I’ve been watching the “I could never vote for Hilary” people with great interest, trying to figure out the basis for this stance, which on the surface is just plain bizarre when not voting for Hilary amounts to a de facto voting for an unstable, clownish, megalomaniac.
This is what I have observed: there are primarily two groups of people who won’t vote for Hilary: the Bernie-or-Bust people and the Nostalgic-for-Reagan people. I am not sure the same analysis can be applied equally to both groups. The Bernie-or-Bust people are the smaller group, so I am not primarily concerned with them.
The vast majority of the anti-Hilary people are in the other group. But their own affection for Reagan makes it very difficult to take their hatred of Hilary seriously. Reagan, among his many sins, sold weapons to our enemies in order to fund an illegal war in Central America. Either of those acts is far worse than anything Hilary has ever been accused of doing or ever would do. (I mean of course “seriously accused,” since there are those who have accused her of being in league with Satan.) And in fact the vast majority of the reasons these people give for hating Hilary are demonstrably specious—essentially made up (the whole Benghazi “scandal” for example, for which there is literally no basis in fact).
Now I don’t want to excuse Hilary. She has done some stupid and even perhaps reckless things—but nothing that any thoughtful observer could use to suggest either that she is either unqualified for the presidency or, more importantly, that she is not an infinitely better choice than the befuddled sociopath who is her opponent, even if all the stories were true.
In other words, the hatred for Hilary, the “I could never pull the lever beside her name” talk in fact has little if any relationship to any honest evaluation of Hilary as a potential president. That does not mean that those who come to this conclusion don’t believe they come to it honestly. But it does mean that in fact they do not.
So what is really behind this hatred of Hilary? Some will say it is a conscious or unconscious bias against the fact that she is a woman. There may be something to that, but I don’t think it accounts for much. I don’t think that that alone explains the vitriol or resentment. In fact we see this same vitriol in every election and on both sides. Sure, there is misogyny against Hilary as there is racism against Obama, but in fact at this level all candidates are hated beyond any reason by a large swath of voters who don’t vote for them.
Trump is the exception of course. He’s hated with good reason by both sides. So perhaps to understand the hatred of Hilary it will be useful to understand the acceptance of Trump. An acceptance of Trump has to be to some extent pathological, since there can be no reasonable justification for it. In fact he’s the reverse of the same impulse that produces the hatred of Hilary.
I don’t think this pathology is limited to those who accept Trump or hate Hilary. In fact it is pervasive (if not necessarily universal) on both sides.
I have entertained the idea that the problem is the rhetoric that is used to get these people elected, which is full of the trumped up hatred of the other with exaggerated language and absurd conclusions. Until Trump came along, this language, as most of us knew, was primarily “just politics.” We knew enough not to take it seriously. If to win an election the Democrat said of the Republican “He’s not qualified to be president,” we winked. We dialed it down without thinking. So that now when we actually do have a candidate who is not only not qualified but comically unqualified we out of habit dial that observation down as though it were the typical political hyperbole. The “cry wolf” syndrome. That may have something to do with how it is an otherwise reasonable person could bring herself to vote for Trump, but it doesn’t explain the hatred of Hilary.
I think that what does explain not just this bizarre behavior but the bizarre language and behavior surrounding every American election is simple ego-maintenance. The voters think they are thinking, think they are thinking for themselves, think they are thinking their own thoughts. But thoughts are not driving either votes for the sociopath or the refusal to vote for the qualified candidate. Rather the voter who won’t vote for Hilary even in this unprecedented situation are simply finding it impossible to see herself as someone who can belong to the group of people who vote for Hilary. In her mind she is part of a tribe, and this is a tribe of people who hate Hilary. These Hilary haters are like sports fans. Sports fans can get violent in their preference for their team or their hatred of the Yankees. Any thoughtful person knows that there is no rational basis for the preference of any sports team over any other. It’s a matter of autonomic loyalty, pure and simple. Still there are fans of the Red Sox who would not root for the Yankees for any amount of reward. And there are members of the American electorate who could not vote for the obviously qualified candidate even when not voting for her is a threat to the stability of the republic itself.
In fact that is, essentially, the American electorate.
This is a fact of what we have gotten used to calling “human nature.” I doubt there’s any way out of it, though individuals might learn at times to put it aside (they will be few and they’ll have to do something that feels like tearing off a piece of their identity to do it). I do still believe that individuals can come to recognize, at times, the irrationality of their prejudices and can successfully fight to overcome them and grow from the act. But it’s getting harder to maintain that optimism. And without that optimism, it becomes very difficult to hold on to the theoretical basis for this 18th-century formation of democracy.