The National Agony of This Election

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The National Agony of This Election

It is time to think mainly of all of us on earth, of the crisis in humanity in this our time

The main political issue to us is not who of the only two electable alternatives, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, is personally worse or worser, but which of them along with their probable primary associates in highest power will likely be the better in the round for the peace, welfare, and existence of our people, our country and our species. (Photos: CNN)

The overriding consideration in this national agony of an election is the welfare of all people and life in the world.

Neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton should be one of the only two of us that we can elect. But they are. Must we elect one of them? We have to. Third-party votes are leaves on the wind. That is the way we have been rigged by the breakdowns and failures of both the Republican and Democratic parties in this era.

Although it's hardest for the young among us, one good way we can behave helpfully and self-respectingly in our situation now is to compose and act as ourselves outside and above the ethical trap the corruptions of our country and the parties have jammed us into. Exhausted with groaning and raging against these humiliations, we have to think largely, of ourselves, our country, of course, but mainly of all of us on earth, of the crisis in humanity in this our time.

"The main political issue to us, then, is not who of the only two electable alternatives, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, is personally worse or worser, but which of them along with their probable primary associates in highest power will likely be the better in the round for the peace, welfare, and existence of our people, our country and our species."

We are citizens in the most powerful and the most dangerous of the 193 nations on earth. Haltingly for three centuries our species has been making heroic progress for justice against ignorance and mass poverty. But war is still the human way, our weapons have outrun our ethical and organizational evolution, and the alas now sarcastically named “United Nations,” set up after the second World War to be controlled by the five winners, consequently now cannot prevent or stop our sporadic violently murderous national wars.

The biggest issue in the world and among us Tuesday is the prevention of nuclear war and of any warfare among nuclear-armed nations, which could ignite our doomsday. We and Russia have most of the 15,500 nuclear weapons in the world, and we are both spending insanely to make our terrifying thousands of sleek H-bombs “more usable” and replacing or updating, too, their equally sleek submarines and transcontinental missiles and bombers.

In the United States the terrible reality is that we elect our President to be a dictator over the use of our nuclear weapons. The President and only he or she can order their launch against adversary nations. Seated beside him during a small dinner at the White House in the 1960s, I effectively asked President Johnson if he would fire off nuclear weapons. After telling a long story, he angrily replied: "I'm the one who has to mash the button!"

In my opinion the second biggest issue Tuesday, not the first, is the civilization-ruining, but at least slowly acting geological menace of climate change—"global warming"—and our appalling requirement to somehow check it before we even have an international structure that can do it. On account of both, our underlying necessity, hardly even re-broached yet, is to build that new structure before we destroy ourselves altogether in mutual suicide.

The main political issue to us, then, is not who of the only two electable alternatives, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, is personally worse or worser, but which of them along with their probable primary associates in highest power will likely be the better in the round for the peace, welfare, and existence of our people, our country and our species.

—2—

Donald Trump strongly believes and colorfully declares that many possessors of nuclear weapons in the world now will use them against others. It is just common sense (or am I in error?) that this deep conviction in a President Trump would increase the likelihood that, in a crisis with a nuclear-armed nation, he would fire off our nuclear weapons first because of his strong conviction that if he didn’t the adversary would go first. Naturally enough Trump has refused to say if he would use tactical nuclear weapons against ISIS. But reports from MSNBC's Joe Scarborough and others quote him demanding to know, about our using nuclear weapons, "If we don't use them, why do we make them?"

Directly salient, too, is Trump’s statement that nuclear proliferation is the leading problem in the world and his hostile applications of this belief toward "the maniac" head of somewhat nuclear-armed North Korea. He has stated he would approve the logic of Japan and South Korea, and likewise Saudi Arabia, if they obtain nuclear weapons for themselves. This would add two or three nuclear-armed nations to the nine now and strengthen the case for still other ones to dive into the H-bomb abyss with us.

Rising multi-focused tensions between Russia and the U.S. (NATO missile installations planted east to Russia's border; Crimea, Ukraine; Russia becoming Assad's ally and bombing his foes and some of our allies in Syria) has caused a new U.S.-Russian arms race and a Second Cold War that will greet the new American President.

Trump says Russia has "gone wild with their nuclear program," building nuclear warheads while the U.S. "can not." As often with Trump, the truth instead is that Russia and the U.S. are at rough par in nuclear warheads under the New Start Treaty. Yet Trump charged in the third debate with Clinton, "Russia has tremendous numbers of nuclear warheads—1,800, by the way—where they expanded and we didn't."

Clinton retorted that Trump has been "very cavalier, very casual, about the use of nuclear weapons. He's—" ("Wrong." Trump interjected) "—advocated more countries getting them, Japan, Korea, even Saudi Arabia. He said well, if we have them, why don't we use them, which I think is terrifying.

"But here's the deal," Clinton continued. "The bottom line on nuclear weapons is that when the President gives the order it must be followed. There's about four minutes between the order being given and the people responsible for launching nuclear weapons to do so." That, she said to about 60 million people with Trump by her on the stage, is why "ten people who have had that awesome responsibility have come out and, in an unprecedented way, said they would not trust Donald Trump with the nuclear codes or to have his finger on the nuclear button."

Trump answered that he had been endorsed by 200 admirals and generals and 21 winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor. As for his having said it would be OK with him that the three new nations could get their own nuclear weapons, he denied he had said it and attacked: "Look, she's been proved to be a liar in so many ways. This is just another lie...." "Well," she said directly to him, "'I'm just quoting you when you were asked—" "There's no quote," he exclaimed. "You're not going to find a quote from me." But the fact is that there are a number of quotes of Trump saying just what Clinton said he did. I heard him say some of them on television.

Not calling him on that, Clinton instead said directly to him onstage, "About a potential nuclear—nuclear—competition in Asia, you said, 'you know, go ahead, enjoy yourselves, folks.'" Indistinctly Trump appeared to deny he had said that, although he had.

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Despite President Obama's commitment to "a world free of nuclear weapons" in Prague in 2009, he and Congress have set the U.S. on course to spend an estimated thousand billion dollars in the next three decades to “modernize” our nuclear weapons and the triad of their delivery systems. Clinton, asked about the nuclear-weapons hawks' trillion-dollar modernization plan, replied that the plan "doesn’t make sense" to her. Recently and even more significantly, news leaked from a closed, off-the-record meeting that when asked again about it she both intensified her disagreement concerning it and said that if elected she will immediately convene new consultations in the White House on Obama's 2010 U.S. nuclear posture document.

Although the truth is little known, since 2002 the undeclared half-century taboo against the use of H-bombs in war has been abandoned by the U .S. and Russia. Presidents George W. Bush, Obama, and Putin have each explicitly warned officially that in military extremity both countries may (which means that if they wish they will) make first use of their nuclear weapons. In the context of the general knowledge that U.S. non-nuclear military power could readily conquer his country, dictator Putin has said Russia will make first use of its nuclear weapons if necessary to avert the death of the state. China has a stated a "no first use" national policy, as the Soviet Union did before Putin. In a press conference in the summer of 1951 I asked President Truman why the United States did not have a no-first-use policy (I should have said second use). He blustered in apparent anger, and he did not reply. I am not aware of statements by either Trump or Clinton concerning a no-first-use declaration by our country.

Clinton is more war-prone and more of a hawk about military force than Obama has been. She voted to start the U.S.-Iraq war (as Secretary of State John Kerry did also), and she is associated with responsibility for generating the U.S. assaults on Libya preceding its collapse as a viable state. She is understood to be an advocate of U.S. military attacks on President Assad's forces in the death-drenched Syrian civil war, attacks Obama has refused to make. His deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes recently said of Clinton, "She...has been open to military solutions in general, and in debates that we had in the Situation Room she supported taking military action on a lot of questions that emerged....However, she is also a real internationalist."

Clinton is championing a “no-fly-zone” (an NFZ) in Syria which the U.S. would maintain. When Secretary of State in 2012 she first started planning about putting one in Syria with French government officials. At one point she proposed limiting the zone to northern Syria. A no-fly zone is a zone in the air where the nation establishing it bars planes from belligerent nations from flying. If such planes intrude, depending on the policy of the NFZ they are shot down. There have been three NFZs since the 1990s. Three of the Republican candidates for President and some GOP congresspersons agree with Clinton on this. Trump has held back about it, but recently in this context he told Reuters, "You're going to wind up to World War III if we listen to Hillary Clinton." Obama is opposed to our establishing such a zone over Syria, saying the idea is "half-baked"—adding that obviously Clinton is not half-baked, but he continues to oppose it. Significantly in terms of future congressional debates Senator Bernie Sanders says no, too, having warned that an NFZ "could get us more deeply involved in this horrible civil war and lead to a never-ending entanglement in that region."

Putin, bombing for Assad in Syria, feigned to be bombing just ISIS, but, jarringly, he is also killing rebels allied with the United States. Clinton has said she wants Russia to be a partner with the U.S. in the NFZ, implying that therefore there would not be the danger of U.S.-Russian aerial combat or war. From recent events, though, it seems clear that a U.S. NFZ would be taken as an act against Russia and U.S. planes might be shot down.

In October Putin launched a nuclear-war alert on state-controlled Russian TV—for propaganda or bluffing, to strengthen himself by fear among the Russians, or for real—while sending three nuclear-armed battleships into the Mediterranean and suspending three U.S.-Russian nuclear agreements. His state TV's leading propagandist-news anchor Dmitri Kiselyov on air declared there is "a radical change" in U.S.-Russian relations and threatened a steely reaction if the U.S. intervenes in Syria, up to and including nuclear weapons. If U.S.intervention happened, Putin's Charley McCarthy said, his two million listeners should find out where the nearest bomb shelters are. Purportedly 40 million Russians were involved in the revived civil defense alert.

Marine Corps General Joseph Dumford told Congress last year that "for us to control all of the airspace in Syria it would require us to go to war against Syria and Russia." Ominously the key word is "require." Last December during a presidential debate Clinton was asked, "So would you shoot down a Syrian military aircraft or a Russian airplane?" She replied "I do not think it would come to that," explaining she "would hope" that the NFZ "would be shared with Russia." That now unlikely, the question needs to be asked again. Despite these stunning backlashes, on Oct. 19th in the third debate Clinton reiterated her proposal, saying, however, that if President she would be negotiating and "making it very clear" to the Russians and Syrians that the purpose of the zone is providing "safe zones" on the ground and strengthening the warring against ISIS.

"So here we are with the end of the world."

With no reporters present, in June 2013, according to one of the Wikileaks excerpts from her off-the-record speech then to Goldman-Sachs, Clinton laid out facts of a quite different color. "To have a no-fly zone, you have to take out all of the air defense, many of which are located in populated areas. So our missiles... you're going to have to kill a lot of Syrians," she said. "So all of a sudden the intervention that people talk about so glibly becomes an American and NATO involvement is here you take out a lot of civilians." She added in that closed-to-the-public speech that Syria has the fourth largest Army in the world and "very sophisticated air defense system." Since then, Syria's systems have been augmented by Russian ones which national intelligence chief Kames Clapper told the Council of Foreign Relations are extremely sophisticated.

On checking climate change, "global warming," Trump says overall that it's no issue. Climates have changed for millions of years, up and down, that's what they do, he told his chief executive officer for his campaign Steven Banner in a strategy consultation of his that has come to light. He charges China is lying to us to get our coal while stopping us having it. Clinton of course stands declaratively with the general consensus of the world, now that the Paris summit climate-agreement has been put into force upon its ratification of the required number of nations.

So here we are with the end of the world. If Clinton wins, with her will be Kaine, Senators Sanders and Warren, the Cabinet she chooses under hawk-eyes Warren-Sanders pressure, the because-of-Sanders much more liberal Democrats, but the Democratic Party organization is still riven. If Trump wins, with him will be Pence, Guliani, Bannon, the Cabinet he choses (he has said there will be no Democrats in it), the Republicans in Congress a number of whom he revengefully has it in for, Tea Partiers, his embarrassing racist and ultranationalist show-ups. Nuclear war, the NFZ question, climate change, the failure of the UN, questions of the minimum wage, Supreme Court appointments, tax the rich or lower their taxes, Trump's tax returns, TPP, Clinton's emails, 'Trump University,' the FBI, China's occupancy of the South China sea, all the legion other domestic and other foreign affairs.

—4—

But first before all that there is one more thing now.

With our President the dictator over the use of our nuclear weapons, we and the world need our Presidents to be reliably mentally well. We want them ethical and strong, but even before that they must be well. We "laypeople" are not medically qualified to expertly evaluate and label medical conditions we perceive. But when we vote we have both the right and the duty to decide and express our personal opinions about the candidates’ mental normalcy and stability. This question in this election, in my opinion, is the controlling one. We can’t know the inside of another person, perhaps not even our own, but for a year on and off we have watched and listened to the declaiming, mumbling, calculating presidential field, including Trump and Clinton, at rallies throughout the country and millions of us painfully up close on TV, again and again ad nauseum, judging whether they are calm and sane, well-informed, open to learning and change, balanced, uninformed, egotistical, emotional, impulsive, unbalanced, in sum, right in the head, normal or abnormal, predictably OK or not. These are our calls to make. Alone at the ballot box, one person one vote. Here is mine.

There have been many publicly-expressed fears about a nuclear-armed Donald Trump because of his personal characteristics. Facts, events, and alarming characterizations of him are at one's hand: quick-to-anger, his life-long pattern to always take revenge, his extremely short attention span, that he does not read books, his lack of knowledge and government experience, his astoundingly extreme infidelity to the truth, his denigrations and abuses of women, his wounding cruelties and lies against fellow candidates, critics, and the press, his explicit declarations that he will order, from his office in the Oval Office in our beloved White House, the uses of torture and the killing of the families of terrorists, his suggestions in his campaign on national TV twice concerning the assassination of Clinton, his almost incredible me-first, me-only I-know-best I-alone-can-do-it narcissism and arrogance, his adoption and hostile use of wild and unproved conspiracies, his predictably accusing others of precisely what he is being accused of, most threatening of all: his indifference to the many sufferings his actions continue to willfully cause.

Together in the one man these traits signify to me far too high a risk that if elected, armed with his total dictatorship of our nuclear weapons and being the "commander-in-chief" of the most lethal military force in human history, he will variously and righteously abuse the President's power, responding to a slight, a provocation, disrespect to our country or himself revengefully and during crises with other countries with unreasonable force. After this year of listening, watching, and thinking, my vote is that Hillary Clinton is a mentally well person, but understood in the whole, Donald Trump is not.

Ronnie Dugger

Ronnie Dugger received the George Polk career award for journalism in 2011.  The founding editor of the Texas Observer, he has written biographies of Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan and numerous articles for the New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Nation, Harper's, Mother Jones, the Atlantic, and many other periodicals.  He is now in Austin working on a book about nuclear war.

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