The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Democrats, get your damned big-boy pants on

Donald Trump (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post) and  Hillary Clinton (Melina Mara/The Washington Post).

If the presidential election were the Olympics, bed-wetting would be a sport and Democrats would be the undisputed gold-medal winners. Every four years, they grouse about their nominee and then freak out when a race they believe said nominee should win looks as though it’s lost. Remember what happened when President Obama muffed the first debate with Mitt Romney in 2012? And today, the closing poll numbers between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have Democrats in a near panic.

Look, I get it. The race between Clinton and Trump should not even be close. Or, as my colleague Eugene Robinson wrote last week, “In a sane and just world, this presidential race would be a walkover.” Trump appealed to the darker angels of the Republican Party base with an unabashedly racist, xenophobic, nativist and misogynistic campaign to win the nomination and is continuing same to be elected president.

That the polls are closing or have Trump leading in key battleground states despite this is worthy of a freak-out. But if that’s all Democrats do between now and Election Day, then they will have only themselves to blame for the horror that would be “President-elect Trump.”

[“Cape Up" Ep5: Nancy Pelosi: Two words that don’t go together? ‘President Trump’]

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Last Friday and Saturday should mark a turning point in this campaign and for Democrats. Trump was forced to confront his racist birther lie by stating the known fact that Obama is a U.S. citizen. That Trump engaged in such overt bigotry was bad enough. His failure to apologize for it compounded the offense. The thundering condemnations at an impromptu press conference by members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Friday channeled the anger many African Americans feel about the belittling and paternalistic “show your papers, boy!” foundation of Trump’s racist birther accusation.

“This is not just about degrading the reputation of Barack Obama,” Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) said, “it’s about degrading the hopes of all African Americans.”

“One of the things we all are used to in this business is dog whistles, but the thing that we’re not used to, and I’m finding it very difficult to get used to, are the howls of wolves,” said Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.). “These are howls. These are not whistles.”

“Run to the polls and make sure this hater is not elected President of the United States,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). “He’s not man enough to render an apology to the President of the United States.”

Then, Saturday night, at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation dinner here in Washington, Obama took that collective anger and made it personal. In a raised voice, urgent tone and pointed words, the president issued a clear call to action.

In fact, if you want to give Michelle and me a good sendoff — and that was a beautiful video — but don’t just watch us walk off into the sunset, now. Get people registered to vote.  If you care about our legacy, realize everything we stand for is at stake.  All the progress we’ve made is at stake in this election. My name may not be on the ballot, but our progress is on the ballot. Tolerance is on the ballot. Democracy is on the ballot.  Justice is on the ballot. Good schools are on the ballot. Ending mass incarceration — that’s on the ballot right now!
And there is one candidate who will advance those things. And there’s another candidate whose defining principle, the central theme of his candidacy is opposition to all that we’ve done.
There’s no such thing as a vote that doesn’t matter. It all matters. And after we have achieved historic turnout in 2008 and 2012, especially in the African-American community, I will consider it a personal insult, an insult to my legacy, if this community lets down its guard and fails to activate itself in this election. You want to give me a good sendoff? Go vote.

And let’s be clear, that vote isn’t just against Trump. It’s for Clinton. The former secretary of state may not stir the passions that Obama or her husband, former President Bill Clinton, does. But she is working hard for your vote. The former senator from New York may make your eyes glaze over when she gets in the weeds on policy. But she respects you enough to tell you what she’d do as president with detailed proposals. The same simply cannot be said of Trump.

[Donald Trump: Birther of a national disgrace]

This election is going to be won or lost on turnout. If the Obama coalition that made history in 2008 and 2012 doesn’t show up at the polls, Clinton is guaranteed to lose. If Democrats keep panicking like this, then their prophecy of electoral doom will be self-fulfilling. Ultimately, this election is about you. So, cut it out, folks. If you don’t want a “President Trump,” get your damned big-boy pants on.

Don’t boo, fret or bed-wet. Vote!

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj