Ben Shapiro, as quoted by Jonathan Swan in a report on The Hill news site, paints a clear and plausible image of what is happening in American national politics right now:
This is the scene from King Kong . . . where the Republican Party thought that they had captured King Kong and chained him and they put him on the stage for everyone to fear the awesome might of King Kong. And then King Kong breaks free . . . and starts trampling people in the audience.
And trample he has. And trample he will.
Shapiro’s metaphor is spot-on, except perhaps that one might be hard-pressed to identify the Ann Darrow for whom Mr. Trump ultimately would sacrifice everything.
To be clear, a considerable number of Americans (millions of us) have enjoyed and cheered on this trampling. In particular, according to the most recent PRRI/The Atlantic national poll of “likely voters,” 45% of white voters plan to vote for Trump, compared to 41% who plan to vote for Clinton. A majority of these supporters are men, but Trump still retains the support of 35% of white women voters, according to this poll.
His support among other ethnic groups tends to be substantially less.
Those who are repulsed by Mr. Trump (their prioritization of the list of reasons may vary) find these numbers incomprehensible. Mrs. Clinton’s campaign team probably comprehends them pretty well, but probably still has trouble believing them.
It was (and is, perhaps) precisely the King Kong character of Mr. Trump’s improbable climb to the top of the Republican Empire State Building that ultimately inspired the leadership (elected and otherwise) of the Republican Party to embrace him as their nominee. He was also their Rocky Balboa, unrefined, street-smart, a brawler, thrown into the ring with the Democrat’s Apollo Creed (yes, there’s all kinds of irony in that metaphor).
There was a kind of surprising nobility in King Kong and a street-hard, inarticulate depth of character in Rocky that made you root for them. They weren’t just tough; they also were gentle. You could be proud of them because they knew when to fight and for what to fight, and they knew when the fighting should cease.
Maybe that’s the explanation for my present grief.
Our political leaders all have feet of clay . . . we all have feet of clay. Our campaign biographies or “meet the candidate” warm, fuzzy TV ads or the testimonials of our children or spouses or comrades-in-arms or co-workers tend to make us seem better than sliced bread, larger than life, and nobler than we are by half or more. Perhaps it can’t be avoided, as a result, that the morning after leaves voters questioning the choice they made the night before.
But in this presidential election cycle, the electorate seems to be experiencing the morning after weeks before Election night. The polls remind us that we see both major party nominees as deeply flawed, deeply untrustworthy. They also remind us of how deeply we dislike them.
Both candidates have, at least to some extent, earned our displeasure. Neither a “liberal” nor a “conservative” media conspiracy bears full responsibility for our assessment of their defects. We are, to be blunt, simply right about much of what troubles us about our choices.
There’s no King Kong here, in the fullest sense of that character. No Rocky Balboa, either.
I’m not wishing that I could fall in love with either candidate. I am blessed to have my Ann Darrow, my Adrian Pennino, and a clutch of awesome children and grandchildren into whom I can pour my love, to whom I can offer my devotion, and for whom I would gladly pay the ultimate price.
I’d just like to be able to be a little bit proud of the leader I help to choose for this nation. I’d even like to be a little proud of (or at least not very embarrassed by) the leader we as a people choose if it’s not the one I chose.
Both Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton have the opportunity, still, to inspire our admiration, to remind us of the nobility that can be ours as a people.
This election isn’t, and shouldn’t be, about allegiance to a person. It should be, must be, about allegiance to a dream we, as a nation, have never quite fulfilled, but still claim as our aspiration and our inspiration.
Probably all of us have pledged our allegiance to that dream on many occasions. It is a dream of “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Maybe that’s where the last debate should start.