This is my last column until after the election, so I’d like to address the people least likely to read it: Donald Trump voters. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get lucky and a few of them will buy fish wrapped in this column, and they’ll accidentally peruse it! Desperate times call for desperate measures.
While I’ve opposed the Trump candidacy from the start, I’ve never disparaged Trump voters. Some are friends and neighbors; they’re all fellow Americans. We should take their concerns seriously. But we should also demand that they be serious, that they draw distinctions between these two presidential candidates.
Yes, Hillary Clinton is a flawed leader — but in the way so many presidents were. We know her flaws: She has a weakness for secrecy, occasionally fudges truths, has fawning aides and has a husband who lacks discipline when it comes to moneymaking and women. But she is not indecent, and that is an important distinction. And she’s studious, has sought out people of substance on every issue and has taken the job of running for president seriously.
Trump is not only a flawed politician, he’s an indecent human being. He’s boasted of assaulting women — prompting 11 to come forward to testify that he did just that to them; his defense is that he could not have assaulted these women because they weren’t pretty enough.
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He’s created a university that was charged with defrauding its students. He’s been charged with discriminating against racial minorities in his rental properties. He’s stiffed countless vendors, from piano sellers to major contractors. He’s refused to disclose his tax returns because they likely reveal that he’s paid no federal taxes for years, is in bed with dodgy financiers and doesn’t give like he says to charity.
He’s compared the sacrifice of parents of a soldier killed in Iraq to his “sacrifice” of building tall buildings. He’s vowed, if elected, to prosecute his campaign rival. We have never seen such behaviors in a presidential candidate.
At the same time, Trump has shown no ability to talk about any policy issue with any depth. Harlan Coben’s debate-night tweet last month had it right: “On Aleppo he sounds like a fifth grader giving a book report on a book he never read.”
I understand why many Trump supporters have lost faith in Washington and want to just “shake things up.” When you shake things up with a studied plan and a clear idea of where you want to get to, you can open new futures. But when you shake things up, guided by one-liners and no moral compass, you can cause enormous instability and systemic vertigo.
But there is an even more important reason that Trump supporters, particularly less-educated white males, should be wary of his bluster: His policies won’t help them. Trump promises to bring their jobs back. But most of their jobs didn’t go to a Mexican. They went to a microchip.
The idea that large numbers of manual factory jobs can be returned to America if we put up a wall with Mexico or renegotiate our trade deals is a fantasy. Trump ignores the fact that manufacturing is still by far the largest sector of the U.S. economy. Indeed, our factories now produce twice what they did in 1984 — but with one-third fewer workers.
Trump can’t change that. Machines and software will keep devouring, and spawning, more work of all kinds. Did you hear that IBM’s cognitive computer, Watson, helped to create a pop song, “Not Easy,” with Grammy-winning producer Alex da Kid? The song was released Oct. 21, IBM noted, and within 48 hours it climbed to No. 4 on iTunes’ Hot Tracks.
No one knows for certain how we deal with this new race with and against machines, but I can assure you it’s not Trump’s way — build walls, restrict trade, give huge tax cuts to the rich. The best jobs in the future are going to be what I call “STEMpathy jobs — jobs that blend STEM skills (science, technology, engineering, math) with human empathy. We don’t know what many of them will look like yet.
The smartest thing we can do now is to keep our economy as open and flexible as possible — to get the change signals first and be able to quickly adapt; create the opportunity for every American to engage in lifelong learning, because whatever jobs emerge will require more knowledge; make sure that learning stresses as much of the humanities and human interactive skills as hard sciences; make sure we have an immigration policy that continues to attract the world’s most imaginative risk-takers; and strengthen our safety nets, because this era will leave more people behind.
This is the only true path to American greatness in the 21st century. Trump wants to make America great in ways that are just not available anymore. “What do we have to lose” by trying his way? Trump asks. The answer is: everything that actually makes us great. When the world gets this fast, small errors in navigation have huge consequences.
While Clinton has failed to inspire, her instincts and ideas will keep us hewing to basically the right course. And however great her flaws, she is still in the zone of human decency. Trump is not.
We can never be great as a country with a president with the warped values of Donald Trump. I pray that in the end at least some Trump voters, my fellow Americans, will see that.
Thomas Friedman writes for The New York Times.