WASHINGTON – As the first presidential debate approaches, fists clench, jaws tighten and invectives giggle in anticipation.
To half the country, it’s a sure win for Hillary Clinton, who will expose Donald Trump’s shallow store of knowledge, his intemperate habit of insult and insouciance, his division of diversity into us and them. To the other half, Trump will destroy his foe with a glance of his lance, ripping away the shroud of secrecy in which Her Majesty conceals the codes to the missing emails.
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At this point, Trump readers are already enraged and selecting their favorite epithets for the email they feel “compelled” to write. “You’ve got it in for Trump,” they'll say. “You give lyin' Hillary a pass,” they'll accuse. “Why do papers run you as a conservative when you’re an obvious libtard?” they love to ask. And best: “I used to enjoy reading you. What did you do with Kathleen Parker?”
It isn’t only readers who feel this way. Recently, a television producer wanted me to respond to the anchor’s observation – it seems that The Washington Post is against Donald Trump.
Yes, it does.
But not for the reasons many people seem to think. The idea that everyone on the opinion staff at The Post is anti-Trump is probably close to correct. It is certainly not the case that editors and columnists are convening at the Keurig machine to plot Trump’s ruin. More likely, such plans are hatched individually whilst staring out a window and pondering with some precision exactly how much time can be wasted before deadline.
There’s no cabal, in other words. No media conspiracy. No dictate from on high. There’s an editorial board that does meet and decide what the newspaper’s position will be on a given subject. And, yes, the Post’s editorial page has decided against Trump. But this position isn’t binding on anyone. No one in the history of my almost 30 years of column writing has ever told me what to say.
What you read on a newspaper’s editorial page is the paper’s position. What appears on the op-ed (opposite editorial) are the opinions of others. I’m ashamed to admit that I rarely read others’ columns, in part because I don’t want their thoughts interfering with my own and also because I fundamentally don’t much care. I’ve never discussed an editorial position with anyone – ever.
The fact that many of us columnists are in sync about Trump means only that a consensus has formed independently around facts to which all are privy. Finding Trump unfit to be president requires only a dispassionate view of those facts (a lack of knowledge, a dubious business record, questionable foreign relationships, an alleged university scam, concealment of tax returns) as well as an informed understanding of what his antics, style and temperament suggest about his character and mental health.
The mystery is how anyone finds him acceptable. The truth is, many who will vote for him don’t. They'll vote Republican, not Trump, to protect the Supreme Court and apply the brakes to liberal policies. These considerations apparently outweigh concerns about a free press, our near-to-boiling melting pot, and the harm Trump’s attitudes toward Muslims, among others, can bring to our nation.
As I recently wrote to a reader: I find Trump so uninformed, thin-skinned, volatile and divisive that opposing him has become for me a moral imperative. I sincerely believe he’s a threat to our security and our nation’s equilibrium, which has been dangling by a thread since 9/11.
This is what I think and where I stand.
Yet, this shouldn’t be construed as an endorsement of Clinton, who will have to muddle through without rose petals from my basket of adorables. It isn’t the columnist’s job to endorse political candidates.
For the record, I couldn’t care less about witnessing the first woman president except as a historical matter. My father would ascend from hell and smite me for such irrational thinking. It would be nice (this is me talking), but compromising logic to meet social goals is beneath the standard we should use in selecting a president. If Clinton gets my vote, it will be because I think she’s the best qualified. But I won’t tell you because I don’t have to. When I do, I’m leaving.
In the meantime, I offer a barber’s remark passed along by a reader who surely speaks for many: “I definitely don’t want Trump to win and I definitely want Hillary to lose.”
Kathleen Parker’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.