As many of you know, I’ve been living in France for a few years. It’s offered a distance in which to view current events taking place in my home country, the United States.
What’s more, I am exposed to the much older history and the much more nuanced perspective of Europeans in general, and the French in particular. While these countries and cultures have their shortcomings, they are much older and in many ways much more mature than the United States. I say this as a proud, but realistic American.
I also say this: our country, great as it is, is still a teenager.
It has energy, enthusiasm, drive, and optimism. It is also prone to very bad decisions if not reminded constantly of just how disastrous some choices can be.
So I am going to take on the unpleasant but necessary task of having a heart-to-heart, citizen-to-citizen conversation with the Teenager in the Room: the American voter.
The most historic, consequential decision we as a country have in front of us is who we’re going to elect as our next president. Before your eyes glaze over or your jaw tightens, be aware: I know that the election is more than a year away. Furthermore, I know that many of you have strong political opinions. I respect that, but nevertheless, you need to listen to what I’m about to say. Especially if you it makes you angry.
So let’s begin. As things stand now, it appears that in 2024 you will have the choice to vote for Democratic nominee Joe Biden or for Republican nominee Donald Trump.
You should read both.
Why? Because each listing offers a fact-based, well-researched, and documented personal history of each candidate. You can see the work history, personal history, voting record, policy positions, and even quotes from each candidate. You can free yourself from the bias you may find in watching Fox News, Newsmax, CNN, or MSNBC, or the often pointless and uninformed musings that proliferate on Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.
You can review each candidate’s history of racist comments, extramarital affairs, tabloid scandals, divorces, bankruptcies, as well as details about investigations involving money laundering, investigations involving financial fraud, investigations involving voter fraud, investigations involving federal election crimes, investigations involving seditious conspiracy, investigations involving the unlawful retention of classified documents, investigations involving obstruction of justice, investigations involving the mishandling of gifts given by foreign governments, impeachment proceedings, or civil litigation involving sexual assault. You can also review the details of financial settlements or verdicts reached in these cases and make note of cases that are still ongoing.
You can review each candidate’s comments about and relationships with dictators such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan, and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. You can make note of their interactions with the same, such as private, off-the-record conversations that occurred during state visits or ignoring the considered opinion of America’s intelligence community in favor of the self-serving opinion of a dictator.
You can make note of the number, type, and severity of scandals that have taken place within each administration. You can make note of how each candidate has conducted themself while in office in terms of dignity, reliability, credibility, and ethics.
You can, and should, fact check each candidate in terms of the accuracy and truthfulness of what they say, that is, how often they tell the truth, and how often they lie.
You can, and should, do all of these things for one simple reason: the best predictor of a person’s future behavior is their past behavior. People rarely change. Their individual character is formed early in life and, barring some epiphany or transformational personal experience, they continue to act in a predictable manner throughout most of their life. This pattern of behavior is based upon their values, or lack thereof, and their ambitions, what they want in life.
You should also project these ambitions and values onto what I call a ‘future policy screen’. By this I mean that you should look at each candidate’s policy platform and their personal character and project that combination onto a screen in your mind. On this screen you will envision how each candidate’s personality and policies will shape our country from 2024 until 2028.
Will it be a pretty picture? Will it engender trust internationally? Will it promote harmony domestically? Will it uplift the middle class? Will it benefit only the rich? Will it help heal the environment? Will it give financial markets a sense of stability? Will it give our allies around the world a sense of confidence? Will it be healthy for democracy? Or will it open the door for the tyranny?
In other words, ask yourself, How is my country and my world going to change if this person is elected president again?
You may determine that one candidate is going to be fairly predictable, even dull. You may determine that the other candidate is going to be unpredictable, and even exciting. This is the person who is arguable the most powerful chief executive of any government on earth. The president can start a nuclear war with button. The president rattle global financial markets with a comment. So give it a lot of thought if your initial impulse is to go for unpredictable, even if it is exciting.
It’s also important to view a candidate’s tendencies and behavioral patterns. During my six years in Paris, I shared a coffee with more than one Spaniard who was now living in Paris because they fled the fascist regime of Franco. I met highly educated, multilingual professionals who had left everything in their native land to escape brutal dictatorships that came to power in Eastern Europe. Some of them work in hospitals; some of them work in hospitality.
This isn’t ancient history. This is modern history. Fascism doesn’t take root in countries with dictators. Dictators crush dissent before it can take a second breath. Fascism starts in democracies, where people are free to speak and disagree. Often, it repeats broad, patriotic-sounding slogans. It creates enemies and denies reality (“fake news”, “liberal media”, “witch hunt”) in an attempt to discredit critics, distract from important issues, and dilute truth. It assigns political motivations to anyone who attempts to investigate it and apply the rule of law to it. It defaults to the use of insults and personal attacks rather than debating the merits and drawbacks of a policy position.
Its goal is power. It has no philosophy. It deceives the electorate, promising a return to a time that never really existed. Its leader(s) posture with tough words and bold, theatrical events. The weak and naive gravitate to this stage-managed personality hoping it will protect them, economically, socially, and psychologically. They are vulnerable and need hope. They see a leader who is strong and fearless. They thrill in the spectacle of bright lights, inspirational music, and large crowds, caring little for the substance of what this person would do if elected to office. They believe without taking a moment to consider. They are not bad people, but they may be blind. They mistake entertainment for ability.
The immoral elites also support these would-be dictators, knowing that, once the leader is in office, they can bribe those in power for favorable treatment and friendly legislation. They can consolidate industries. They can exploit resources, drive down labor costs, and dominate markets. They can operate without pesky regulations. They can profit enormously.
White collar crime will be generally ignored, they know, as long as it pays homage to the regime and lines the pockets of those in power. It’s a win-win for money and power.
Adversaries and allies abroad will watch this ugly transformation carefully. Some may lose a strategic partner and suffer in the long run, politically and economically. Some will look to take advantage of the predictable chaos and incompetence as governing institutions and experienced personnel are hollowed out or marginalized. For this is a predictable conclusion when objective, informed, and independent thinkers disagree with those in a fascist regime. It is the fate of institutions that have dutifully served the populace.
They will be expelled or they will die, slowly or quickly, so that the dictator can wield absolute power. The entire populace will be at his mercy. Only those who serve him (or his regime) with unquestioning loyalty will benefit and prosper. Many will do just that. This choice will take these opportunists and grovelers down a long, dark road from which there is no return.
They will begin by acknowledging the talent and complimenting the vision of the leader. They will then parrot the lies he has told. They will then lie on their own, in spite of all evidence to the contrary. They will attack enemies of the regime to gain the leader’s favor. They will change, bend, or ignore laws as each new situation requires. They will betray their friends, their fellow citizens, and their country in order to stay in good graces. For they ride the proverbial tiger, and it would be fatal to fall off…or try to jump off.
When or if the regime falls or the coup fails, the enablers and supporters may be held accountable and asked to justify their actions. They will say, in carefully chosen words, in an appropriately pensive and contrite demeanor, how they tried to tell the leader that he was mistaken, how they were conflicted with the demands of their job and the requirements of the law. How they regret what they’d done, if they had done anything wrong or hurt anyone. How at the time it seemed like the right thing to do. How they were just following orders.
Some of this sounds familiar, I’m sure, but allow me remind you of one last thing, Dear Teenager.
Democracy is a precious and rare occurrence. It is challenging to create, difficult to maintain, and very expensive to regain once it is lost. It is not guaranteed, and like a true love, perhaps only really appreciated once it is gone.
So I will say this in the kindest, most life-affirming way I can, because I love you:
Wake up, America. For if you sleepwalk through this next presidential election, what you will endure will not be a dream, but a nightmare.
You will only have yourself to blame, and you will be unable to say you didn’t realize what was happening.
Because I’ve just told you.