Donald Trump is a boor, a cheat and an apparently pathological liar. He claims to represent ordinary Americans yet has bullied and conned them throughout his career. Vera Coking, for example, refused to sell her house to him when he wanted it bulldozed to make room for a car park so he took her to court in an attempt to seize her home. He is sensitive to the point of rank immaturity, reacting to criticism like a high-strung adolescent who should not control a gun, never mind nuclear weapons. His principles are as deeply rooted as tumbleweed. Speaking like a foreign policy realist he condemns Obama’s Libyan intervention, yet at the time he advocated war. He has delighted in being politically incorrect yet I have not seen him apologise for accusing Pat Buchanan of being a Nazi. The charge that he is no conservative is a limp one if it means he cannot recite the constitution in toto, or does not think top rate tax cutting is a sacred task. But when it is meant to say that he is selfish, dishonorable and imprudent it is far more profound.
Yet what about Clinton? Unlike many, I see nothing uniquely dislikeable about her qua her. I dislike what she represents: that finance-friendly corporatism that affirms economic divides; that liberal internationalism that exacerbates conflicts at home and abroad with mass immigration and military adventurism. If Clinton became president, how could these trends be challenged? Ethnic, religious and age demographics forecast doom for the Republicans. The academia is incubating a new generation of progressive artists, thinkers, activists and officials. The “conservative case” for Clinton is a case for suicide. If her campaign triumphs I think that poor America will sink into a bog of crime, drugs and underemployment, middle class America will continue to be squeezed and the elites will carry on enjoying the cultural decline that ensures that Marina Abramović is a celebrated artist, Lena Dunham is an influential human being and the poor First Lady feels that Hamilton is the greatest piece of art she’s ever witnessed; all this as bombs explode in the distance. It is worth taking a gamble to avoid these outcomes. But if they want a bright future Americans face long odds.
It is to the immense discredit of their generation that these candidates are the only serious choices for the world’s leading superpower. But how foolish it would have been to have expected more. As mass society has weakened relationships, raised expectations and shortened attention spans it took a candidate as charismatic and notorious as Trump to promote even occasional, inchoate arguments for realism, prudence and tradition. But trusting him to exhibit these virtues in power requires an awful lot of faith in an unreliable man.