Politics & Prejudices: What’s really at stake

Several weeks after Ronald Reagan was elected president, the Weavers, that famous old lefty folk group, had one last concert in Carnegie Hall. Lee Hays, who would be dead in a few months, cautioned depressed progressives not to overreact.

"This, too, shall pass. I've had kidney stones, and I know," he chuckled. He was right, of course; the country survived.

Donald J. Trump is an entirely different case.

There's actually reason to fear we might not survive a Trump presidency. Adam Gopnik, a longtime, highly respected staff writer for The New Yorker, wrote last month: "No reasonable person, however opposed to her politics, can believe for a second that Clinton's accession to power would be a threat to the Constitution or the continuation of American democracy. No reasonable person can believe that Trump's accession to power would not be."

Reagan, who I proudly stood in line more than once to vote against, and who helped set his party and this country on a course to extreme economic inequality, knew his limitations. He had been a rather successful governor of the nation's largest state.

Reagan knew, as Oakland County's L. Brooks Patterson knows, that he isn't a detail person or one who grasps the fine points and nuances of policy. He hired people to do that for him.

Yes, that eventually backfired, as in the Iran-Contra scandal. But nothing Ronald Reagan did utterly wrecked the economy for decades or moved us close to world war. In fact, his unexpected friendship with Mikhail Gorbachev helped end the Cold War.

Donald Trump might well start a nuclear war.

I've never said anything like that about anyone before, but now I have good authority for it. Thirty years ago, a New York journalist named Tony Schwartz who was hurting for money became a ghostwriter. He wrote Trump's book, The Art of the Deal, after persuading the tycoon he was too young for an autobiography.

Today, Schwartz, who made millions from the book, is filled with deep regret and blames himself bitterly for having created a monster. "I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes, there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization," Schwartz told The New Yorker in a recent story.

Now, I never met either Trump or Schwartz. But I have grounds to believe the writer knows what he is talking about.

That's because I have ghostwritten autobiographies for two very different people: the feminist beauty queen and portrait painter Patricia Hill Burnett in the early 1990s; the other, published last year with Frank J. Kelley, Michigan's former attorney general.

When you do a project like that, you aren't writing a book about them; you essentially become them; you have to assimilate their lives, their biography; their way of thinking, their speaking style.

Until the day she died, Patricia Burnett would occasionally call me to check some fact about her own life.

You know them, in some odd way, better than you know yourself. There's also an unwritten code of silence and honor about this, as least for me; I know some minor things about both my subjects that I plan to take to my grave; you are in a sense, sort of a father confessor, honorably bound to an oath of loyalty.

However, that assumes your subject isn't in a position to possibly destroy the Constitution, democracy, and maybe the world.

"I put lipstick on a pig," Schwartz told The New Yorker's Jane Mayer. "I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention."

Frankly, when I first heard that Schwartz was doing a tell-all on Trump ("Donald Trump's Ghostwriter Tells All, July 25") I had some reservations as to the morality of selling out a man who made you millions. But as the story makes clear, Schwartz never dreamed he was creating a political force; he thought, at most, he was just helping an egocentric real estate magnate promote himself.

I also would have been dubious if his confessions presented a man very unlike the one we've been seeing ad nauseam daily for the past year. No, what he says about the private Trump has the ring of truth; it is what everyone else has said, except more so.

Tony Schwartz's Trump is an egomaniac who first met his future ghostwriter after Schwartz did a 1985 piece exposing him as a disgusting slumlord. Trump loved the piece.

"Trump didn't fit any model of human being I've ever met," he told Mayer. "He was obsessed with publicity, and he didn't care what you wrote." Schwartz doesn't present himself as any kind of hero; he admits he sold out for money because he needed a bigger apartment.

But now he's scared. The most important thing he wants people to know about Trump is that "it's impossible to keep him focused on any topic (other than himself) for more than a few minutes."

Like others, he notes that Trump has no books in his house and literally never reads. Nor is he reflective; he thinks the Republican presidential nominee is a totally amoral man, who couldn't care less about anyone and anything, beyond what they can do for him.

Naturally, since the piece appeared, Trump's lawyers are threatening to sue the author, who said, "I'm much more worried about his becoming president than anything he might do to me."

Everything we've seen so far says he and we should be. Geoffrey Fieger, a man whose personality has sometimes been compared to Trump's, called me while I was writing this column.

"Why don't they do what they did to Sarah Palin?" he said. "Have a network anchor interview him. Ask him who the leaders of major countries are. Ask him what the Federal Reserve is.

"Expose his total ignorance."

That's a good idea. What I worry about is whether enough people would get how important this is ­— or how difficult it is to hold any major government position, let alone be president.

Forget avoiding nuclear war; maintaining the economy is in itself an extremely delicate thing. Fail to maintain a delicate balance of things like interest rates and the money supply, and you may get soaring inflation, soaring unemployment — or both.

Decent government is like oxygen; you only notice when you aren't getting any. Hillary Clinton is, indeed, a conventional moderately liberal (by today's standards) politician, with some good positions and some eye-rolling ones. I voted for Bernie Sanders.

But, it comes down to this. You are thirsty. Do you want slightly stale bottled water, or sulfuric acid? Because those are the choices.

And not choosing between them is a vote for acid, every time.

Michael Moore The colossus of Flint hasn't always been right — but as his movies show, he is often right on in his diagnosis of our American pathology.

And as of now, he thinks Donald Trump is going to win — by winning four states including Michigan.

"Mitt Romney lost by 64 electoral votes. Add up the votes cast by Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. It's 64."

He predicts Trump will spend most of the campaign appealing to angry white men in these states "and that will put him over the top."

Well, I don't see it. Ohio, possibly. But the others haven't voted Republican since the 1980s. Still — it's cause for worry.

"Never in my life have I wanted to be proven wrong more," Moore wrote. Us too, Mikey, every last goddamn sane one of us.