My secondary school maintained the tradition of a Sunday evening “Sing” during which the whole student body gathered to belt out vigorous (if not exactly pious) renditions of Protestant America’s top hymns. One of my favorites instructed us as follows:
Once to ev'ry man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth and falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision,
Off'ring each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever
'Twixt that darkness and that light.
I often wondered whether my life would present me, and the nation, with such a “great decision.” And now here we are, squarely facing “bloom or blight.”
I refer not to the choice between competing political parties, ideologies, or policies. As much as their partisans may try to present these as a choice between good and evil, they are not. And if you think that that the choice I am referring to a simply a choice between people, consider how many of us remember who the losing candidates were in Italy in 1924, Germany in 1932, or Venezuela in 1998. Does history suggest, with the benefit of hindsight, that the elections that brought populist demagogues to power should be viewed simply as contests between competing policies or candidates? No. History teaches that the voters were called on to make a choice between the continuation of some sort of democracy, no matter how creaking, weak, or dysfunctional, and the dangerous illusions offered by a strongman. From this perspective, Hillary, whatever her weaknesses and strengths, is nearly irrelevant.
As much as you may have doubts and worse about Hillary Clinton, her long time critic, conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, put it plainly: “Mrs. Clinton is not the apotheosis of evil. She may be a corner-cutter and a liar, and she’ll surely appoint liberals to the Supreme Court. But at least she’s not a sociopath.” It may be the strangest endorsement ever given to a candidate for the presidency, but for the millions of Americans with significant doubts about both candidates, it is the answer.
Post script: Early in this series of posts I warned against complacency. It is a potentially fatal mistake to believe that Mr. Trump cannot win. Movements in the polls in during the past week show him recovering ground in Nevada and Ohio, and gaining the lead in Florida. And if the polls are wrong, the Brexit results suggest they are likely to be wrong in Mr. Trump’s favor. If you are less scared of a Trump victory today than you were a month ago, I respectfully suggest you are not only in error, but actually raising the odds of a Trump victory. This is because millions of Americans will be moved to vote at all, and to vote for Hillary, only if they feel there is a realistic chance that Mr. Trump could win.