The morning after, the nation awakes asking: What have we done?
Both parties seem intent on throwing the election away. The Democrats, running against a man with highest-ever negatives, are poised to nominate a candidate with the second-highest-ever negatives. Hillary Clinton started with every advantage, yet could not put away until this week an obscure socialist in a country allergic to socialism.
Bernie Sanders had one advantage. He had something to say. She has nuthin’.
The Republicans had 17 candidates. A dozen could have taken down the near-fatally weak Clinton.
Instead, they nominate Donald Trump – conspiracy theorist, fabulist, admirer of strongmen.
His provocations have been brilliantly sequenced so that the shock of the new extinguishes the memory of the last. Though perhaps not his most recent – his attack on a “Mexican” federal judge (born and bred in Indiana) for inherent bias because of his ethnicity. Textbook racism, averred Speaker Paul Ryan.
Trump doubled down, adding American Muslims to the list of those who might be inherently biased.
Yet Trump is the party’s chosen nominee. He won the primary contest fair and square. The people have spoken. What to do?
First, dare to say the people aren’t always right. Surely Republicans admit the possibility. Or do they believe the people chose rightly in electing Obama? Twice. Historical examples of other countries choosing even more wrongly are numerous and tragic. The people’s will deserves respect, not necessarily affirmation.
I sympathize with the dilemma of Republican leaders reluctant to affirm. Many are as appalled as I am by Trump but don’t have the freedom to say, as I have, that I cannot imagine voting for him. They have party and institutional responsibilities.
For some, that meant endorsing Trump in the belief that they might be able to contain, constrain, guide and perhaps educate him. To my mind, this thinking has always been hopelessly misbegotten but not necessarily venal.
Which brings us to the matter of Paul Ryan, now being excoriated by many conservatives saying he would vote for Trump.
Yet what was surprising was not Ryan’s ever-so-tepid semi-endorsement, which was inevitable, but his initial refusal to endorse Trump when, after the Indiana primary, nearly everyone around him was falling mindlessly, some shamelessly, into line.
That was surprising. Which is why Ryan’s refusal to immediately follow suit created such a sensation. It also created, deliberately, the time and space for non-Trumpites to hold the line. Ryan legitimized resistance to the new regime, giving it safe harbor in the House, even as resisters were being relentlessly accused of treason for “electing Hillary.”
In the end, Ryan called an armistice. What was he to do? Oppose and resign? And then what? What would remain of conservative leadership in the GOP? And if he created a permanent split in the party, he’d be setting up the GOP’s entire conservative wing as scapegoat if Trump loses in November.
Ryan had no good options. He chose the one he felt was least damaging to the conservative cause to which he has devoted his entire adult life.
I wouldn’t have done it, but I’m not House speaker. He is a practicing politician who has to calculate the consequences of what he does. That deserves some understanding.
One day, we shall all have to account for what we did and said in this scoundrel year. For now, we each have our conscience to attend to.