No eligible voter should ever sit out a presidential election, but that is especially so this year. The landscape of the American political system may be forever changed by the Republican Party's unapologetic nominee, whose scorched-earth, insult-driven, egomaniacal campaign long ago stopped caring about collateral damage to the party or down-ticket GOP candidates.
The last straw for many traditional Republicans was the release of a 2005 taped conversation in which Donald Trump is heard bragging about touching women without their consent. Rather than offer a genuine apology for arguably criminal behavior, Trump did what Trump always does: misdirect. He accused his accusers of being part of a Democrat-led media conspiracy to deny him the White House.
It has become clear that Trump would be a dangerous president, yet polls suggest millions of Americans are willing to take a chance on him. Their allegiance speaks to the desperation many feel after being booted into a constant state of uneasiness by first the 9/11 terrorist attacks and then the Great Recession. Some evangelical Christians believe these are the biblically described "end times."
It's difficult to see how Trump's perpetually dwelling on all things negative could restore anyone's confidence in America's future. But some voters tired of being let down by the politicians they typically elect are willing to take a chance. "What the hell do you have to lose?" Trump asked in trying to woo African American voters. He should ask that question of all the workers who lost their jobs or weren't paid because of his multiple bankruptcies.
There's a better choice for voters, and it isn't even close. Many Americans consider Hillary Clinton just as flawed as Trump, but if you ignore the dueling TV ads and look at their records you will find that isn't true.
We have concerns about Clinton too, including her unwillingness to share transcripts of the dozens of highly compensated speeches she made to Wall Street firms; the relationship between major donors to the Clinton Foundation and nations she negotiated with as secretary of state; and her unwillingness to hold press conferences, which demeans the ideal of open government.
But Clinton's experience as a children's advocate, first lady, U.S. senator, and secretary of state far outweigh Trump's credentials to become president.
What about Benghazi? After two years of Republican-led investigations, there were no findings of malfeasance by Clinton. That's not to say mistakes weren't made in how the military responded to the terrorist attacks on U.S. government facilities in Libya and how the incident was initially characterized as spontaneous by Obama administration officials. But the various investigations all concluded that Clinton wasn't principally responsible.
What about the emails? An exhaustive investigation by the FBI concluded that Clinton had carelessly risked national security by using a private server at her home to read emails that at times included classified information — but that her actions were not criminal. That conclusion upset Republicans who had lavished praise on FBI Director James Comey, himself a registered Republican, before he announced his decision. Some continue to call for Clinton's arrest each time more emails are released. But their tirades smell more like political gamesmanship than a genuine search for truth.
No one knows how many previous secretaries of state mishandled classified material. Colin Powell reportedly used an AOL account to correspond with foreign officials on his laptop. Who knows what John Foster Dulles, Cyrus Vance, Dean Rusk, Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig, or James Baker did when they wanted to take their work home? Email didn't exist. The point isn't to excuse Clinton's behavior, which she has admitted was a mistake, but to put it into perspective.
Benghazi and emails have taken too much of America's attention when the presidential candidates should be defending their ideas to keep the nation safe and prosperous. Trump and Clinton couldn't be any more different in their approaches to domestic and foreign policy. Paying attention to those differences provides another clear picture as to which one would make a better president, and again it isn't close.
Take spending, for example. The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said neither candidate would reverse the growth of spending, but while Clinton's policies would add $200 billion to the debt by 2026, Trump's policies would increase it by $5.3 trillion. The national debt would rise to 86 percent of GDP under Clinton (compared to 77 percent now), but Trump would drive it up to 105 percent of GDP. Aren't Republicans supposed to be more fiscally prudent?
The committee's analysis said Clinton is proposing $1.65 trillion in new spending mostly on health care, infrastructure, paid leave, and education, accompanied by $50 billion in interest costs. That would be offset by $1.5 trillion in new revenues, mostly from tax increases on wealthy households and businesses. Trump proposes $1.2 trillion less in primary spending, but he wants $5.8 trillion in tax cuts, which would lead to $700 billion in higher interest costs. That won't make America great again.
The erratic behavior Trump has displayed isn't what one wants to see in a commander-in-chief, and his praise for Russia's Vladimir Putin is dangerous. Clinton has been careful not to antagonize President Obama's supporters by criticizing his Middle East policy, but she has hinted at taking a more vigorous approach.