Editorial: Vote for Clinton and avert a train wreck

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The Chicago Sun-Times endorses Hillary Clinton for president. | AP photo

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Let’s get right to it:

Hillary Clinton has the potential to be an excellent president. She is eminently qualified by any measure — experience, knowledge, character or temperament.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, has the makings of a miserable, even dangerous, president. There is no getting around it. In every way Clinton is strong, Trump is weak. In every way she has earned the job over a lifetime of public service, he has disqualified himself, serving nobody but himself.

Today, we endorse Hillary Clinton for president, and we endorse her early. The best way to avert a train wreck is to wave a warning flag as soon as possible.

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Allow us, as well, a special shout-out to those who understand what a danger Trump represents but are cool to Clinton: A vote for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, a man who could not even pass a basic world geography test, is not a principled protest gesture. It is a retreat to the sidelines. So, too, would be a vote for Green candidate Jill Stein. Neither can win. A vote for either of them would be a cop-out that cuts in Trump’s favor. Let’s not pretend to any false equivalencies between Clinton and Trump.

We endorse the real Hillary Clinton, flawed but upstanding, not the caricature created by her detractors over 30 years. Spare us the manufactured scandal of Benghazi. Spare us the baseless questions about her health. We endorse the Hillary Clinton who grew up in Park Ridge wanting to change the world, who worked for the welfare of children in Arkansas, who worked effectively across party lines as a senator from New York and who gave her all as a globetrotting secretary of state. The importance of her deep experience in foreign affairs cannot be overstated in these perilous times.

Hillary Clinton would be a fine choice for president in any year, though the stakes are so much higher this year because the alternative is abysmal. She sees America for what it is and where it is going — an ever-richer tapestry of race and ethnicity — and she embraces it. For all its many problems, she understands, America is great right now.

Donald Trump is disgusted by our nation as it is. He and his most fervent supporters yearn for an idealized past. When life was better and certain people knew their place. Think “Happy Days” with an angry and intolerant edge.

Hillary Clinton famously has her faults and failures. While secretary of state in the Obama administration, she failed to anticipate the fallout from toppling Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The casual manner in which she allowed her family’s Clinton Foundation to accept money from foreign governments while she was secretary of state was unwise. She accepted millions of dollars in fees for speaking behind closed doors to powerful groups, but she will not reveal what she said.

Clinton showed poor judgment, as well, when she used a private email service as secretary of state and failed to properly preserve records. The FBI found no grounds for criminal charges, but her cavalier disregard for the rules of national security was indefensible. As secretary of state, she dealt with sensitive information whose unintended release could have had serious ramifications around the world.

But Clinton did apologize for that, for what it’s worth, while Trump appears incapable of apologizing for anything. She also has apologized for her initial support for the war in Iraq, while Trump continues to insist he did not support the war, though he did.

Clinton is an imperfect candidate, to be sure, but Trump is an order of magnitude worse. In American history, has there ever been a less fit major party presidential candidate?

We live in unsettling times. We must contend with savagery overseas by the likes of ISIS and with the threat of terrorism at home. Chicago knows all too well the problem of gun violence in our cities, and mass shootings occur with a regularity that dulls our outrage. Global competition threatens American jobs, higher education grows unaffordable, millions of undocumented immigrants continue to live in the shadows, refugees bang at our door, mothers and fathers work two or three minimum-wage jobs to support their families, and eight years after the election of our first black president, race relations remain a mess. Our police feel unappreciated and scapegoated, even as protesters fill the street after every new police-involved shooting.

What kind of president should we elect to take all this on? A president determined to build economic partnerships and security alliances around the world. A president determined to work for justice and unity here at home.

Clinton, who visited 112 countries in four years as secretary of state, has learned to see the world through others’ eyes. She understands the strategic importance of American support for NATO and the Iran nuclear pact. She has made clear the United States’ unwavering support for Israel, and she has pushed back against autocrats like Russian President Vladimir Putin.

As our world grows ever smaller and both threats and opportunities leap across oceans in the blink of a tweet, we would welcome an American commander-in-chief who knows dozens of world leaders on a first-name basis and appreciates their needs — but is not easily taken in. Clinton was a member of the inner circle that advised President Barack Obama to take out Osama bin Laden.

Donald Trump, in contrast, talks about NATO like it’s a country club that charges too much. He is clueless as to how such alliances safeguard the security of the Western world. He is blasé about rogue nations such as North Korea developing nuclear weapons — what the heck.

Trump is a big fan of Putin. He admires a strongman who runs his country the way Trump imagines running the United States, curtailing free speech and bullying critics with the tools of government. Mostly, though, Trump likes Putin because Putin says “nice” things about him, the coin of the realm in Trump Land.

Clinton has specific and realistic programs, such as a mild shift in taxes toward the wealthiest Americans, premised on pulling people up, not putting people down. We can’t stress that enough. Solving the problem of undocumented immigrants takes more than building a wall; creating new jobs takes more than cutting taxes on the wealthy and putting up barriers to trade; reducing gun violence takes more than dispatching cops to stop and frisk young men — usually black or Hispanic young men — at will.

We were particularly struck by Clinton’s reply at last Monday’s debate when she was asked about police bias against minorities. “Implicit bias is a problem for everyone, not just the police,” she said. “Too many of us in our great country jump to conclusions about each other.”

That is the simple truth, and it goes to the heart of what separates Clinton from Trump, beyond of course Trump’s appalling lack of character. Clinton has campaigned to be the president of all Americans, while Trump has exploited our divisions, playing on fears and resentment. That’s all he’s doing when he blathers on about “the wall” and stop-and-frisk and patrolling Muslim neighborhoods.

This is not what anybody should wish for America for the next four years.

Here, then, is where we find ourselves: In a normal endorsement editorial, we might now turn to a more detailed review of our preferred candidate’s policies and priorities — the nuts-and-bolts stuff. But this is not a normal presidential race. In this election, issues of character and temperament have taken center stage because one candidate, Donald Trump, has little character and a bratty temperament.

Trump tells falsehoods so often that journalists have stopped using euphemisms — now they just call them lies. We could cite dozens of examples, but one shameless whopper — Trump’s continued insistence that he did not feed the racist “birther” smear about Obama — illustrates our point perfectly.

Trump stiffs people in business, runs a self-dealing charity, preys on the gullible with scams like Trump University, attacks the parents of a Muslim-American soldier who died for his country, and talks about women as if they were nothing but an assemblage of body parts.

Trump was in telling form at Monday’s debate, attacking Clinton in a classic sexist way, interrupting her 51 times, raising his voice to drown her out, and grimacing at everything she said. How well would he work with German Chancellor Angela Merkel?

But Clinton would not be bullied. She remained focused and even-keeled — you might say presidential. She waited him out and got under his skin with hard facts and cool disregard. She prepared for this debate, as she said, just as she has prepared all her adult life to be president.

We endorse Hillary Clinton for president. She is fit for the job, and she has earned it.

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