This morning Maureen Dowd poses a practical problem, which morphs into the almost metaphysically perplexing.
First, and for what at first seems like the duration of her column, she devotes herself to the theme of Hillary Clinton's very best ally — that being, of course, her worst enemy: "In this insane campaign year, Hillary doesn’t even need an oppo-research team digging up nasty stuff about her opponent’s record. She just has to stand there and wait for Trump to open his mouth."
Then comes a thematic transition: "If Hillary had a normal opponent, her vulnerabilities would be more glaring." Continues Dowd:
Extremists always ride to Hillary’s rescue. Just as Ken Starr and impeachment-crazed conservatives in the House pushed it way too far and made laughingstocks of themselves, succumbing to Clinton Derangement Syndrome, so the alt-right allows Hillary to have an easy target that occludes the Clintons’ own transgressions.
Parenthetically, transgression is a difficult word to define with any precision. Jaywalking is a transgression, as is premeditated murder. Watergate and Iran-Contra were transgressions, as are conflicts of interest. In the latter instance — i.e., all things Foundational — Hillary's are unproven, and are therefore mere allegations. And yet "transgression" can still be thrown around with political and journalistic impunity, precisely because "transgression" is so imprecise. As for Hillary's email "scandal" (another term of dealer's-choice ambiguity), the nominee has repeatedly copped to a transgression, and yet, again with impunity, hostile politicos and impenetrable journalists persist in demanding that she — cop to a transgression.
So let us move on, on to Dowd's final thematic twist. Because her opponents — Trump and the so-called alt-right — are such copy-worthy boobs,
Hillary is more easily able to continue to cold-shoulder the press on serious issues, which really is an outrage and will hurt her in the end, because she’s building up a giant bubble of hostility that will follow her into the White House....
Many people believe that Trump is so demented and dangerous that any criticism of Hillary should be tabled or suppressed, that her malfeasance is so small compared to his that it is not worth mentioning. But that’s not good for her or us to leave so many things hanging out there, without her ever having to explain herself.
Letting her rise above everything for the good of the country is not good for the country.
Some of Dowd and Friends' disgruntlement I've already addressed. What we have here is a double paradox. The more Hillary "explains herself," the more the mainstream muckrakers of virtue demand that she explain herself; and the more Hillary submits to chronically unsatisfied journalistic questioning, the less likely she is to submit to such questioning.
Loopy paradoxes aside, Dowd's primal disgruntlement is endowed with some validity. Is it proper that "many people" (I among them) should believe that any criticism of Hillary should wait, since her opponent is a dangerous, demented demagogue who, as president, would reduce the world's greatest economic and military power to a banana republic of unprecedented domestic ruin and rank foreign-affairs cluelessness?
Let us speak again of impreciseness. For even though the answer is a wholesome no, the question also answers itself, in the wholesale affirmative. The danger here is not self-censorship but one, potentially, of perspective lost. Hillary's conceded transgressions are indeed "small," and inflating them to blockbuster immensities (out of some vague sense of opinion-journalism self-virtue) in the presence of a demented, nation-destroying demagogue would be catering not only to political imprudence but intellectual evil. The danger, however increasingly small itself, is Donald Trump and Trumpism — and in the forefront they should remain, until the danger is decisively crushed. Nitpicking — and that's what it is, not authentic criticism — about scarcely a handful of obscurely "c-marked" emails and altogether unsubstantiated conflicts of interest only attenuates the eminent priority of crushing the hell out of Trump and Trumpism.
Nonetheless, I'll cop to a certain reluctance about self-censorship. That's never a good practice — except when it is; except, that is, when it's grounded in pragmatic principles. And for the next 72 days — and there it ends — there is no higher principle of pragmatism than thrashing, exclusively, the unholy bejesus out of Donald Trump.