The 2016 Election Endgame: Decisive or Dangerous?

The next president of the United States? Hillary Clinton is poised, adept, and on the verge of winning.

The next president of the United States? Hillary Clinton is on the verge of winning.

SOMERSET, KY — There aren’t too many redder places in this reddest of red southern states than Pulaski County. Mitt Romney beat President Obama in 2012 with 80 percent of the vote in this south central Kentucky county, and a nearly 16,000-vote margin — 20,714 to 4,976. Still, on my afternoon runs through the pleasant leafy neighborhoods of Somerset, the county seat, I haven’t seen one yard sign for Donald Trump. It’s as though in depriving Trump of public support people here are also displaying their private anguish.

Loathing Hillary Clinton is one thing. Trump’s desire to blow up American democracy is something else entirely. With their children dispatched to good public schools, and their late model vehicles parked in the tidy yards of right-sized homes, there is absolutely no sentiment expressed here that Somerset’s residents are prepared to scrap it all and start over.

It doesn’t look now as though they are going to have to. Clinton has a comfortable lead in most public polls by performing well during three presidential debates, and essentially saying little else over the last three weeks. That’s cleared the way for Trump to bluff and bully and shriek his way down a steep decline in support. Last night, signaling that’s he’s prepared to resume a career in reality television, Trump declared his resistance to accepting the results of the election. He is resolved to keep the country waiting for the next big provocation, the very same tactic that provided the $US billions in free media attention that made his improbable run to the Republican nomination possible.

There isn’t anything in the lives of any of us to compare to this ugly and unnerving election.

Hillary Clinton is reviled by critics on all sides for character traits, that if they were true, would have prevented her from accomplishing all that she has in her life. Few candidates for president have been as thoughtful, meticulous, intelligent, experienced and well prepared as she is.

The worst offenses her critics offer are:

1. The craven assessment that she is responsible for the death of a diplomat and several more Americans in an attack on US government facilities in Libya. She wasn’t. Republicans mounted a sham Congressional investigation anyway to elevate the attack into a political issue to harm Clinton this year. It’s important to note that Republicans had never before cared to lay the blame for any of the previous lethal terrorist attacks on US installations that occurred under Republican presidents.

2. The use of a private server that Clinton established to send and receive email while she was Secretary of State. The implication is she played fast and loose with state secrets, a charge that is not true.

3. Her decision to keep her family together after Bill Clinton’s sex romp with Monica Lewinsky in the late 1990s; assertions that she enabled Bill to build her own political prominence; and she was too tough in attacking the credibility of other women Bill may or may not have bedded.

Fortunately for the U.S. Hillary Clinton is durable, measured, and a grownup. She’s been pushed by Bernie Sanders to embrace progressive ideas she hadn’t grasped earlier — like free college tuition and stronger measures to cool the warming planet. She’s shown herself to be graceful and persistent under pressure. And she’s been tactically smart.

Knowing of Trump’s childish capacity to mindlessly strike back when criticized she baited a trap in the first debate on September 26. Hillary unearthed the cruel criticisms that Trump unleashed at a Miss Universe winner in the 1990s after she’d gained weight. Trump swallowed the chum whole, spent the pre-dawn hours afterwards tweeting more offensive comments, and kept up the assault for much of the following week.

While Trump raged, and his supporters tried to defend their candidate, I felt like an observer at a very odd political hanging. Even in a year of surprise and outrage it seemed to me that Trump was the one putting the rope around his own neck. The trap door opened and the neck-snapping fall came 11 days later, on October 7, when the Washington Post posted a video of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women. “When you’re a star, they let you do it,” he said. “You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

We’ve never seen a presidential candidate dissolve like Donald Trump. Last night, in 90 minutes of live television debating, Trump was his recognizable agitated, sputtering, interrupting, nasty, and unnerving self. Red-faced, scowling, and incapable of speaking in clear English, Trump manages to be a caricature of the actor — Alex Baldwin — who plays him on Saturday Night Live. A friend here, a lifelong Republican, judges his candidacy a failure and his chances for victory as far out of reach. “He’s toast,” she said. “Why? Because he’s looney.”

Oh, that her prediction is accurate. My wish is that Hillary Clinton win, that her presidency flourishes, and that lawmakers in both parties resolve to address the inequities in opportunity and income that drove Trump’s candidacy. Those desires, though, crash against the wall of anger and dismay that Trump built over the last year. His campaign, so self-involved, marketed the image of a strong man capable of acting alone to save an America portrayed as gravely injured and bleeding to death. He appears to be on the edge of losing to a courageous woman capable of nursing a troubled country back to health. Less than three weeks to go. Vote people vote.

— Keith Schneider

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