American voters have a clear choice on Nov. 8. We can elect an experienced, thoughtful and deeply knowledgeable public servant or a thin-skinned demagogue who is unqualified and unsuited to be president.
Donald J. Trump, a billionaire businessman and television personality, is the latter. He has never held elected office and has shown himself temperamentally unfit to do so. He has run a divisive, belligerent, dishonest campaign, repeatedly aligning himself with racists, strongmen and thugs while maligning or dismissing large segments of the American public. Electing Trump could be catastrophic for the nation.
By contrast, Hillary Clinton is one of the best prepared candidates to seek the presidency in many years. As a first lady, a Democratic senator from New York and secretary of State in President Obama's first term, she immersed herself in the details of government, which is why her positions on the issues today are infinitely better thought-out than those of her opponent.
She stands for rational, comprehensive immigration reform and an improvement rather than an abandonment of the Affordable Care Act. She supports abortion rights, wants to raise the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour, hopes to reform the sentencing laws that have overcrowded American prisons, would repair the Voting Rights Act and help students to leave college without enormous debt. Abroad she would strengthen America's traditional alliances, continue the Obama administration's efforts to "degrade and ultimately defeat" Islamic State and negotiate with potential adversaries such as Russia and China in a way that balances realism and the protection of American interests. Unlike Trump, Clinton accepts the prevailing science on climate change and considers the issue to be "the defining challenge of our time."
Perhaps her greatest strength is her pragmatism — her ability to build consensus and solve problems. As president, she would be flexible enough and experienced enough to cut across party lines and work productively with her political opponents. As first lady, she worked with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to create the Children's Health Insurance Program, which provides healthcare coverage to more than 8 million children. As a senator, she was instrumental in persuading a Republican president to deliver billions of dollars in aid to New York after September 11. As secretary of State, she led the charge to persuade nations around the world to impose the tough sanctions on Iran that led to the landmark nuclear agreement, and she negotiated a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.
Throughout her public career, beginning with her work in the 1970s for the Children's Defense Fund, Clinton has advocated for women, children, the poor and minorities. She fought for what came to be known as "Hillarycare" 15 years before "Obamacare" became a thing; she has been outspoken in defense of women's rights around the globe, including in her powerful and influential speech in Beijing in 1995 proclaiming that "women's rights are human rights."
Clinton's long history of advocacy and public service stands in stark contrast to Trump's record of virtually no leadership at all. He's famous and wealthy, a TV personality, a showman — but what in his resume suggests he is qualified to lead the country? In the coming weeks, Trump will no doubt try harder to appear presidential, but surely voters won't forget the long litany of insults, lies, threats and ignorant statements he has made about everyone from Mexicans and Muslims to a disabled reporter to Sen. John McCain, to the family of a dead Muslim-American soldier, to a federal judge, to President Obama.
Trump's ignorance of the issues is manifest. He has called climate change "a hoax" and vowed to renegotiate the Paris climate accord. Obamacare would be repealed and replaced with "something great." His signature proposal is to construct a wall along the southern border of the United States — and have Mexico pay the billions of dollars involved. Mexico, unsurprisingly, insists it will not. As for the 11 million immigrants already in the country illegally, they will either be rounded up and deported (though experts say that will cost billions of dollars, disrupt the economy, divide families and require massive violations of civil liberties) or perhaps some will be allowed to remain, living in the shadows.
Trump doesn't take America's global alliances seriously, he has cozied up to Russian strongman Vladimir Putin and he has promised to bring back waterboarding "and worse." His pronouncements, though vague and sometimes contradictory, raise the specter of an iron-fisted leader taking action based on gut impulses — rather than a president seeking common ground among citizens in a politically polarized country.
In the style of earlier demagogues like Huey Long and George Wallace, Trump has aimed his misleading and mean-spirited diatribes at a struggling and frustrated segment of society — apparently touching a chord with voters who have experienced years of stagnant wages, whose jobs are threatened, who feel betrayed by Washington and nostalgic for a more prosperous past. To these voters Trump bashes immigrants and free trade and rails about law and order, promising to make America great again and assuring them that he alone can solve their problems. But those who put their hope in Trump's politics of resentment and fear are making a terrible mistake.
The more rational wing of the Republican party has been appalled by the direction in which the GOP is moving, and its braver members have spoken up. Mitt Romney called Trump "unfit." Michael Bloomberg endorsed Clinton. Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham, Meg Whitman and Brent Scowcroft have all declined to support their party's nominee, as have many others. Fifty national security experts who worked in Republican administrations wrote earlier this year: "Mr. Trump lacks the character, values, and experience to be president. He weakens U.S. moral authority as the leader of the free world. He appears to lack basic knowledge about and belief in the U.S. Constitution, U.S. laws, and U.S. institutions, including religious tolerance, freedom of the press, and an independent judiciary."
Some voters who do not like Trump worry that Clinton, too, has serious shortcomings. And of course she does; all politicians do. She has a penchant for secrecy that has caused her significant problems, not least in the investigation of her ill-advised decision to use a private email server for her official communications as secretary of State. It is true that her family foundation took millions of dollars from foreign leaders and overseas business people while she was in Obama's cabinet, creating the potential for conflicts of interest. She and her husband have spent years among the rich and powerful and have grown at home in that favor-trading world in a way that makes many voters uneasy. This page has criticized her in the past for adjusting her positions to match popular opinion and for being a little too comfortable with the use of military force. And at least on the hustings, she lacks the authentic, let's-have-a-beer personality that many voters seek in a candidate.
To be a great president, she will have to struggle to overcome her own weaknesses. But compared with Trump's infirmities as a candidate, her failings are insignificant. It's absurd — and perilous — to portray this election, as so many are doing, as a choice of the "lesser of two evils" or to suggest that her flaws are in any way on a level with his.
Neither Libertarian Gary Johnson nor Green Party candidate Jill Stein offers a serious alternative to the major-party candidates. Even voters who have questions about Clinton must recognize that neither Stein nor Johnson stands a chance of winning — and that a vote for either is merely one less vote for the only candidate who can defeat Trump. Besides, neither is a better candidate than Clinton; both were interviewed at length by The Times editorial board, and despite certain superficial appeal, neither comes close to matching Clinton's qualifications, expertise or understanding of the political process.
The election of Hillary Clinton as the first female president of the United States would surely be as exhilarating as it is long overdue, a watershed moment in American history after centuries of discrimination against women. But that's not the chief reason to vote for her. She deserves America's support because she is the overwhelmingly better candidate. Against a Romney or a McCain, she would almost certainly be our choice. Against Trump? The question answers itself.
Every presidential race is described as "defining" and "historic." This time, it's true. Americans must not sit this election out, but cast their votes for Hillary Clinton over her dangerous Republican opponent, Donald Trump.