U.S. voters prepare for agonizing choice on election day

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Given the choice between a crook and a sleaze, you'd normally think people would opt for the crook. Crooks can be très charmant, like Cary Grant in It Takes a Thief or, more recently, Matt Bomer in White Collar.

Crooks can be virtuous, like Robin Hood, which may be how Clinton sees herself: Bill and I cut corners so we can win power and use it to do good. Why is she the crook here, although Trump, too, has a long record of crookedness and there are obvious crossovers by both? Because she's the one named by the U.S.'s number 1 cop: the big G-man himself. The FBI targets crime, not sleaze.

Still, it's hard to imagine anyone wanting to sit still beside a sluggish sleaze like Trump for the length of a bus ride, much less invite him into your living room nightly for years. Evidently, if they go with the sleaze, it'll be for other reasons.

The trouble with having a 30-year record

Clinton is having problems with turnout among Black voters, especially the young. As she should. They recall her calling some Black youth "superpredators" in the 1990s, which was known, as Bernie said, to be racist code.

They're aware that Bill destroyed "welfare as we know it" and incarcerated generations of young Black men, as part of his plan to win a second term. Imagine if your dad or granddad is still in jail because of it.

Yet even last spring, Bill berated Black protesters for daring to criticize him and Hillary for it. This is the insufferable arrogance of being Clinton: as president he accomplished nothing of note; as secretary of state, neither did she, except giving Daesh a boost via her Libya policy. They show no regrets and feel entitled to go on forever. And yes, I passionately hope she beats Trump on Tuesday.

What if he isn't America's Hitler, he's their Heidegger?

People I know say they're shocked to find they can sympathize more easily in purely personal terms with Hitler -- he had an awful, well-documented childhood -- than with Trump.

But what if the real analogue is instead Germany's famed existentialist philosopher, Martin Heidegger? That's what art historian Malcolm Bull argues in the London Review. Heidegger became a Nazi in 1934 but soon grew disillusioned with their stress on race, which he saw as pseudo-scientific.

Instead, Heidegger put a primitive (he'd have preferred "primal") emphasis on place: land or homeland. That connection was the true source of "greatness" in a people. It could all get pretty mystical (as I found in graduate seminars) but it jibes with Trump's focus on restoring American greatness and even his bizarre birtherism: if the president needs to be native-born, why doesn't that apply to all jobs?

Bull notes that until recently, the "best predictor of your income" was "not your race or class but your birthplace." Even Americans, or Europeans at the lower end in their own nation, outpaced people elsewhere. But with globalization that's changed.

The top 1 per cent everywhere continue to soar but other levels have seen their income go to that upper layer, and to workers in other countries, where their jobs migrated under free trade. "Citizenship," as a result, was "devalued as an asset."

So the main enemy is now seen less as different races than all "others" coming into "our" space from elsewhere. Ergo, build that wall. The Heidegger connection is kind of hilarious since Trump may never have read a book, much less Being and Time. But the point sticks.

Relax, it could be worse

A Latina I know mentions that a Trump victory would be hardest on places like Latin America and Africa. Places like Canada, Europe and the U.S. itself have individuals (like Angela Merkel) and institutions (universal health care or the courts) that will resist the worst intentions of Trumpism. It's those less robust societies that suffer most and fastest from even the pettiest, most undeliberated machinations in U.S. politics.

Then there's Bernie

Sanders has been campaigning hard for Clinton. He took time off last week to urge Obama to support anti-pipeline protests in North Dakota. What a mensch. He reminds Americans of the sorts of things their election should be about -- climate change has gone almost unmentioned -- versus agonizing over the choice between the crook and the sleaze.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: Bill B/flickr

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