The Moral Case for Hillary Clinton

Published: Salon (July 31, 2016), The Good Men Project (July 26, 2016)

“What would it take for you to vote for a third-party candidate?”

This question was posed to me by a good friend who, after supporting Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential campaign, became so disenchanted with the political process that he backed Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson in 2012 (not surprisingly, he plans on doing so again this year). Because I’m a progressive and he’s a libertarian, we naturally don’t see eye-to-eye on many policy issues. Nevertheless, he respects those differences of opinion as healthy and productive. What he doesn’t seem to respect, though, is my determination to vote for Hillary Clinton instead of a candidate who better reflects my own values – be it by supporting Green Party candidate Jill Stein or writing in Bernie Sanders, my personal choice during the primaries.

In light of the leaked DNC emails which prove that the Democratic establishment was actively biased toward Clinton, it may seem more difficult than ever to justify supporting that party’s ticket. Nevertheless, there is a strong moral argument for doing so, one that has never been effectively rebutted by anyone in my professional or personal life:

Presidential elections aren’t just about principles; they’re about human lives.

Perhaps my perspective is skewed by my academic career (four years studying American history tends to impact how a person views contemporary political events), but when I look at the choice between Clinton and Trump, I can’t help but think of how life would be better today if similar elections from the past had turned out differently. If Hubert Humphrey or George McGovern had defeated Richard Nixon, America would have been spared the trauma of Watergate. Had Jimmy Carter thwarted Ronald Reagan in 1980, we wouldn’t have had weaker labor unions and thus rising income inequality over the past third-of-a-century. Most famously, if only a few thousand votes in New Hampshire or Florida had voted for Al Gore instead of George W. Bush, we could have avoided the second Iraq War and had tax cuts that focused on families with children, college students, and aging parents instead of primarily benefiting the wealthy.

And what about Clinton versus Trump? According to a recent in-depth New York Times piece, Clinton would focus her presidency on two issues – immigration reform and creating jobs through infrastructure spending. By contrast, Trump would focus on building a wall on the US-Mexican border, banning Muslim immigration, auditing the Federal Reserve, and repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Let’s break down what these would mean in terms of human lives. Clinton’s immigration reform plan would provide a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants that would require them to pass background checks and pay both back taxes and a fine… In short, striking a balance between the humane (by not deporting them), the conservative (demanding that they pay for their crime), and the financially practical (again, by not deporting them). Her infrastructure plan would create millions of jobs while improving our nation’s roads and bridges, public transit, broadband Internet, and water systems. Last but certainly not least, the symbolic significance of her election would be an inspiration to the millions of women and girls who strive to realize their own professional dreams in this country.

With the exception of auditing the Federal Reserve, which would actually do some good, Trump’s policies would be an unmitigated disaster. Not only would his border wall cost at least three times as much as he claims, but it would be a logistical nightmare in terms of getting the rights to private land, avoiding an international incident with Mexico (which is our ally), and actually building the darn thing. Between that and his ban on Muslim immigration, Trump would cultivate what Mitt Romney accurately described as “trickle-down racism” – i.e., a national climate in which bigotry flares up against minority groups like Mexicans and Muslims. By repealing the Affordable Care Act, Trump would rip away services and legal protections that could help or have already benefited literally hundreds of millions of Americans. Finally, because there are legitimate concerns about Trump’s mental health, his blase attitude toward nuclear weapons poses an existential threat to not just our nation, but the entire world.

To answer my friend’s question: In an election where there is no substantive difference between the policies proposed by the Democrats and the Republicans, I would vote for a third-party candidate. That said, while it may be popular in some circles to claim that Clinton is no better than Trump, this assertion doesn’t bear close scrutiny. Elections are about more than conflicting ideals, but about the hundreds of millions of lives both here and abroad that will be shaped by who happens to occupy the Oval Office. Based on the facts of what Clinton and Trump would do in office, I cannot in good conscience vote against the interests of the people Clinton would help… or, for that matter, disregard the lives of the people Trump would hurt.

Do We Each Experience Time Differently?

Published: The Good Men Project (July 30, 2016)

“It appears therefore more natural to think of physical reality as a four dimensional existence, instead of, as hitherto, the evolution of a three dimensional existence.”

This is a quote from Albert Einstein, who offered it to explain how the past and future both co-exist in the present moment. When Einstein made this observation, he was referring to how physical forces like speed and gravitational pull influence how each body experiences time. Since then, psychologists have learned that individual organisms will also experience time differently based on factors like age and the accumulation of memories.

Yet I’ve often wondered if people can experience time differently for reasons other than their internal chronology or the fundamental laws of matter. In particular, I’d like to explore whether our intellectual conceptualizations of time can influence how we perceive it in our day-to-day lives. I have no research of my own to back up the hypotheses I’ll lay out here, and I wasn’t able to find any scientific or philosophical sources that touched on these same subjects, so everything I’m about to say is based on my own speculation.

My guess is that there are two primary ways in which one’s intellectual understanding of time influences personal interactions with it:

  1. If you have an early familiarity not only with specific events from the past, but the patterns within those events that tend to dictate certain outcomes, you can interpret present and potentially future events within the context of what we know about history.
  2. Similarly, if you can map out the history of one’s own life and discern certain patterns, you can view your own past and potential futures as one and the same with your present.

As an example of #1, I point to a trend I’ve tried to point out throughout the American presidential election. As I’ve written in several pieces for Salon and Quartz, American liberals have developed a habit of abandoning Democratic tickets that they feel are insufficiently liberal and, as a result, facilitating the election of a Republican president who is far worse. The two main examples are the 1968 election (in which Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy supporters refused to back Hubert Humphrey, thus electing Richard Nixon) and the 2000 election (in which Ralph Nader supporters refused to back Al Gore, thus electing George W. Bush). When I see Bernie Sanders supporters mouthing past logic in order to justify not backing Hillary Clinton – a logic that ultimately resulted in the carpet bombing of Cambodia, Watergate, the Iraq war, and an unprecedented redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor – I can’t help but shudder at the thought of this pattern repeating itself in 2016, with its beneficiary being Donald Trump. Visions of race riots, trade wars, and a radioactive cloud loom in the distance.

While much of this is simply being drawn from my knowledge of the past, I wonder if there is an emotional difference being felt by liberals who feel the same way that I do and the progressives with a “Bernie or Bust” mentality. For those of us who lived through and recall these events (like myself and the 2000 election), to what extent are we being influenced by our sense of immediate closeness to that chapter of the past? For of those of us who only read about these events in books (like myself and the 1968 election), to what extent are we capable of feeling the past’s relevance to the present even when our personal connection with it is entirely abstract? As for the progressives who can’t intuitively grasp the past’s relevance to the present – who may be able to conceptualize it, sure, but fail to perceive its tangible relevance – why is this the case? Can anything be done to rectify it?

For example #2, I need to get more personal. I’ve often written about how difficult it is for me to accept it when friends, exes, and other people close to me “freeze me out.” One friend observed that it may be because certain people perceive their own personal histories differently, and as a result what feels like ancient history to others may always seem more current to them. I suspect she may be right, and to this notion I would add that I’ve noticed that there are two ways in which people will discuss their own past. On the one hand, there are those (myself included) who seem to organize everything according to a linear model and attempt to analyze details for their greater significance; on the other, you have those who view their pasts as a series of stories, each one more or less disconnected from the others. As someone who falls into the former category, I’ve found it difficult to emotionally disconnect from the past, since I can always detect its vibrations in the present. Whether this is true for others like me I can’t say, and the same goes for what is or isn’t true for those who aren’t. Hopefully future scientists will see fit to study this subject, since I suspect a great number of psychological ailments can be better understood when viewed through this paradigm.

Like I said before, I’m not pretending to be an expert on the physics of the fourth dimension. My gigs are those of a writer and graduate student, both in the humanities, and so this article has not been my bailiwick. Nevertheless, I find myself internally mulling over these questions quite often, and have long itched to put my thoughts on digital paper. What’s the point of having my own column if I don’t every so often use it for musings like this?

Wise Words from the “South Park” Boys

Published: The Good Men Project (July 28, 2016)

I may as well be upfront about this… I am a HUGE fan of “South Park.” Although their political sensibilities don’t always align with my own (see: their global warming denialism), the nineteen existing seasons of “South Park” contain some of the sharpest and boldest social commentary ever aired on television. This was especially true last season, which contained a serialized story arc that skewered political correctness in all of its repressive glory.

That said, it is clear that “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone can distinguish between legitimate anti-PC criticism and the more exploitative kind. Stone’s observation to this effect in Vulture deserves to be quoted in full:

“Political correctness” — I feel like that’s becoming a catch-all term for just shit that you don’t like. I don’t think I probably agree with Donald Trump, but we did a whole bit about political correctness last year. We’ve been interested in that debate for a long time. But not everything is political correctness gone mad. Sometimes you just shouldn’t say something. And there’s a huge difference between what can be said in a cartoon or through the mouths of fiction, and what somebody who’s going for elected office should say. Those are two different standards of political correctness.

But I do think there’s a legitimate … comedians, especially, that’s probably where we identify and have the most sympathy with anti-p.c. forces, is within comedy. Not talking to people or trying to get elected. That’s a different standard. There’s shit that you shouldn’t say running for president that Cartman should totally be allowed to say within a satirical cartoon. When I see a politician or a Donald Trump say “political correctness,” I’m like, “That’s not the same shit that we’re talking about in the writers’ room. There’s satire over here in cartoons, and you’re standing onstage in a suit and you want me to vote for you.” Different standard, you know?

If I could, I would require every Trump voter to memorize those paragraphs. As I’ve discussed before, I abhor political correctness as a violation of free speech rights. Even though the First Amendment only protects people from government persecution for their speech, liberal societies depend on an open exchange of ideas in order to politically, intellectually, and culturally flourish. While it is entirely acceptable to express offense at language and arguments that you find objectionable, the far left’s habit of attempting to squelch such language is entirely reactionary. Indeed, one of the reasons I’m grateful for “South Park” is that it has the courage the buck politically correct taboos at a time when most of our culture seems to be going in the other direction.

At the same time, there is a crucial difference between comedians being able to express themselves without fear of censure and expecting a politician to be able to do the same thing. When a comedian tells a joke, their foremost goal is to make someone laugh; when a politician claims that Mexican immigrants are more likely to be rapists, or that all Muslims should be suspected of terrorism, he is implicitly supporting public policies that could ruin lives. Just as importantly, a president has the power to normalize certain attitudes or behaviors in a way that no single comedian ever can. As Mitt Romney astutely pointed out, “Presidents have an impact on the nature of our nation, and trickle-down racism, trickle-down bigotry, trickle-down misogyny, all these things are extraordinarily dangerous to the heart and character of America.”

In short, even though Trump and his supporters love to wrap themselves in the anti-PC mantle, the precedents they would establish have nothing to do with the legitimate cause of fighting political correctness. When men like Parker and Stone attack PC culture, they do so to expand liberty. When Trump does so, it’s because he wants to stifle it.

Tim Kaine in the Membrane

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Published: The Good Men Project (July 23, 2016)

What is there to say about a vice presidential candidate like Tim Kaine? The man is so dull.

To be fair, he meets the basic requirements of appearing on a presidential ticket. He hails from the swing state of Virginia, which after voting consistently Republican for more than forty years turned to Barack Obama in the last two elections. His political views are almost suspiciously moderate – no one, it would seem, could possibly be that centrist, that middle-of-the-road, without it being a calculated decision.

Then again, my research on the subject (as well as one personal connection close to Kaine) all tell me that his blandness, though politically convenient, is not in fact a ploy. Kaine truly is as generic and inoffensive as they come, the political equivalent of a rice cake with unsalted butter.

Does that mean he was a good choice? Politically a Clinton-Kaine ticket makes sense – a running mate’s foremost responsibility, after all, is to do no harm to the main candidate – but does that mean he would be a good president? Should Clinton die in office or (more likely) resign in disgrace, could we trust a President Kaine to lead the ship of state?

The answer, I suspect, depends on how you define the word “lead.” If you use the term to refer to competence, stability, and a reasonable amount of honesty, then I would trust a President Kaine. His tenure as Governor of Virginia was solid if unremarkable, and the same can be said of his time as a United States Senator. More so than any other candidate appearing on either party’s ticket, Kaine is the antithesis of Donald Trump – uninteresting but safe.

On the other hand, if you define the word “lead” in the heroic sense, I’m not sure Kaine is up to snuff. Take his stance on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, one of the most onerous free trade deals ever cooked up, and how he insists that it actually protects labor and the environment… or, at the very least, that he won’t vote against it without more information. While his detractors point to this as evidence that he is a pro-business stooge, I find it more likely that he’s just being characteristically cautious. There is a reason why Obama nearly chose Kaine for his own ticket in 2008, and why Clinton’s biggest praise for Kaine was his “vanilla” personality. Nowhere in his career does he appear as a man willing to stand up against the establishment in the name of a deeper conviction. This makes him a great right-hand man and, in times that don’t require strong moral courage, a decent leader.

Of course, if Clinton is impeached and convicted before the end of her first term, America will need a great leader. The same is true if, God forbid, she doesn’t live through the first four years of her presidency. These are terrible things to contemplate, but it would be irresponsible to ignore these questions. While Kaine doesn’t give me any particularly strong reason for fear, he doesn’t inspire much hope either.

Photos: Flickr – DonkeyHotey/”Tim Kaine – Caricature”

How low can the bar go? Donald Trump’s RNC is historic for all the wrong reasons

Published: Salon (July 23, 2016)

What we were looking for was something that would put the nation and the rank and file of the Party on the alert to the fact that our leading candidate was impetuous, irresponsible, and slightly stupid.”

These words were spoken not about Donald Trump and his nomination at the Republican National Convention of 2016, but regarding Barry Goldwater, who in 1964 was the last GOP presidential candidate to seize the party from the establishment. Then again, they just as aptly sum up the underlying significance of Trump being officially nominated. Even though Trump is easily as much of a threat to the country as Goldwater was believed to be fifty-two years ago (if not more so), his hostile takeover of the Republican Party seemed foreordained. Its 1964 counterpart, on the other hand, seemed uncertain until the last minute and eventually broke out in violence.At a time when we’ve been distracted by Melania Trump’s plagiarized speech and her husband’s call for a “law and order” campaign, the most remarkable story of this week may very well be that such a patently dangerous man was officially nominated for president … but with a whimper, not a bang.

Make no mistake about it, Trump is a very dangerous man. Oddly enough, one of the main dangers about Trump isn’t being widely discussed — namely, the fact that he is clearly mentally incompetent to be president. As Tony Schwartz, the writer who ghost-authored Trump’s famous book “The Art of the Deal,” observed to The New Yorker, Trump “has no attention span … It’s impossible to keep him focussed on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement, for more than a few minutes.” As he later pointed out, “if [Trump] had to be briefed on a crisis in the Situation Room, it’s impossible to imagine him paying attention over a long period of time.” When you add this to the number of prominent therapists who have stated Trump displays textbook narcissistic personality traits, serious practical questions emerge about his mental fitness to occupy the Oval Office.

There is another dangerous aspect to what Trump has done. To the extent that he has an ideology, it is the simplistic one of a man who is prone to sweeping generalizations … and who likes to create scapegoats. Think of the conspiracy theories with which he has been prominently identified — from insisting President Obama wasn’t born in this country and never attended Columbia University to claiming that Ted Cruz’s father had been involved in John Kennedy’s assassination. When his fringe proclivities aren’t simply bizarre, they become hateful. The man who would build a wall to keep out Mexican rapists and criminals and ban all Muslims from entering America starts out by referring to them as monoliths —  the Hispanics, the Muslims and so on.

So how come the man’s nomination has been inevitable? Why has he been at the top of the polls since he launched his campaign last year, and then swept through the primaries like an unstoppable force until his nomination last night became a matter of course? How could our political climate have allowed such a thing to happen?

Part of it is that, in the half century since Goldwater took over the Republican Party, that organization has grown increasingly comfortable in the world of overt racism. Polls already indicate that Trump supporters are more likely to hold bigoted views about racial minorities than any other group in the GOP, and this is no coincidence. A direct line can be drawn from Trumpism to the racism embedded in much of the Tea Party’s opposition to America’s first black president or to the coded language used to win elections by Republican presidents like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. In this respect, he is as much a product of modern Republicanism as he is its albatross. That said, as Mitt Romney astutely pointed out on CNN’s “The Situation Room,” Trump has lowered the bar to a new depth, since “presidents have an impact on the nature of our nation, and trickle down racism and trickle down bigotry and trickle down misogyny — all of these things are extraordinarily dangerous to the heart and character of America.”

By contrast, our willingness to minimize the danger posed by a potential Trump presidency is rooted in the overall political zeitgeist. As Bob Woodward once explained in “Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate,” Americans had gradually lost faith in their presidents as scandals and abuses of power became increasingly frequent in the years after Watergate. Trump’s own chief opponent, Hillary Clinton, has made matters worse with a string of scandals in her own background, the most conspicuous of which resulted in the FBI declaring that “there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.” My guess here is that, at a time when so many have lost faith in the character of those who govern us, it’s easier to not see the difference between corruption and a very different and far more threatening alternative, genuine stupidity (which often comes with bigotry). Ironically, Trump has plenty of his own corruption allegations, but I suspect these are just being lumped in with his myriad other problems. In the end, we may elect a mentally incompetent man to be president for no other reason than our desensitization to loathing our leaders.

That’s why, when the meaning of Cleveland is discussed in history, I suspect observers will marvel at how the ugliest corruptions in America’s political soul ate itself alive. It didn’t gnash its teeth (at least not yet) or make a scene. Indeed, by the time people realized what was happening, it was too late to stop it. Now all we have to do is hope that, now that the Republicans are putting an “impetuous, irresponsible and slightly stupid” man in front of the American voters, they won’t make the world-changing mistake of electing him.

Why I Write

Published: The Good Men Project (July 21, 2016)

I feel like answering a question I’m often asked about one type of article I like to write… in no small part because I am myself curious about the answer.

It’s been more than three years since I first started writing about my experiences as someone with Asperger’s Syndrome. The idea first came to me after it was reported that Adam Lanza, the mass shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School, was himself high-functioning autistic (another term for Asperger’s). At the time, I decided to go public with my stories because I wanted to demystify the condition and establish that Lanza alone was responsible for his actions.

What I gradually discovered, though, was that an audience exists in our culture for a certain type of literary navel-gazing. There seems to be the growing realization that the best way to achieve knowledge about and connect with others is to understand ourselves. As we do that, we begin to realize that the things we believed made us ineluctably different were actually shared by a whole world of people. Sharing a part of ourselves with the world is one way, however slight, of increasing our collective capacity for empathy and insight into the human condition.

It is also immensely gratifying. More and more, I find myself using certain article topics as a form of therapy. There kind of cohesive analysis required to adequately discuss what it’s like dating with autism, or constantly damaging relationships because of social rules you don’t understand. You have to boil down years and years of stories into a few general patterns and themes, which can be enormously cathartic provided your mindset is sufficiently detached.

The only danger in this approach, I’ve found, is that it’s dangerous to be careless when using it. I often worry that problems which I discuss with focusing and driving may be viewed as embarrassing. Certainly I’ve unintentionally embarrassed other people, particularly in articles where I focus with too much detail on one particular story, which can come across as petty. There are articles that I regret writing because I know that they came across in this one and hurt people I didn’t intend to.

That said, my personal articles have more than paid off for me in one very important way: Through these pieces, I have developed friendships with dozens of people who were kind enough to reach out after reading something I wrote. Roger Ebert once referred to friends made in this way as “far flung correspondents,” and I couldn’t think of a better term for them. While it’s unlikely I’ll meet more than a handful of these friends face-to-face, I treasure my relationships with them no less.

These connections are also of inestimable value to my writing. While I usually focus on my own stories (I only name or photograph other people in my article when given expressed permission), I often draw larger conclusions about the common themes of HFA experience because of what readers have told me they’ve been through. This symbiotic relationship between the content I write and those who read it is healthy for everyone involved. It allows for a very unique kind of discussion to develop, one that I feel privileged to play a part in.


Chief & I

Published: The Good Men Project (July 19, 2016)

The following article was first written on my personal blog more than six years ago. Upon rediscovering it, I knew I had to publish it here.

If there was ever a moment when I wished I had a camera, it was last Friday, when I found myself emotionally bonding with an unkempt bovine named Chief at the Turtleback Zoo in Livingston, NJ.

My affinity for animals has caused some of my friends to express surprise. One saw fit to comment on my tendency to put pictures of interesting critters on my Facebook profile; others have marveled at the trivia I can spout off on zoological specimens from canines and bears to elephants and pangolins. On those occasions when someone inquires as to the origin of my interest, I find myself in an uncommon position – i.e, one in which I have no idea what to say.

What I do know is that, when I reached my arm into that pen and saw Chief – a massive, unkempt, black-and-white bovine – shamble up to me, a tiny part of my soul giggled with joy. When he tentatively leaned his massive mug against my hand, and had his eyes loll to one side as I scratched him on just the right spot of his chin, I felt an unmitigated joy that exists without parallel elsewhere in my life. The copious quantities of drool that poured onto my sweater and the scratchy feeling of his tongue against my arm were not merely rendered acceptable, but made all the more worth it from the experience. The fact that logical explanations eluded me then – and still elude me now – was irrelevant. I was happy.

Perhaps, despite my earlier reservations about offering an explanation for my feelings, one can be found in this anecdote from a biography of Senator Daniel Webster. Although the political views of the legendary orator were in many respects vastly different from my own, we certainly would have seen eye-to-eye on the unique pleasures to be had in relating to the animal kingdom.

A friend who was often with him tells how he enjoyed his cattle, and how, on one occasion, after each animal was secured in his place, Mr. Webster amused himself by feeding them with ears of corn from an unhusked pile lying on the barn floor. As his son was trying to keep warm by playing with the dog, he said:

“You do not seem, my son, to take much interest in this; but, for my part” (and here he broke an ear and fed the pieces to the oxen on his right and left, and watched them as they crunched it), “I like it. I would rather be here than in the Senate,” adding, with a smile which showed all his white teeth, “I think it better company.”

Avoiding the mistakes of conventions past: Can the parties steer clear of these historical pitfalls?

Published: Salon (July 16, 2016)

In anticipation of the upcoming Democratic and Republican conventions later this month, it seems appropriate to brace ourselves for something historic. After all, Hillary Clinton is the first woman ever to be nominated by a major party, as well as a traditionally polarizing figure who only recently managed to win the endorsement of her chief rival, Bernie Sanders. Meanwhile, Donald Trump is, if anything, more controversial, so much so that many of his rallies have been marked by outbursts of violence.

To understand what might occur when each candidate is nominated, it helps to look at other national conventions from our recent history.
Conventions that have led to third-party insurgencies (Republicans in 1912, Democrats in 1948)
The two most conspicuous examples here include the Republican convention of 1912and the Democratic convention of 1948. On both occasions, an incumbent president who had just been renominated faced staunch opposition from interparty factions that opposed large sections of his agenda: In 1912, it was President William Taft, who was accused of being too conservative on economic issues by former president Theodore Roosevelt and the progressives, and in 1948 it was President Harry Truman who was criticized for taking too strong a stance in favor of African-American civil rights by predominantly Southern segregationists. Because neither faction got what they wished, both conventions ended with the dissatisfied bolting and running third-party alternatives — although it’s notable that, while the dissident progressives wound up winning more votes than the actual Republican nominee in 1912 (in part because Roosevelt had always intended to challenge Taft in the general election if he couldn’t get nominated himself), Strom Thurmond’s third-party campaign as a Dixiecrat failed to thwart Truman’s election in 1948.Could either of those things happen in 2016? Now that Bernie Sanders has endorsed Hillary Clinton, it seems much less likely that this will occur on the Democratic side. That said, the burden will rest on Sanders to deliver a helluva nomination speech, and even then there is the looming risk that many in the Sanders camp will vociferously refuse to accept a candidate whose ideology is a moderated version of their own. By contrast, if any of the anti-Trump Republicans are going to bolt from the GOP, it is quite likely that they will do so for the candidate already nominated by one of America’s main third parties, Libertarian Gary Johnson. That said, because party luminaries like Mitt Romney are already openly contemplating exactly that, Trump will have his work cut out for him.

Conventions that have embarrassed the party with outbursts of violence (Republicans in 1964, Democrats in 1968)

On the last occasion that the extreme right-wing took over the Republican Party and nominated one of its own as their presidential candidate (Barry Goldwater), the year was 1964 and the resulting GOP convention was nothing short of a televised debacle. The spectacle of moderates like Gov. Nelson Rockefeller being jeered in the most vulgar language from pro-Goldwater delegates — to say nothing of the threats of physical violence that lurked beneath the surface — marred Goldwater’s coronation and cemented the nation’s image of him as a dangerous radical. Things were even worse for the Democratic convention in 1968, when the party’s inability to mollify critics of the Vietnam War led to outbursts of violence among protesters in the streets of Chicago, helping destroy the candidacy of Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

Both of these outcomes seem quite possible in 2016 — but definitely more so on Trump’s side. Certainly, Clinton’s supporters will be magnanimous in victory and, so long as Sanders can rein in the Bernie Bros, it’s unlikely that his backers will openly embarrass him with rhetorical or physical violence against Clinton and her supporters. By contrast, it is no secret that many in the Trump camp are openly contemptuous of the Republican Party establishment and vice versa, and given the vulgar language commonly used by both Trump and his alt-right supporters, it won’t take much for an incident to humiliate them on national television. Similarly, because Trump’s incendiary rhetoric has inspired violence among his supporters and because America has already seen ugly relations between law enforcement and racial minority citizens, the likely presence of Black Lives Matter and other protest groups to object to Trump’s political message could prove to be a political powder keg … although unlike Humphrey, who abhorred violence and was devastated by the bloodshed at his convention, Trump’s hyperviolent brand may actually benefit from his knack for stirring a tempest and then blaming the victims who were tossed.

Incompetent conventions (Democrats in 1972, Republicans in 1992)

Although Democratic nominee George McGovern was likely to lose the 1972 presidential election regardless of the convention because of his left-wing views (which would be considered moderate by modern standards), it didn’t help that his inept campaign staff chose a vice presidential running mate with an undisclosed history of mental illness and scheduled his nomination speech for 3 a.m. ET. TheRepublican convention in 1992 wasn’t much better, foolishly allowing the far right-wing Pat Buchanan — President George H. W. Bush’s chief rival for the nomination that year — to speak without removing the more inflammatory misogynistic and homophobic rhetoric from his endorsement speech.

Frankly, both sides seem capable of committing similar acts of incompetence in 2016. Although Bernie Sanders’ democratic socialist language may wash well with the Democratic Party base, it could have a toxic effect on national audiences, a possibility that Clinton needs to take into consideration when vetting his inevitable speech. Similarly, because the Trump campaign is largely run by neophytes not dissimilar to the crew that nominated McGovern in ‘72, it will be especially imperative for them to stay on top of the ball when it comes to the nuts-and-bolts of making sure all the gears of the convention click into place.
If one positive can be said about the 2016 presidential election, it is that it’s shaping up to be one of the most memorable contests of all time. Unfortunately, when previous national conventions have made history, it has usually been for ugly reasons rather than uplifting ones. With any luck, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will be nominated by their respective parties without incident.