By Miriam Raftery
November 8, 2016 (San Diego’s East County) – For many Americans, this presidential election poses the most difficult choice ever. Whoever you choose for president—even if you leave the top of the ticket blank – remember that there are many other down ticket races that matter. Recent local elections for school board and fire board have been decided by a single vote.
I can’t tell you who to support for president. But as a news editor, a mother, and a long-time political observer, I can share thoughts on factors to weigh before you cast your vote--an analysis of the pros and cons of the two major candidates and even some third party alternatives.
There are no saints in this race. Both major party candidates are deeply flawed. There are third party protest vote options that are legitimate, though they are also imperfect and have no chance of winning this cycle. If Greens or Libertarians get 5 percent of the vote nationally they could get matching funds in the future. But what happens to America in the next four years when one of the top two contenders wins? No one candidate is ideal on every issue, most of us would agree.
So do we vote to make America great again, as Trump has touted, or bring America together, as Clinton says she wants to do? Is either truly possible?
This isn’t about appearances. What doesn’t matter is how Clinton looks in pantsuits or if Trump’s face is orange from tanning creams. It’s not about their families—whether Chelsea misspent funds to buy her wedding dress or Trump’s sons shot a leopard, or even the more serious concerns about both high-profile spouses.
So what’s really at stake?
Our planet, for one. The media is so dominated by corporations that we saw not a single question on climate change during the debates. Do you pick the candidate who wants to undo the international climate accord and approve more coal-fired plants, or the candidate who supports the climate change accord and a shift to renewable energy, but also backs fracking? For some environmentalists, voting Jill Stein in the Green Party on principle in California, where Clinton is up 20+ points in polls, is an option to help Greens get matching funds and be included in future debates—though only Trump or Clinton can capture enough electoral votes to win the White House.
Our economy is a concern for many. Clinton was for the Pacific Trade Pact before she was against it, and other free trade agreements such as NAFTA. Trump has long said he opposes free trade and wants to bring back jobs from overseas, yet he’s sent American jobs overseas to make products for his own companies in China. Would he practice what he preaches, or what he’s done in practice?His business empire includes successful enterprises, but also many bankruptcies and thousands of lawsuits from small business vendors he never paid. The cozy ties of both Clintons and Trump to Wall Street are concerns for Sanders ‘ voters. America did prosper during Bill Clinton’s presidency, and Trump has no track record in politics. But his outsider status has appeal to some. He’s not beholden to the Washington elite. On the other hand, can we really trust a tycoon who stiffed his own workers to take care of working families?
For true fiscal conservatives, Libertarian Gary Johnson is a viable option who wants to shrink government spending. He’s polling in double digits nationally. True, he can’t name a foreign leader he admires and didn’t know where Aleppo, the bombed Syrian city, is located. But he’s not going to win and a vote for him is still a principled alternative for conservatives against Trump. There’s also Evan McMullin, a write-in independent in California who is actually polling high in Utah. McMullin was chief policy director for the House Republican Conference, specializing in foreign affairs and national security. He also worked for the CIA. One hopes he could at least find Syria on a map.
On foreign policy, Clinton hands-down has the most experience and knowledge, as former Secretary of State, Senator and First Lady. On the other hand, experience doesn’t necessarily mean wisdom. She herself has admitted mistakes, voting for the Iraq War before learning there were no weapons of mass destruction. The Middle East is a tinderbox and mistakes are virtually inevitable; it’s easy to criticize after the fact. On the other hand, Donald Trump has disturbingly cozy ties to Russia, praises the dictator Putin, and has support of both Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s dictator, facts most Americans should find troubling. He has had business dealings overseas and is not a babe in the woods. He has written a book titled “TheArt of the Deal” and could surprise on negotiating skills, though his brash temper has rightfully concerned many. On the other hand Clinton is viewed as hawkish even among many Democrats. Yet Trump has openly asked why the U.S. doesn’t use nuclear weapons that we have. For true peaceniks, maybe the Peace and Freedom Party is the protest vote option. For most, it boils down to a pragmatic choice: which of two less-than-ideal options would you rather have in charge of the nuclear trigger codes?
There’s also the issue of defusing tensions around the world through good works, to show America as force for good, not just dropping bombs though terrorism is of course a real threat. The Clinton Foundation, for all its criticisms on its corporate and foreign donors, has invested hugely in global initiatives such as improving health for women and children, combating AIDS, helping build local economies by supporting farmers and artisans, and bringing education to girls. Trump has been silent on such matters.
Our children here in America are huge concerns this election. Already, the American Federation of Teachers warns that Donald Trump’s public bullying of women, the disabled, minorities and even veterans is leading to more bullying problems among children in schools. (View video). Hillary Clinton also has ethical challenges, despite being cleared by the FBI on her e-mail scandal, but she has maintained decorum and courtesy in how she addresses others, perhaps these are diplomatic skills learned as a mother and grandmother, as well as through her official positions.
For pro-lifers, some find Clinton objectionable due to her pro-choice stance. Trump says he’s pro-life, after he said he was pro-choice. There are understandable concerns about the unborn. On the other hand, what about the lives of millions of children already born who could benefit from cleaner air and water, better healthcare, and programs to help families in poverty, and a positive role model for kindness toward others?
Decency and treatment of women are huge factors in this election. Both have spouses that have done morally objectionable acts—Bill Clinton disgraced the presidency with his affair and Melanie Trump posed naked, wearing nothing but a smirk and a hand barely covering what her husband has so crassly called a “pussy.” Perhaps we need to hold our noses and ignore the actions of spouses if we are choosing either major party candidate, but focusing on the character of candidates themselves is important.
As to character,one has been accused of various wrongs from corruption to misjudgments in Benghazi, though formally cleared each time there was an investigation. Rigged? Who knows. Power can beget privilege. But Donald Trump bragged in his own crude words on tape of groping women without consent. He boasted on a talk show of walking into dressing rooms during beauty pageants—even while minors were changing. And now over a dozen women have claimed he sexually assaulted them. He is facing a civil lawsuit with a hearing in December accusing him of raping a 13 year old girl. The other candidate, if elected, would be the first woman president in America’s history. Which would we rather have our daughters—and our sons—emulate? Which lessons would we rather see in the history books our grandchildren will someday read?
Healthcare is another big issue. The Affordable Care Act brought healthcare to millions who had none, but brought sticker shock and higher premiums to many. Subsidies have just been raised for those renewing this cycle, but not enough for everyone caught in the middle. Clinton wants to reform and improve the Affordable Care Act and/or consider a public option, ie, single payer healthcare for all like all other industrialized nations have. Perfect? There is no perfect system. Trump wants to repeal Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) and “replace it” but has provided only the sketchiest of details—and none seem likely to address the problems that were there before the Affordable Care Act, such as soaring premiums and insurance companies dropping coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions or serious illnesses.
There’s also the treatment of our neighbors, including the many immigrants who have helped to make America great. Trump has denigrated Mexicans as rapists and murderers, calling for deportation of even children brought here as infants if their parents are undocumented—no matter how hard they’ve worked. He has denigrated African –Americans, regularly having them thrown out of his rallies, granted media passes to white supremacist media and was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan. He’s urged his crowds to beat up protesters. A disabled boy in a wheelchair was thrown out of a Trump rally this week, his wheelchair kicked by Trump supporters. Trump has never spoken out against such abuses, and his own words have encouraged them. Do we want a nation of roughnecks, or civilized political discourse?
Do we want 11 million undocumented immigrants to live each day in fear, even children? Do we want our African-American neighbors to fear repeal of rights such as the Voting Rights Act? Already Trump has incited his followers to patrol polling places, some armed. Clinton has called for protecting rights of African-Americans and comprehensive immigration reform, which would include strong borders and deporting violent criminals, but grant a pathway to citizenship for other willing to work hard.
Which makes America great, or brings us together as Americans? Either? Both? Neither?
Only you can decide. You do have choices, and they are not easy ones. I myself have for the first time in my life been an undecided voter for many months. I won’t tell you who I am voting for, or how you should vote. The path to that decision is one each of us must weigh, in good conscience.
But please vote wisely, and consider not only your pocketbook over the next four years, or a single hot-button issue, or a glib promise made on the campaign trail, or even righteous anger at a system that has brought us flawed choices.
Instead, please consider what’s best for the future of our nation, our world, and the legacy for our children in future generations.