The debates are over, early voting is under way, and the time to make a choice for president of the United States has arrived.
For many people, the choice is a no-brainer, either because they believe so deeply in their candidate or, far more often, because they are so horrified by the other major-party candidate.
We are among the many Americans despondent at deciding between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.
But first we must address the other two candidates on the ballot, Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Jill Stein. (We’ll skip the 17 registered write-in candidates whose votes will be counted.)
We do not accept the argument that this is a binary election — that if you don’t vote for Clinton, you effectively are voting for Trump and vice versa.
You are never wrong to vote your conscience, even if that means voting for a candidate who can’t win. To limit yourself to the two major-party candidates is to endorse a continuation of the system that gave us the two most disliked nominees in modern American political history.
We wanted to be able to endorse Johnson. He has a successful record as an entrepreneurial businessman. He has eight years of executive political experience as a governor, albeit of lightly populated New Mexico. He has an experienced running mate in William Weld, a former governor and federal prosecutor.
But even as he was trying to talk his way into the presidential debates, Johnson proved that he wasn’t ready for prime time with his ignorance of foreign affairs. The reality is that the Libertarian Party’s belief in global disengagement might be appealing after an extended period of war, but neither the United States nor the world could risk the resulting void.
The epitaph on Johnson’s political tombstone will likely read “What’s Aleppo?” But the question for Stein is simply “What?”
She rarely has made sense, which is a shame for a Jewish candidate (even one who professes to be a nonbeliever) who holds the soon-to-be-broken record for most votes received by a woman in a U.S. presidential general election. Aside from the many holes in her platform, her anti-Israel positions push her beyond the pale.
The only justification for casting a vote for Stein is to protest the absence of climate change from the presidential debates.
For most of us, the choice comes down to Trump or Clinton, and it’s a choice we hate.
It’s also a choice that is more complicated than many people want it to be.
Trump’s negatives include his lack of political experience, which has shown up in his poorly run campaign. (A presidential campaign is not just an effort to persuade Americans to vote for you; it’s also an extended dress rehearsal, lasting more than a third as long as a presidential term, to demonstrate the administrative and organizational competency and leadership necessary to serve as the nation’s chief executive.)
He has been crude, rude and lewd with an alarming ignorance of the Constitution, public policy and foreign affairs. He has found ways to offend just about every group possible. He has turned serious policy concerns — illegal immigration, jihadist terrorism — into jokes with solutions ranging from irrational (building the wall) to un-American (barring Muslim immigrants and visitors based on their religion).
He has misled voters about his history and about the records of his opponents every step of the campaign. He has been secretive about his business dealings and refused to release his tax returns.
He has no ideology or commitment to coherent policies. He believes only in himself and his ability to make everything great. Which might be reassuring if he had a better record as a businessman rather than someone who has used tax rules, bankruptcy laws and civil courts to the detriment of investors and vendors throughout his career.
And his refusal to accept the legitimacy of the election outcome if he loses is unprecedented and dangerous.
In other words, he’s a candidate who would have no chance against just about any Democrat other than Clinton, who is the epitome of a political establishment few Americans like or respect.
Despite the claims of supporters who seem to be trying to convince themselves as well as others, Clinton is not the most qualified candidate in history. Her résumé of eight years as a junior senator and four years as secretary of state, backed up by eight years as first lady (a job we doubt would have been a presidential qualification for Nancy Reagan or Laura Bush) with no political CEO experience (mayor, governor, president), arguably made her the least qualified of the four major Democratic candidates this year.
She is dismissive of those who disagree with her and just as resistant to apologizing for mistakes and attempting to change her ways as Trump. She is tone-deaf as a politician and seems lacking in empathy while carrying herself with an air of entitlement. She doesn’t seem to have any trouble stretching the truth or personalizing political fights. She hasn’t just stood by her man through his affairs and unwanted sexual advances over the years; she has trashed the other women.
Despite her government experience, she doesn’t seem to have any deep-set political beliefs other than her determination to be the first female president. And she can’t shake the stink of corruption, whether it’s turning $1,000 into $100,000 in cattle futures in her days as Arkansas first lady or managing in 15 years of post-White House life to rise from being broke to being worth well over $100 million even though she was in public service or running for president for all but two years of that time while Bill Clinton was supposedly selflessly running a foundation for global good at no salary.
You might look at Donald Trump and see a monster: a racist, a misogynist, a bigot, a narcissist, a liar, a crook, even a fascist.
You might view Hillary Clinton as a horror: an entitled egotist, an elitist, a narcissist, a liar, a crook, even a socialist.
But please keep in mind that your friends and acquaintances choosing the other candidate aren’t voting for the terrible person you’re voting against.
The people in Jewish Atlanta voting for Trump aren’t voting for the fascist bully feared by so many. They’re voting for the wheeler-dealer who has repeatedly bounced back from adversity to become more successful and more famous, who is known for a quality image, who says what he thinks and doesn’t play political games.
And the people in Jewish Atlanta voting for Clinton aren’t voting for the lying crook despised by so many. They’re voting for the policy wonk, the experienced government leader, the woman who was a partner to a governor and a president and has bounced back from personal embarrassment and overcome a quarter-century of sustained efforts to take her down.
To achieve the reconciliation this country will need beginning Nov. 9, we must accept that our fellow citizens, with few exceptions, are acting with the best of intentions for this nation. Regardless of how extreme we may see the contrast between the candidates, we must not dismiss their voters as fools or deplorables.
In short, we must be better in all ways than the candidates the Republicans and Democrats have given us.
Remember, this election is only for four years. As desperate as the situation may seem, as vital as this choice may feel, we won’t have to wait long to correct any mistake.