No matter how profound we pretend to be, we all rely on various platitudes to carry us through life. One of my favorites is: “’Cheer up,’ they said. ‘Things could be worse.’ So I did. And sure enough, they were.”
Doesn’t that bring tears to your eyes? I can tell you that it has guided me through some of the dark days. For instance, the current presidential campaign. Let’s face it: We don’t have an uplifting choice here. In fact, it’s a real downer.
We are being told to choose between wary and scary, between one candidate, Hillary Clinton, who is so cautious and secretive that she fails to inspire even though she’s the alternative to the contemptible human being Donald Trump and the “deplorable” millions of Americans who have latched on to his message of hate, ignorance and outright lying. “Deplorable” is her word and it’s accurate, but she botched the message when she got timid at the first sign of resistance and semi-apologized.
Hillary’s pitch is not exactly stirring: “Vote for me. I’m not as bad as him.” Unfortunately, it’s absolutely true. I’m among those in the media who have incurred the wrath of the Clintonistas for a long time by insisting on challenging every deception that she and her people throw our way. Her supporters don’t like it; many even demand that we lighten up because the other guy is so gross. That isn’t going to happen, even though they’re partially right; Donald Trump is disgraceful.
The biggest rap against Hillary Clinton is that she’s not truthful. She’s accumulated that reputation over years of dissembling. But compared with Donald Trump, she’s authentic. Compared with Donald Trump, she’s the honest person for whom Diogenes has been searching.
She tells half-truths. He’s a complete liar who makes things up, and when he’s caught he either sticks to his fabrication or claims he never said that — or blames reporters for misinterpreting him. He is deplorable, and so are those who adore him for “telling it like it is,” even though he routinely tells it like it isn’t.
Of course, that has been his history, where decades of fraud charges and bankruptcies have been overcome because he’s a great showman in the “sucker born every minute” tradition. Unfortunately, we’re the suckers, and if we elect him, our nation could well be sucked into historical oblivion.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s tentative approach is maddening, but it must be compared with his outrageous style and outlandish bombast that has been the basis of his entire campaign.
That might happen if Hillary continues her maddeningly timid journey. If his shtick actually works and he and his people take over, it’s not hyperbole to call that certain disaster for the United States and the world. First of all, Trump may be clever, but he’s not very smart. Complexity is not his strong suit. Unfortunately, complexity is the reality in the hall of mirrors that is international relations. They are intertwined, multidimensional chess games. Wrong moves have brutal consequences.
The same is true for this nation’s crippling domestic problems. They have been allowed to build up over decades of unscrupulous conduct by our politicians and the ones who bribe them, enabled by us in the media who have been all too willing to substitute sound bites for meaningful, substantive discussion.
It’s going to take more than a madman who has no grasp to untangle these Gordian knots. Frankly, it’ll take someone who is not just wonkishly competent, which would describe Hillary Clinton, but someone who can rouse the people of this country to use their better instincts and rescue us before we fail.
Hillary’s supporters are correct that Donald Trump exploits our darkest instincts. That’s his version of leadership. If somehow we make him our president, or if she, in effect, forfeits, as she seems to be doing, we are doomed. Those dwindling polls are not mirages. She needs to be rescued from herself. We need to be rescued. Donald Trump is an unthinkable alternative.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.