It's tempting, and comforting, to think the 2016 Presidential race is over. Don't you believe it. At this writing, the Huffington Post poll aggregator has Mrs. Clinton up a shade over seven points, but still under 50 percent, and at the Talking Points Memo poll aggregator, Mrs. Clinton's 4.5-point margin is rather narrower than it was earlier in the week, just after Mr. Trump laid yet another brown egg at yet another Presidential debate. But people get tired of hearing about that last unconscionable thing Donald Trump said after a few days, and I can't shake the feeling that if Hillary Clinton were really running away with this election, folks would be talking more about her, and less about the necessity of keeping That Man out of the Oval Office.
After all, we've seen this before: as much as folks talk about Mrs. Clinton's experience and qualifications -- an argument almost tailor-made to repel folks who think the system's broken, of course! -- you no doubt remember how much people talked about the experience and qualifications of John Kerry. More worrisome, people also rightly suspect Hillary Clinton doesn't mean what she says even when she says things they like. People should rightly suspect Donald Trump for the same thing, since he says completely different things to Our Glorious Elites than he does to his votaries, but the fact is people generally don't think that -- they think he "shoots from the hip," even though he's shooting from rather lower than that. People don't just want to vote against someone; they want to vote for someone, and in a race between a candidate who inspires nobody and a candidate who inspires somebody, the latter candidate always has an edge, and you can't count them out no matter how many horrible things they say.
I've also found the phenomenon of folks unwilling to tell pollsters out loud that they're voting for Mr. Trump -- which Mr. Trump discussed earlier this week, and which his campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, discussed many weeks ago -- rather more plausible, I think, than other observers have. Obviously I have no way of cutting open poll respondents to discover if they're telling the truth when they say they don't support him ("OK, let's count rings. 59 rings; that's a prime number! OK, put a check mark next to 'not a Trump supporter'") and their theoretical recalcitrance sure wouldn't say a whole lot about their candidate, but then I also think Mr. Trump's biggest supporters aren't obnoxious like he is; in fact, they're very likely people who wish they could say the things he says but are aware of all the reasons they can't, and so they live vicariously through him.
Of course, the predictive power of polls could fail in one fairly significant way in 2016 -- even if folks answer with absolute honesty about their preference, those folks still have to get to the voting booth, and, well, not all of them are going to get there. This will be the first Presidential election conducted since 1964 without the protection formerly afforded by Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act, but more specifically, this will be the first Presidential election where states can use the "Interstate Crosscheck" database that has strangely invalidated the voting registrations of so many folks of color, and this will also be the first Presidential election where states can vigorously enforce the notorious Voter ID laws that also seem to keep a disproportionate number of black folks from voting. That means states like Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Wisconsin -- all states that went for Mr. Obama in 2008 and 2012 -- will be rather more in play than they may look right now. And these four states have 70 electoral votes; if Mr. Obama had lost them in 2012, we'd be talking about President Romney's re-election effort right now.
Finally, we may be past the point where Republicans can convince mass numbers of rank-and-file voters that they can "control" Mr. Trump, and we may even be past the point where Republicans can merely raise the spectre of another President Clinton to get those voters in line, but consider the one winning argument mainstream Republicans will still have when they visit the homes of recalcitrant Republicans in the coming weeks: that control of the U.S. Supreme Court is in the balance. With Justice Scalia's passing, this isn't a theoretical issue -- if the Senate had confirmed Mr. Garland, liberals would have a 5-4 lead on the Court, and the most recent 5-4 lead on the Court began in late 1991 and lasted almost a quarter-century. Perhaps not coincidentally, Mr. Trump has actually been more forthright about his specific plans for the Supreme Court than he has about any other issue -- he has listed no less than 21 judges he might nominate; none are iconoclasts, but are favorites of right-wing legal analysts.
I'm no oracle, and I'd love to be wrong about all of the above, but I'd also love to believe that Hillary Clinton has inspired us to reject Mr. Trump, and I don't -- Mr. Trump has done more toward that end than she has, and a civilization can't keep relying on that sort of luck if it wants to survive, let alone thrive. The good news, I suppose, is that we lived through eight years of George W. Bush, and Mr. Bush will always be worse than Donald Trump, because he was good enough at pretending he wasn't a monster and because too many people cut him slack because they thought he was stupid; Donald Trump would have neither of these things going for him as President, and he would not have an electorate that would "wonder" what he'd do -- even if a 9.11-sized terrorist attack hit this nation, he wouldn't get the boatload of benefit-of-the-doubt and I'm-pulling-for-him that Mr. Bush got.
But I have better news: we, as Americans, have a duty to offer our counsel to our elected representatives, a duty that does not change because one party or the other controls this or that lever of power, a duty that does not end on Election Day but in fact begins on Election Day; and if we do our duty, in numbers that cannot be mistaken, we can overcome any clown that occupies the Oval Office. I know this is true because I have seen it happen -- I have seen a Republican Congress shoot down a Republican President's initiatives on media consolidation and overtime pay merely because enough good Americans demanded it; I have seen an even bigger Republican Congress refuse to take up Social Security privatization because enough good Americans rejected it; and I have seen "free" trade agreements languish and wither for literally no other reason than that good Americans did not want them. So I know it can be done -- and I know we can do it even with a Donald Trump as our next President.