Presidential Campaign

A flawed candidate is not the same as a terrible one

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Look up Luigi Facta on Google Images and you’ll find a pleasant-looking man with a killer mustache and an expression of gentle amicability. He seems more like a jolly newspaperman (which, at one point, he was) than a political leader. Not exactly a confidence-inspiring image, to say the least — a fitting attribute, since he didn’t appear to inspire much confidence in life, either.

{mosads}Facta was the last Italian prime minister before Benito Mussolini. In a country suffering from diverging constituencies and Fascist hooligans taking over the streets, Facta had emerged as a reasonable, if inadequate leader.

He was initially reluctant to take a strong, militaristic stand against Mussolini, for which he was roundly criticized. Yet after Mussolini’s march on Rome in 1922, Facta requested that King Victor Emanuel III authorize the use of martial law. Emanuel had a choice to make: He could go with Facta or with Mussolini.

He chose Mussolini, asking the Fascist thug to form a new government.

Now, it can be argued that the king had his reasons: Italy was weak militarily and its streets were unsafe. The economy was terrible. People were desperate for something new, something different.

And so he went with Mussolini.

Many years later, in 1994, the Italian people had another choice to make: elect political newcomer Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party or choose from a host of other options. Berlusconi, a former cruise-ship-singer-turned-media-mogul, took advantage of a vast bribery scandal, Mani Pulite (“Clean Hands”), involving thousands of public officials.

Ironically, it appears that Berlusconi, who was known to employ some, let’s say, questionable business tactics, entered politics to escape corruption charges himself.

Still, the Italian people, with a plurality, chose Berlusconi and Forza Italia, not just in 1994, but again in 2001 and once more in 2008. In total, he served nine years as Italy’s prime minister. It was quite a show. And throughout it all, he was investigated/convicted for practically everything under the sun, including bribery, abuse of power, and sleeping with an underage girl.

The appeal to “something new and different” is always strong, especially when people are fed-up with their current lives. Sometimes, the “something different” can be a very good way to go: President Lincoln was something different; the New Deal was something different; in fact, our very form of government was, at the time of its formation, something different.

But at other times, “something different” is not always something better, and many times it’s something significantly worse. In Russia and China, the communists were something different; Berlusconi was something different; and, of course, Hitler was something different.

Republican nominee Donald Trump is not Hitler. But he is an egomaniacal bigot with no tether to the truth, a tendency toward cruelty — especially when he feels he’s been wronged — and has the temperament of a 5-year-old. He’s not Hitler, but he is a modern version of the late Sen. Joe McCarthy (R-Wis.). Or more like McCarthy, President Richard Nixon, Berlusconi, P.T. Barnum and Mr. Burns from “The Simpsons” somehow all had a child together. And then they spoiled him, taught him nothing about decency, made him obsess over money and power, and let him read nothing but the National Enquirer and “The Art of War.”

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is not Lincoln, but she’s not Luigi Facta either. She may, if given the chance, turn out to be a very good president, or at least a decent one. And while it’s true that she’s lied and that she’s often phony, she is also competent, intelligent and, best of all, not Trump.

You hear people say that we have no good choices this election when what they really mean is that we have no perfect choices. But we do have a choice between flawed and terrible, and those two things are not the same. When we engage in false equivalencies, we play a dangerous game; reason becomes drowned out by noise and bad decisions get made. If you think that Trump and Clinton are somehow “both just as bad,” and will use that as your excuse to not vote or perhaps cast a ballot for Trump, you’re either delusional, far too emotional or far too little informed. And you need to learn your history.

It’s understandable that, if you had to eat turkey every day for lunch, you might grow tired of it. You might want something different, something new. But if that something new were a crap sandwich, you’d probably go with the turkey again, wouldn’t you?

Rosenfeld is an educator and historian who has done work for Scribner, Macmillan and Newsweek.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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