential race now are Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton tells us much about contemporary American politics, none of it good.

Trump has no experience whatever in political life. He fills large arenas by stirring emotions with vitriolic attacks on immigrants and Muslims and with insults against other candidates. He makes statements that are clearly untrue, claiming the president wants to admit hundreds of thousands of Middle Eastern refugees and that 80 percent of white homicide victims are killed by blacks.

He denounced the Pacific trade agreement as exporting American jobs to China; China is not a signatory to the pact. He never apologizes for such statements but assures his audiences that, somehow, he will “make America great again.”

His policy prescriptions amount to “Leave it to me, I’m rich and smart. I’ll take care of it.” That seems enough to lead in the polls.

Republican elder statesmen are concerned. Former Sen. William Brock, who was chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1977 to 1981, laments,

I am just as concerned about the destructive tone of the Trump campaign as I am about its demagogic content. How can you hear what someone is saying, no matter how important, when you’re shouting. How can you bring people into a constructive search for solutions to our national problems when you do nothing but belittle them, and even suggest that they are stupid, weak or corrupt?

For democracy to work, men and women with different points of view have to debate, then work for solutions to the problems we face. In Brock’s view,

Were we to doubt a little of our own infallibility, perhaps we might find it within us to listen, to give a little more care to viewpoints that differ from ours, expressing the hope that those who voice them care just as much for and believe just as firmly and fervently in their causes as we do ours. We might find the gift of a solution.

In Hillary Clinton we have a woman of unlimited ambition but limited accomplishment and questionable ethical standards. The Clinton Foundation raised millions of dollars from foreign interests with business before the U.S. government while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. Bill Clinton gave speeches for hundreds of thousands of dollars per speech to these groups, as did Hillary both before and after she held public office.

The Clintons have become rich selling influence.

Whether Hillary’s use of a private email server for classified State Department mail was illegal is yet to be determined. We do know she initially blamed the Benghazi attack on a video and declined to identify it as terrorism. We do know that the State Department refused repeated requests for additional security. We do know that as secretary of state she led the effort to overthrow the government of Libya without any plan about what would replace it.

Now Libya is in the hands of ISIS and other Islamic extremists, fueling an international refugee crisis. Is this really a record to run on?

As a result of calling on her husband Bill to be a campaign surrogate and charging her opponents, including Bernie Sanders, with “sexism,” Hillary has drawn attention to her role in attempts to discredit women who claimed Bill Clinton sexually assaulted and even raped them.

In Iowa last fall, Hillary said that survivors of sexual assault had “the right to be believed.” Hillary’s “most sensitive pressure point,” writes New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, is

her hypocrisy in running as a feminist icon when she was part of political operations that smeared women who told the truth about Bill’s transgressions. Hillary told friends that Monica was “a troubled young person” getting ministered to by Bill and a ‘narcissistic loony tune.’ Hillary’s henchman Sidney Blumenthal spread around the story that Monica was a stalker … Trump can be a bully. But Hillary was a bully, too, in the way she dealt with her husband’s paramours.

Editorially, the New York Times, no foe of either Clinton, admits Hillary’s vulnerability here:

For decades, Mrs. Clinton has helped protect her husband’s career and hers, from the taint of his sexual misbehavior, in part by attacking the character of women linked to her husband. When Mr. Clinton ran for president in 1992, Mrs. Clinton appeared on television beside him to assert that allegations involving Gennifer Flowers were false. In 1998, he admitted to that affair under oath. After the Monica Lewinsky affair emerged, some White House aides attempted to portray Ms. Lewinsky as the seducer.

Our country has real problems, both at home and abroad. Thus far, our political system seems unprepared to address them. If we continue with the kinds of campaigns we have seen from Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, all of us will be the losers. Many Americans over the years have feared that our democratic system had to be carefully nurtured lest it decline and fall.

One of these was the author James Fennimore Cooper, who produced his first novel in 1820. In 30 years, he wrote 33 novels, two political satires and an important political treatise, “The American Democrat.”

Majority rule, Cooper pointed out, was never meant to be “unlimited” majority rule for, without limits, tyranny would surely result. He wrote,

Were the majority of a country to rule without restraint, it is probable as much injustice and oppression would follow, as are found under the dominion of one. It belongs to the nature of men to arrange themselves in parties, to lose sight of truth and justice in partisanship and prejudice, to mistake their own impulses for that which is proper…in democracies the tyranny of majorities is a greater evil than the oppression of minorities in narrow systems … To guard against this, we have framed constitutions, which point out the cases in which the majority shall decide, limiting their power, and bringing what they do possess within the circle of certain general and just principles.

Our economy is precarious. Globalization has caused a decline in manufacturing and in well-paying jobs for those who do not have a college education. The income gap is growing. Wall Street has undue influence in our politics and when it collapsed it asked taxpayers to bail it out. This is crony capitalism, a kind of socialism, not the free enterprise system at all.

The nation’s infrastructure is in serious decline, as is our educational system. We face the growth of radical Islam and a mounting international refugee problem. An emboldened Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed the Crimea, while we and NATO looked on. The Chinese economy is in serious trouble, and its impact is felt here as well.

In a troubled world, can our political system do no better than our current front-runners? Perhaps as the campaign progresses, we will see some evidence that Americans want something more substantial in a leader. If they don’t, our political system will prove that it is irrelevant to the very real challenges we face.

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Allan C. Brownfeld
Received B.A. from the College of William and Mary, J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary, and M.A. from the University of Maryland. Served as a member of the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia and the University College of the University of Maryland. The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, he has written for such newspapers as The Houston Press, The Washington Evening Star, The Richmond Times Dispatch, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. His column appeared for many years in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in The Yale Review, The Texas Quarterly, Orbis, Modern Age, The Michigan Quarterly, The Commonweal and The Christian Century. His essays have been reprinted in a number of text books for university courses in Government and Politics. For many years, his column appeared several times a week in papers such as The Washington Times, The Phoenix Gazette and the Orange County Register. He served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as Assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to members of the U.S. Congress and to the Vice President. He is the author of five books and currently serves as Contributing Editor of The St. Croix Review, Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues.