Donald Trump. (photo: Reuters)
16 September 16
.T. Barnum would love America today. Donald Trump shows that you can fool lots of the people all of the time. Even many who reject him as a boorish buffoon miss the harrowing danger of his comic book worldview.
Trump courts irreparable calamity. Climate change he denies already threatens food supply. Terrorist recruiters rejoice at his racist bombast. Putin leads him around by the ego. He underestimates North Korea, which will soon be able to nuke U.S. bases. China is on edge. Our allies are horrified. For starters.
This is a clanging alarm from a Paris-based reporter who started out covering African mayhem in the 1960s, folly in Vietnam, and a war of survival back when Israel was more David than Goliath. Today, we have no more margins for error.
After interviews in New York, heartland Ohio, deepest Arizona and California, with a dip into Mexico, I am scared witless. Trump could win. His backers are fired up to vote. Others, not so much. Too many are fooled by "crooked Hillary" flimflam.
We have only weeks to energize voters within our own circles. Even if Trump loses, Clinton needs firm support in Congress, state houses and local government to overcome dog-in-a-manger partisan obstruction. Without humiliating rejection, Trump's legions will grow.
Along Ohio's Cuyahoga River, which no longer flares if you flip a match into it, townsfolk are so nice it makes your teeth ache. And yet many, however unwittingly, are ready to condemn families they cherish to an overheating hell on earth.
In rural Arizona, where nice is optional, radios spew hateful inanities from fact-free Trump shills like Sean Hannity. A frightening number of deplorables share a rock-solid conviction that Barack Obama is the devil, and Hillary Clinton is worse.
Landing in San Diego, a young woman told me, "I tune it all out - too much negativity." She and her Navy finance will watch a televised football game rather than the first debate over who leads America at this critical point in human history.
Most troubling are first-time voters who will inherit our skewed world and face the full impact of what we have done wrong. Many despise Clinton because slimy spin exploits their inattention to facts.
A smart 18-year-old in Tucson, who travels often to Europe and just did volunteer work in Asia, told me, "Most people my age are voting for that Gary guy or the Green candidate." Neither can win so their ballots amount to support for Trump.
As the real world watches Bashar al-Assad rain barrel bombs and spray chlorine gas on a treasured ancient city, already pounded to shards, Gary Johnson asked an interviewer: "What is Aleppo?" Those displaced and dying millions know.
Jill Stein, the Green candidate, says the South China Sea, with vital sea routes through all of Southeast Asia, is an internal Chinese affair. That is like saying the Pacific Ocean is California's domestic issue.
Voters of all ages believe constant slurs of "Crooked Hillary." Talk about pots and kettles. Major news media perpetuate a false equivalence, abandoning their old role of actual reporting because Trump's outrageous bullshit is a gold mine.
Facts are facts. George Bush's war sent millions in desperate search of refuge and spawned the Islamic State. The destabilized region put millions more to flight.
America-first nativists can't wish them away. Good people who suffer in limbo seek payback. ISIS gains sympathy as it loses ground.
Hillary is well placed to defuse global crises. She had a steady hand as senator and secretary of state. Black leaders who have worked with her on interracial programs since the 1980s say only a bigot could call her a bigot.
She has her failings, but is there really be a question over which candidate personifies what America represents to the world?
No one can be perfect in a system that demands candidates raise billions and shape a positive image in the face of so many opponents to whom truth doesn't matter.
As Bernie Sanders said at the outset, enough about those damned emails. Sensitive stuff does not go on servers, even the State Department's. Insiders know that yet cynically accuse her of high crime. Hillary admitted to a bad decision.
Wired magazine notes that Clinton's staff destroyed old emails for security; the law demands it. Yet big-name CNN interviewers, among so many other "journalists," let Trump and his acolytes make this sidelight incident sound like Watergate.
Benghazi is a bum rap as repeated Senate hearings showed. Nicolas Sarkozy initiated help for Libyan insurgents. Clinton, in Paris at the time, enlisted Obama's support. Had NATO partners acted before Qaddafi moved his armor from Tripoli, history would be different.
The Clinton Foundation earns Bill and Hillary nothing. It has raised billions to confront scourges in distressed societies: AIDs, endemic disease, education, disaster relief, and women's economic opportunities. Did donors buy influence? Evidence is thin.
Trump, in contrast, uses his small charity to buy favors from politicians. "When I call," he says, "they kiss my ass." He was fined for his $25,000 donation to Florida's attorney general who then quashed an investigation of Trump University.
Now the issue is health. Pneumonia, caught early, is stopped quickly with antibiotics. Trump, 70, is at the age when shit happens. The worst could befall either. Compare Tim Kaine to Mike Pence.
Trump defined himself on NBC's recent Commander-in-Chief Forum. He claimed to have opposed the Iraq war (he did not) but said that as long as we were there we should have taken the oil. We should not elect an imperialist plunderer.
He said ISIS terrorists made fortunes selling Libyan oil as if they could operate pipelines and tanker docks under withering air strikes. We cannot be led by someone with such a shocking lack of understanding of how the world works.
Israel is a cornerstone of U.S. policy. Obama has just pledged an additional $38 billion dollars over 10 years for its defense. Trump's criticism is either a bald lie - or ignorance.
As a foreign correspondent, I'll leave domestic issues to others. But look hard at what disinterested experts say. Trump's tax proposals favor the rich, particularly real estate developers, and leave a deep deficit that renders his promises unworkable.
We urgently need to beat the bushes. Trump's diehards won't change their minds, and they'll turn out to vote. Those who oppose him must be convinced that every ballot will count. Reasonable people in the middle can be swayed.
Even Arizona is in play, despite wealthy conservatives who have settled in Maricopa County and rural farmers whose caps declare things like, "Gun control means using two hands."
In the empty quarter west of Phoenix, I met a crusty old guy named Jack in a camouflage cap with a revolver on his hip. His t-shirt read, "University of South Vietnam, 1966-1967." He said he loved Trump's straightforward solutions, like blasting ISIS terrorists into oblivion.
Suppose, I said, we were confirmed badass dudes, and a drone blew us both away but also killed a dozen nearby women and kids. He shrugged. That's the cost of doing business. But what if that created hundreds more family members and friends who hated us enough to die seeking revenge?
Jack thought that over. Then we talked about lessons not learned in Vietnam and a whole lot of history since. He looked downright friendly and said, "Well, you've given me something to think about." But he'll probably still vote Trump.
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