When voters go to the polls in November, they will face a stark choice. Are we a nation in crisis that must go it alone to succeed, as Republican nominee Donald Trump says? Or are we a nation at a moment of reckoning that is “stronger together,” in the words of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton?
How voters respond to these visions of America – one alarmist and dark, the other serious, but hopeful – will shape the values, laws and reputation of our nation for decades.
It’s no exaggeration to say that if we elect Trump, a populist demagogue with delusions of grandeur, we risk abandoning core American ideals. The New York reality show star has risen on a message of fear and exclusion, and though he claims to be the one-man answer to the nation’s alleged problems, his plan is about as detailed as a fourth-grader’s book report.
Meanwhile Clinton, a former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state, has endured so many political smears for so long that it has made her guarded, aggravating voters’ impression that she is inauthentic. No one disputes, however, that she is smart and hardworking. And she does have specifics, on a wide range of policies.
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Here’s how the choice stacks up so far.
On national security
At the Republican convention, Trump promised “law and order.” He focused on shootings of police officers, and attacks by “Islamic terrorists” here and abroad. He complained – without much attribution – about undocumented immigrants invading towns and committing crimes. But he offered few solutions, beyond vowing to enforce the law.
Internationally, he suggested that he wouldn’t offer U.S. military support for NATO member states. Then he invited Russian hackers to commit an act of espionage against Clinton. He and his running mate, Mike Pence, have since claimed he was being sarcastic. It didn’t sound like that.
Clinton has pledged her support to NATO and allies in the Middle East. Her platform calls for a broader air campaign against ISIS, and for using diplomacy to resolve Syria’s civil war and Iraq’s conflict between the Sunnis and Shias, both of which have contributed to the rise in terrorism.
On climate change
Gov. Jerry Brown last week rightly took the Republican nominee to task for being a climate change denier and for casting doubt on the very existence of California’s years-long drought. “Trump says global warming is a hoax,” he told Democratic delegates. “I say Trump is a fraud.”
Clinton, meanwhile, received thunderous applause for a statement that, in any other election season, would be a given. “I believe in science,” she said, smiling.
To combat climate change, she has vowed to start a $60 billion Clean Energy Challenge to cut carbon pollution nationwide, invest in clean energy jobs, and put the country on a path to install a half billion solar panels by 2020, enough to power every American home.
Trump has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association. An entire section of his platform is dedicated to the protecting the 2nd Amendment. He backs the status quo as a solution to mass shootings, wants to do away with all bans on guns and large magazines, and supports making concealed carry permits good in all 50 states.
Clinton wants to go the other direction. Her platform calls for expanding and strengthening background checks, banning assault-style weapons, and closing the gun show and internet loopholes. She wants to revoke licenses from gun dealers who break the law – something that is all but impossible today thanks to the NRA.
Both candidates say more money should go to mental health services.
Trump launched his campaign on the most divisive of notes, labeling immigrants from Mexico as “rapists” and criminals. Now, in the name of preventing terrorism, he wants to ban Muslim immigrants – even though most terrorists are Americans – and make it all but impossible for refugees to resettle here.
His plan to build a wall along the nation’s border with Mexico has earned him the most praise – and scorn. His strategy to get Mexico to pay for it, according to his platform, involves modifying the Patriot Act to prevent undocumented immigrants from sending money back to their families in Mexico.
That, Trump believes, will give his administration leverage to force the Mexican government to pay up. Seriously. That’s Trump’s plan.
Clinton says she’ll introduce an immigration reform bill within her first 100 days in office. It will include language that ensures a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented and resources to eliminate the backlog for family visas. Also, on the table will be following California’s lead and allowing immigrants, regardless of their status, to have access to health insurance.
By the way, Clinton wants to keep and expand Obamacare. Trump, following his party’s cruel and tired refrain, has vowed to repeal it and replace it.
On the economy
Trump’s most ardent supporters live in the middle of America, a region of crumbling plants and sinking wages, the side-effects of globalization. The Republican nominee has promised to make America great again by bringing back manufacturing jobs lost to China and Mexico (where many Trump products are made).
To do this, he proposes cutting corporate taxes, an old standby of the GOP playbook. But, in a twist, he wants to eliminate income taxes altogether for about 75 million poor and middle-class households.
Clinton, too, wants to bring manufacturing back to the Midwest – but with tax credits to revitalize mothballed factories. She also wants to raise the minimum wage, make college free – thanks, Bernie – and expand paid family and medical leave.
On the Supreme Court
This is arguably the most important fallout of the presidential election. With one vacant seat and the likelihood of others opening up, the next president will shape the court – and our nation’s laws – for years to come.
Trump and the Republican Party want to undo the hard-fought progress of recent years, stocking the bench with justices likely to overturn same-sex marriage and abortion laws, and protect the Citizens United decision.
Clinton and the Democratic Party will appoint justices who will do the opposite.
On the culture wars
Look no further than the conventions, where Democrats invited black, white, Latino, Muslim, gay, transgender and disabled Americans to share the stage.
The Republican gathering was overwhelmingly white and the tone overwhelmingly condescending to minorities. The party’s platform is among the most sexist and homophobic in recent memory, steeped in conservative religious ideology.
What kind of America do you want? One that buries its head in the sand and rolls around in muck? Or one that is, as Ronald Reagan once put it, a shining city upon a hill?
As the Rev. William Barber told delegates in Philadelphia, sometimes it’s not about Democrat vs. Republican. Sometimes it’s about right vs. wrong.