Tough Decision

The latest news about Mr. Trump’s inappropriate behavior towards women has the Republican Party up in arms, calling for his resignation.  Their calls for him to drop out have him on the defensive, vowing not to quit.  Basically his message is, “you can yell all you want but you can’t make me quit.”  The unfortunate reality of this latest Trump incident is that neither candidate is particularly likeable.  What’s happening with Mr. Trump now shows us that if we dig deeply enough, listen carefully enough and/or look closely enough, we will find something that either on did that’s unpalatable to someone else.

Throughout this campaign, Mrs. Clinton has questioned Mr. Trump’s temperament while Mr. Trump has questioned her ethics.  Mr. Trump has claimed to be a supporter of women and women’s issues but his history, including this latest incident says otherwise.  On the other side of the campaign, we see that Mrs. Clinton has repeatedly skated up to that invisible boundary between unethical and illegal without ever having crossed it.  The never ending discussion about her emails clearly reflects that character flaw.  Whether we like it or not, our candidates are who they are and their behaviors are unlikely to change.  That said, likeability is off the table when it comes to deciding who will be the next president.

So, how do we make such an important decision when both candidates have displayed troublesome character flaws?  After studying on that question for a while, I realized that it’s time to look at the character dynamics that they share and make a decision based on how those shared values connect to mine.  What on earth could they possibly share, you may be wondering.  The most important thing that they share is a similar perspective about what America is.  Both Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton are first wave Baby Boomers.  Their perceptions of America are profoundly shaped by the America that existed in the first two decades after WWII.  The America of their youth was one of unprecedented industrial output that created opportunities for the masses to earn a living wage that supported families. Both candidates grew up in a nation where they saw relatives going to work daily in the mines and mills and factories and offices that flourished in the post war years.  It was a time when we could walk away from the stress of a foreign war and revel in the safety of our nation.  Oh, there was that little thing called the Cold War but if you were an honest, hard-working American there was nothing about which to worry.  However, the Cold War has profoundly influenced the direction of American foreign policy though it has officially ended.

Both Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton want us to experience an America where life was far less complicated than it is now.  In the rhetoric espoused by both candidates, there is a commitment to bringing good paying jobs to American citizens and keeping us safe.  Both candidates recognize that continued slow economic growth is not productive for long term stability.  Both candidates recognize that the world has become a dangerous place and each wants to keep those dangers out of our nation.  Yet both candidates have presented little about domestic and foreign policy plans that will eradicate the disquiet that is prevalent within America’s citizenry.

Implicit in the rhetoric of both candidates is the message of restoring America’s industrial might.  However, domestic and foreign policies and events have changed conditions that made it possible for American industrial output to be what it was during their youth.  Recognizing that the foundation for each candidate’s economic perspectives is grounded in brick and mortar approaches to commerce has me curious about how their policies will create the good paying jobs they espouse.  I am also concerned about the undercurrent Cold War influences that quietly guides the foreign policy agenda of both candidates.  It’s important to remember that the impact of policy initiatives takes several years, even decades to be known.  That’s why it’s so important that we take a long look at the historical influences shaping the perspectives of each candidate.  While the sexual improprieties of Mr. Trump and the questionable actions of Mrs. Clinton do provide insight into single issues of character, we need to dig a little deeper to understand how domestic perceptions from their youth are influencing their adult world view.

So thinking about what I’ve heard from both I know that I will base my vote on the one who I think is most capable of creating a new world view of America, domestically and internationally.  We need a president who can use America’s history of economic might to grow our economy without trying to replicate what we had.  That said, I want our next president to:

  1. have the foresight to implement domestic policies that will promote the development of emerging industries;
  2. create policies that support the infrastructural needs for bringing such industries to fruition that include but are not limited to skill and literacy development, production models and manufacturing locations, distribution practices;
  3. develop domestic policies that eliminate disenfranchisement within racial/ethnic, gender, and social class sectors and any subsets therein.

 With regard to foreign policy, our next president needs to have:

  1. acceptance of the impact that expected and unexpected outcomes of current foreign policies have had domestically and internationally;
  2. the willingness to examine those outcomes as a foundation for building contemporary ones that are beneficial to all nations involved;
  3. the foresight to discern the type of involvement needed in foreign disputes where the origins of the conflict have been blurred by time;
  4. the ability to openly assess American interests in foreign affairs that create equitable distribution of capital gains.

I wrote the above wishes broadly so that they can undergird the myriad of domestic and foreign issues facing our nation.   America has a history that when viewed through a narrow lens creates inequities that stymy what we are capable of accomplishing as a nation.  Our current presidential candidates have a similar lens through which they are viewing this nation.  With that shared lens, they both have a narrowness in perspective that may not be as useful in the 21st century as we need.  However, they are the choices we have.  The only thing we can do is think carefully about what we want to accomplish as a nation and demand that our president, our congress persons, our state and local level officials do what is best for our whole nation.

About the author
Sheri L. Yarbrough is a policy analyst who holds a Ph.D. in Educational Policy Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  She has conducted policy analyses for education and not for profit organizations.  Currently working from home caring for her mother who has dementia, she is writing a book about caring for a loved one.  Dr. Yarbrough was honored by AARP in November of 2015.  Her care giver story and portrait were shown on Capitol Hill during National Caregiver’s Month.  AARP will feature her story again this year in a campaign across Illinois.

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