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When a ‘sick joke’ is elevated to the presidency

by Hiroaki Sato

The upset election of Donald Trump as next president of the United States that has plunged my friends into gloom has reminded me of a few things. The first is a comment on the presidential election process.

“At the end of all the primaries and caucuses,” Richard Dawkins wrote, “after all the speeches and the televised debates, after a year or more of nonstop electioneering bustle and balloons and razzmatazz, who, out of that entire population of 300 million, emerges at the top of the heap? George W. Bush.”

The evolutionary biologist raised this rhetorical question and answered it in the article he wrote on March 18, 2003, titled “Bin Laden’s Victory.” That was two days before Bush launched his attack on Iraq, telling Saddam Hussein: Leave your country within 48 hours or else face U.S. military might. The threat was worthy of a cheap gunslinger in an old Hollywood cowboy movie. Bush’s charge against Saddam — possession of weapons of mass destruction — was concocted. Still he proceeded to destroy Iraq in the name of liberation and democracy.

Had Bush never heard John Quincy Adams’ wise counsel, “Americans should not go abroad to slay dragons they do not understand in the name of spreading democracy”? Adams said this in 1821. If that was too far back in time for Bush, how about the “crime against peace” that his own country had laid out as part of the Nuremberg principles after World War II?

Where do you find “Bin Laden’s Victory”? In the booklet, “No One More Death.”

Bush’s “war on terror,” declared in September 2001, had provoked an antiwar movement worldwide. In the United Kingdom, the Stop the War Coalition formed and it became “the focal point” in voicing opposition to Bush’s expanding war. “Not One More Death,” a 2006 publication, was part of the coalition’s antiwar effort. It included Dawkins and five other writers, among them Harold Pinter (his 2005 Nobel Prize speech, “Art, Truth and Politics”), John le Carre (“The United States Has Gone Mad”), and the Iraqi writer Haifa Zangana (“The Right to Rule Ourselves”).

Dawkins concluded: “George W. Bush is a catastrophe for the world.” Look at what’s happened since in the Middle East and elsewhere.

The election reminds me of another thing: the use of the electoral vote to determine the U.S. president, which Richard Dahl characterized as “anomalous” in “How Democratic is the American Constitution?” Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, substantially, but lost in the electoral vote. When Al Gore failed to win the presidency against George W. Bush similarly in 2000, I wrote a detailed report on the institutional anomaly for my then-employer.

The U.S. Constitution says in Article II, Sec. 1: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress.” At the time, the prevailing belief was that, as James Madison stated, “measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.” In other words, what we consider “democracy” today was rejected as “mobocracy.”

The popular vote was introduced in 1824. But, as Gore Vidal has pointed out in “Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams, Jefferson” (2003), the Electoral College “remains to this day solidly in place to ensure that majoritarian governance can never interfere with those rights of property that the founders believed not only inalienable but possibly divine.”

Then there is Trump’s character and behavior. If Bush was vacuous, Trump is disgusting.

I remember what seventh-grader Connor Felton said: “I think if you repeat some stuff that Trump says, you could get sent down to the principal’s office. Maybe even expelled.” A New York Times reporter visited one of the social studies classes of teacher Brent Wathke in DeLong Middle School in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, in mid-October, and observed how 12-year-olds discussed the presidential debates.

Trump indulged in open denigration of immigrants and hostility against them, Mexicans and Muslims in particular, and ridiculed the disabled. He revived and rekindled the idea that Barack Obama, the first African-American president, was not born in the U.S. As a result, as late as August 2016, an NBC poll showed 72 percent of Republicans doubted Obama’s birthplace and 41 percent of them believed he wasn’t born in this country.

Trump’s use of foul language and vulgar gestures was beyond belief.

Yes, the 37th president, Richard M. Nixon, is infamous for liberally resorting to foul language, but in private conversation, not when talking to large numbers of people. His propensity to lace his enunciations with four-letter words came to be known only after his secret recordings came to light and their transcripts were extensively printed in The New York Times, which replaced them with “expletive deleted.”

Trump at times incited violence against those who objected to his actions, including Clinton. He denigrated women. Yet the statistical analyst FiveThirtyEight has reported that an astonishing 53 percent of white women voted for Trump, and that 45 percent of white women with a college education did.

Not that I had no reservations about Clinton. But I wouldn’t have dreamed of voting for a man whom Dawkins has called, in Scientific America (Nov. 10), “an unqualified, narcissistic, misogynistic sick joke.” So is the American electoral system.

The consequences of Trump’s election as president is a “disaster,” as it will not be “short-lived,” Dawkins reminds us, “because of the nonretirement rule of the Supreme Court.” Imagine what kind of arch-conservative Trump will appoint to replace Antonin Scalia, with the Senate gladly going along.

As NBA San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has said, “my big fear is — we are Rome.”

Hiroaki Sato is a translator and essayist based in New York.