This figures. Philadelphia hosts its first Democratic National Convention since Harry Truman was selected in 1948, and the two presumptive presidential nominees are none other than Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the two most reviled major-party candidates in the history of American political polling.
That’s not hyperbole. According to the polls, as many as 59 percent of respondents disapprove of Trump. Very nearly as many say the same of Clinton. Big as those numbers are, they fail to capture the loathing and dread that’s gripped the electorate. And who can blame us?
In Trump, we’ve got a xenophobic, impulsive, sexist, racist, unqualified con man with a soft spot for fascism. At best, his election would give future historians a definitive consensus moment to cite as the beginning of the end of the great American Republic (Napoleon in Russia; the Visigoths sack Rome). At worst, a President Trump might just kill us all by jamming that red button with his very small fingers after Vladimir Putin hurts his feelings on Twitter.
And in Clinton? We’ve got a candidate that some of us just don’t like very much.
Yeah, exactly. There’s only one choice in this election, and that’s Hillary Clinton for president.
This is the first time the editors of Philadelphia magazine have endorsed a presidential candidate. We’ve weighed in before on mayors, but the White House is out of our coverage area. Not this time, though. Not with the Democratic National Convention coming to town, and not with Donald Trump on the ballot.
In an alternate universe, one in which the Republican Party nominated a candidate even loosely tethered to those old-fashioned American values of equality, decency and soundness of mind, this might be a difficult decision. Clinton’s liabilities are huge, and the objections to her candidacy — from the right and the left — are both numerous and, in too many cases, legitimate.
But she isn’t Donald Trump. And this year, that’s enough.
In June, Clinton herself made clear how simple this choice ought to be, in a speech reminding everyone that the presidency of the United States actually is a pretty consequential gig. She called Trump “temperamentally unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability and immense responsibility.” She highlighted his terrifying ignorance of foreign affairs and his “bizarre” admiration for creepy authoritarians like North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. She talked about his breezy denunciation of allies, his dismissive stance when asked if he even has a foreign policy team. (Trump: “I have a very good brain, and I’ve said a lot of things.”)
If possible, Trump is worse domestically. His call for a 2,000-mile-long wall to keep out immigrants — paid for, in his imagination, by the sovereign state of Mexico — isn’t just impractical; it’s self-defeating, particularly for underpopulated cities like Philadelphia that badly need more immigration, not less. When it comes to American Muslims, Trump has said that internment camps are a bad idea, but it took him a while to get there. And he’s still standing behind his starkly racist December vow to temporarily ban Muslim immigration to the United States.
There’s no question Trump has tapped into the deep economic anxieties of America’s white working and middle classes. He’s acknowledged their fears, he’s promised to ease their pain, and, with his race-baiting, he’s given them bogus villains to blame. But the notion that Trump is a genuine champion of the common (white) people is belied by his exploitation of them. In Atlantic City, he stiffed contractors and their crews. Trump University (what a perversion of the English language that phrase is) suckered thousands into bogus get-rich-quick seminars. A key target demo? Financially struggling Americans hoping to get rich like The Donald. This guy’s actual catchphrase is “You’re fired!”
Enough. Treating Trump like he’s a candidate with ideas or a record worthy of rebuttal is simply degrading.
So let’s talk about Hillary. Her shortcomings may be plentiful, but compared to Trump’s, they’re also reassuringly traditional. There are the scandals that cling to the Clintons like a badly laundered pantsuit. There’s her disconcerting chumminess with New York billionaires (which somehow never seems to be a problem for Trump, who proclaims himself to be an actual New York billionaire). There’s the trust issue, the Clinton imperiousness, the incessant political positioning, the all-too-conventional thinking on sending U.S. troops into combat, the terrifying specter of Bill back in the White House with nothing much to do. There’s more, but you get the idea.
Interestingly, as a nation, we dislike Hillary Clinton most when she or Bill is running for office. Gallup has kept tabs on her approval ratings since 1992, when her husband ran for president. The trend is clear: When there’s a Clinton on the ballot, whether it’s she or her husband, Americans sour on Hillary.
But when she’s not on the stump, and instead serving as First Lady, or U.S. senator, or Secretary of State, her approval ratings are consistently strong, and frequently stellar. There’s a reason for that: The record shows that Hillary Clinton is a profoundly capable public servant and leader. She just happens to be a deeply underwhelming candidate.
And yet it’s not quite that simple, is it? Yes, Hillary comes up short on authenticity and charisma and the would-you-like-to-get-a-beer-with-her test. But let’s not pretend the test is the same for women as it is for men. Imagine the scorn that would rain down on Hillary if she let it all hang loose like Bernie, or if she improvised and insulted and lied with the reckless abandon of Trump. This year, America is in the mood for iconoclasts, but it helps if they’ve got a Y chromosome.
Which makes it doubly gratifying that Hillary Clinton is, at last, reclaiming the narrative in this preposterous election year. Her recent scornful takedowns of Trump have been both effective and true to herself. Her acceptance speech after she clinched the nomination and sidelined Sanders was a powerful reminder that there is, beneath all that Clinton machinery and infrastructure, not just an actual human being, but an exceptional one: a woman who is prodigiously talented, richly experienced, completely presidential and, yes, eminently likeable. Here’s hoping she makes that plainer as the race wears on.
You may at this point have noticed that this endorsement has little to say about policy, or even ideology. That’s because the decision before us is more elemental than that. It boils down to this:
Do we forsake everything? Have we concluded that the best we can do is burn it all down? Or do we instead elect Hillary Clinton, an admittedly imperfect candidate but one who has the temperament and resilience that the presidency requires?
Welcome to Philly, Hillary. Go get him.
Published as “Hillary Clinton for President” in the July 2016 issue of Philadelphia magazine.