We hear plenty of talk about the meaning of this year’s election. Some say the result will indicate whether American voters were more strongly motivated by their hopes or by their fears. But to cast the choice we face in terms so simple and so obviously suggestive—for who among us wouldn’t prefer hope to fear?—is to obfuscate things that ought to be recognized by all who possess any measure of political intelligence and who, consequently, feel a measure of political responsibility. All of us, that is, who care to take into consideration the true, long-term interests of our country, rather than merely to cast our votes according to whatever we perceive to be our own immediate interests, should recognize, for instance, that hopes may be sound or unsound; that fears may be reasonable or unreasonable; and, that by thinking things through we may well increase our chances of distinguishing the ones from the others. So I submit that, rather than the relative strength of any of our hopes or fears, the result of our election will indicate Americans’ political intelligence—or lack thereof.
Hillary Clinton is of course betting on our lack thereof. She has warned from the get-go that Donald Trump’s “incendiary rhetoric” is sure to attract ISIS recruits. The lesson to be inferred from this by the politically unintelligent may be expressed as follows: “if ISIS is bad, and ‘incendiary rhetoric’ means more of ISIS, then kind and gentle rhetoric would mean less of ISIS, which would be good.” Unfortunately, though, such thinking rests upon the utterly unsound hope that mere rhetorical adjustments on our part would suffice to make these enemies our friends. In fact, as far as ISIS fighters are concerned, even or perhaps especially the kindest and gentlest among us are nothing more than infidel imperialist decadents who presume to treat our women equitably and who tolerate, even applaud, the abominable practice of homosexuality. It therefore belongs to the politically intelligent among us to set ourselves a different goal, a goal we can achieve; if we can’t hope to win their love, we certainly can compel respect of a kind. The Iranian revolutionaries who held 52 Americans hostage for the last 444 days of Jimmy Carter’s kind and gentle presidency knew better than to hold them beyond the first day of Reagan’s. Perhaps the latter’s “incendiary rhetoric” inspired fear in them? Perhaps we would be well advised to inspire fear in the inveterate enemies we face today?
Another tired talking point of Clinton’s, as well tailored to suit the politically unintelligent as the one we’ve just discussed, concerns Russia’s alleged interference with our politics. Particularly brazen of those Russians, Clinton would have us believe, was their alleged role in bringing to light the various measures taken by the Democratic National Committee to make sure Clinton would “win” her party’s nomination. The train of thought this allegation is meant to provoke in us runs something like this: “Putin is bad, and Putin and Trump like each other, so Trump must be bad, and Putin must be trying to help him win.” But the politically intelligent are more inclined to raise questions like these: Don’t we Americans understand our government to be a thing “of, by, and for the people?” Don’t we insist on the accountability of our elected representatives? Doesn’t the Democratic Party, in particular, present itself as the vanguard of a “progressive” march toward ever greater accountability, transparency, and fairness? And isn’t this election-rigging of theirs astonishingly at odds with that self-presentation? In other words, do we not perhaps owe a debt of gratitude to whomever made the DNC’s dishonesty apparent to us? However this may be, we certainly see through Clinton’s attempt to turn our attention away from such intelligent and all-American questions by exploiting our fear of foreign infiltration of our government’s electronic databases.
But so much by way of old news. Today Donald Trump delivered a speech, the theme of which was “Peace through Strength.” (The very idea is bound to confuse the most politically unintelligent among us, whose public school educations have all but irrevocably convinced them that, since “peace” requires “niceness,” whereas “strength” requires “meanness,” there can no more be any such thing as “peace through strength” than there could be such a thing as “niceness through meanness.”) The speech recounted various substantial claims that Trump has made before, to wit: that Clinton has some nerve to tout her past “experience,” considering the series of disasters that befell the Middle East during her tenure as Secretary of State; that Clinton’s scandalous handling of State Department emails, about which we continue to learn more and more (and more and more appalling) details, betrays her unfitness to serve as Commander in Chief; and that, as dismal as things seem and really are at present, domestically as well as internationally, a bright future still remains in store for us if we pursue a “Peace through Strength” foreign policy agenda to complement a “Law and Order” agenda at home.
But Trump’s speech was by no means merely a reiteration of prior claims. He outlined several long-term goals to be accomplished by means of a new defense budget, which included such straightforward measures as increasing the number of soldiers in the Army, increasing the number of ships in the Navy, and increasing the number of planes in the Air Force. And he suggested various means by which we could fund these increases. But what may have been still more satisfying than all these particulars to the politically intelligent ear were statements like this: “History shows,” Trump declared, “that when America is not prepared,” the world becomes a more dangerous place; when we retreat, “we only invite more aggression from our adversaries.” Witness the results of the retreat inspired by Clinton’s and Obama’s unsound hopes of bringing about peace by kinder, gentler means than such a silly, antiquated, not-nice thing as strength. Perhaps, had they studied history, Clinton and Obama might have pursued a more intelligent course. Then again, their interest in history, like that of all “progressives,” begins and ends with their self-satisfied belief that history is something of which they stand “on the right side.”
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton, apparently intoxicated by a felt sense of her own legal invincibility, presumes to speak as if she believed herself capable of deleting August from America’s memory. Yesterday she repeated flimsy claims she had first made in her convention speech, such as that Trump’s convention speech was “dire,” “dark,” “divisive,” and “dangerous,” and that “Americans don’t say ‘I alone can fix it.’” Well. Perhaps these claims sufficed to impress some of us when Clinton first made them a month ago. But since then, Trump has not only made several detailed policy speeches but has made several striking moves as well—I have in mind his visits to Louisiana, Detroit, and Mexico, in particular—and, almost certainly as a result of all this, he has eliminated her once-substantial lead in polls. And by means of all these speeches and these moves, Trump has demonstrated his determination to win the election in the right way—namely, by appealing to Americans’ political intelligence. Has Hillary Clinton nothing to say on her own behalf, no intelligent arguments to offer those of us who were persuaded by Trump’s performance during the month of August, so as to move us to reconsider her candidacy? I doubt it. And yet, sadly, she may not need any: the demographic of politically unintelligent Americans may well be substantial enough to carry her to victory.