Politics & Prejudices: The danger we face

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Think how bizarre this is: The last two Republican presidents say they will never vote for Donald Trump.

One, George H.W. Bush, has announced that he will vote for Hillary Clinton. Mitt Romney, the party's nominee last time, hasn't said how he's voting; just that it won't be for Trump.

Other present and former members of Congress have done the same. Never in our political history have so many top figures in one party refused to support their party's nominee.

And yet Trump is running nearly even in the polls.

This is a candidate who has slimed women, sneered at minorities, promised mass deportations, and lied more than any candidate ever in the history of presidential campaigns.

He badly lost the first debate to Hillary Clinton, in part because he was too lazy or undisciplined to prepare.

And yet Trump is running nearly even in the polls.

What is wrong with this nation?

Late last month, I had an opportunity to meet Ken Burns, the nation's best and best loved documentary filmmaker, after he addressed a large audience at Michigan State University, as part of the annual Gov. Jim Blanchard public service forum.

Throughout his long career, Burns has never taken a political position or endorsed any candidate.

Until now.

"We've been having contested presidential elections since 1800, and this time, we have the least qualified candidate in history," he said ­— and received a standing ovation.

He never mentioned Donald Trump by name. But the man who gave us those unforgettable series on jazz, baseball, and the Civil War left no doubt where he stood.

Afterward, he said "we ignore this danger at our peril," and told the story of how Franklin D. Roosevelt told an aide that if he failed, he wouldn't go down in history as our worst president; he would go down as our last one.

Later, on CNN, Ken Burns was blunter, called Trump a "protofascist," and said what's happening now reminded him of what was happening in Germany or Italy in the early 1930s.

What we should be seeing is polls showing Hillary Clinton ahead by more than 2-to-1 nationally.

That was what happened when Republicans nominated the loose-lipped Barry Goldwater in 1964, who liked to talk about privatizing Social Security, and joke about lobbing nuclear bombs in the men's room at the Kremlin.

Nobody, including Goldwater, thought he had the ghost of a chance to win. Yet Donald Trump says worse every day.

And he actually could win this election.

So, it is time to get real: Do you really want someone's fingers on the trigger who has repeatedly asked why we can't use nuclear weapons? Do you know what that might mean?

Do you want to turn this nation over to someone who clearly has no idea how government works, who could clumsily destroy prosperity and democracy in America?

Just because you are bored with the status quo?

Yes, Hillary Clinton is often not very likable nor inspiring — though she is superbly qualified. In many ways she is a typical politician who may be slightly financially greedier than most, interested in chasing down every last legal buck she can.

True, she has been secretive, and took forever to admit she was wrong to use a private email server. She mostly lacks charm and has little or no sense of humor.

Yet there is absolutely no evidence that she is a crook or incompetent, or that she betrayed the nation at Benghazi, or a hundred other lies spouted by the Republicans.

Instead, she is a grown-up, which is what we absolutely must have in the world's most important job.

Real life is not a reality TV show.

We've got just over a month left in what has been one of the dreariest and most soul-deadening campaigns in history.

Regardless, there is a clear choice. Probably the best thing that could happen would be for Clinton to win — and Democrats manage at least a 50-50 tie in the Senate.

With Clinton in the White House, that would mean Vice President Tim Kaine could break any ties, giving the Democrats effective control. And the Dems have about an equally even chance of doing precisely that. Republicans have a 54-46 edge now, but Democrats are near-certain to capture now-Republican seats in Indiana, Wisconsin, and Illinois.

They've got a good chance of doing the same in Pennsylvania, but will probably lose the retiring Harry Reid's seat in Nevada. Which means Senate control will probably be decided by the race in New Hampshire, now a dead heat.

However, Democratic control of the Senate would likely last only two years, since most of the Senate seats up in two years are now held by Democrats, and the party in the White House almost always loses seats in the midterm elections.

What we need, then, is for all the above to happen — and for the two worst justices, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, to suddenly decide to enter Trappist monasteries.

Imagine how wonderful that would be. Seriously, however, if there is a Democratic president and Senate, look for the Republicans to immediately confirm the long-standing current nominee, Merrick Garland, during a lame-duck session.

They won't like that much, but they know he is 64 and moderate. And they just know that if they don't, that old devil Hillary might name a 37-year-old transgender Marxist instead.

Sigh. But forget all that for a moment.

What few, if any of us realize is how much this nation and the world will miss President Barack Obama, who will be gone in barely three months. For eight years, we have had the luxury of having a president who is a rational adult in a political world of squabbling immature morons.

He hasn't allowed himself to be shaken by some of the most vile, hate-filled racist attacks in American history.

Neither he nor his administration has been touched by the slightest financial or sexual scandal. His policies literally saved the auto industry, and saved everyone in this state from repeating a worse version of the Great Depression.

He made mistakes, to be sure, but we've now had eight years of a president who was both smarter than most of us, not twisted in any way, and most of all a politician who at his core seemed to be an ordinary, decent, normal human being.

Regardless of the result, we'll miss him.

Third-grade reading

There's no doubt that Michigan kids are falling behind the rest of the country. Among the states, we are now 41st in third-grade reading proficiency, down from 28th just a few years ago. The Education Trust-Midwest predicts we may soon be 48th, just about dead last.

Nearly everyone agrees that third-grade reading levels are about the best barometer there is for forecasting a child's future academic success. Last month, the legislature passed a bill that sought to solve the problem with a new law that says children who aren't reading at an adequate level cannot move on to the fourth grade unless they do.

Naturally, there are some exemptions that savvy parents will be able to work if need be. The subject caused terrible controversy, however. Some educators are saying holding kids back a grade is worse than social promotion.

But what few said was the truth, which is that the schools need more money for curriculum reform and "reading recovery" teachers and things designed to get kids to love to read.

That, you see, would cost money.

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