August 22, 2016

DAVIES | The Morning After

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Even if Hillary Clinton wins a crushing victory in November, she will enter office as one of the most disliked presidents in history. She is seen as untrustworthy and untruthful, treating the law with haughty disdain. Many on the right, encouraged by today’s political echo chamber, believe her to be a criminal deserving of the sharp end of a firing squad. Calls for politicians to face execution used to be a mark of the insane. Now one hears them routinely.

Donald Trump asserts that a Clinton victory in November will be because she cheated. This plays into the narrative of criminality surrounding Clinton — one could argue that it is only politics a la Trump — but telling Americans that Clinton is meddling in the very mechanisms of electoral democracy is a threat to rational, reasoned discourse. It doesn’t matter that the electoral process is sound in actuality; it matters that the ballot box is believed to be impermeable to the bloody hands of the Killary cartel.

When politicians are seen to operate within a structure, merely altering the variables of that structure (who controls the presidency, number of seats in Congress, etc.), the populace retains faith in the system — what is done can always be undone. When politicians, particularly presidents (or presidential candidates), are believed to be altering that structure, changing the very processes through which the system operates and transforming the fundamental functioning of government, sections of the populace lose hope in rational dialogue as a means for effecting change.

People worry about perceived alterations of process because they transgress the bounds of the normal political ebb and flow. People begin to fear that such changes will not only disadvantage their participation in the system but threaten their lives outside the system. When the girders of American life (the right to bear arms, spurious though it may be, or representative, democratic government) are seen to be jeopardized, radicalism gains greater appeal. The water in the reservoir of tyranny is no longer contained by the great wall that each individual has mentally erected to hold back the tide and those innumerable dams begin to crack. As people watch the flood rise they see no way of preventing themselves from being drowned beneath it. Pulling the plug on the vast cesspool seems to be the only way out.

Men and women decide to take matters out of political discourse and place them squarely in the realm of physical conflict. One has only to look at the shootings of abortion clinics or recent retaliation killings of police officers to see the consequences of such action. As for Crooked Hillary, maybe there is something that “the Second Amendment people”can do… “maybe there is, I don’t know.”

Obama was threatening to some because of their belief that he is a foreign-born Muslim or simply his being a black man. All of these factors, true or false, could be argued against with the full weight of history. Those who believed him to be a member of the Muslim Brotherhood out to destroy America could easily be dismissed as unhinged.

Clinton is threatening to some because she is a woman, yes, but also because she helped her husband harass women (supposedly) and killed four Americans in Benghazi (apparently). One cannot argue against such accusations with historical force. They require nuanced and complex ripostes, subtleties that are sorely lacking from current American discourse. As such, it is more difficult to dismiss the Crooked Hillary believers as lunatics and thus more difficult to convince those with nagging doubts not to give credence to the accusations leveled against her.

Alex Davies is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at ajd253@cornell.edu. Have I Got News For You? appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

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