As Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst Barnaby Martin pointed out recently, we live in a perverse world. European central bankers are buying corporate bonds, interest rates are negative, “helicopter money” is a real discussion. And then there is the US presidential election.

Donald Trump
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

The US presidential election is dark on both sides

Malia Obama may have been the smart one, skipping the Democratic coronation of Hillary Clinton to instead head to the Lollapalooza festival in Chicago to catch the smooth sounds of millennial music mixer Cashmere Cat.

It could be good timing because the US Presidential election this year is getting dark on both sides.

Consider a key Clinton attack method last night. The best line her acceptance speech last night, according to Daily Beast “Stark Choice” columnist Jonathan Alter, was in quoting Democratic royalty discussing nuclear war. Clinton pointed to Jackie Kennedy when she said that it was a relief that “little men” were not in charge during the 1962 missile crisis that avoided a nuclear war.

She was referring to a man whose “little hands” were at one point an issue in the primary season.

Its not that she’s wrong. This is a very real concern and little men with little man’s complexes are a fascinating worry in today’s election cycle that draws historical parallels and in 1964 the concern was very real.

Robert McNamara reportedly told Alter that they were “inches” away from nuclear Armageddon when Kennedy was in office. What is a voter using reason to think today? The message is: “We live in a world connected and instantaneous as never before. A US president could receive a mean tweet at 3 AM and decide, that’s it. Off with their heads, get me those nuclear codes.”

Clinton: Someone who can be baited with a tweet should not be US President, the lesson of history

With nuclear worries framing her comments, Clinton noted this in her speech last night that if Trump can be “bait[ed] with a tweet,” that should disqualify him from being president.

To Alter the historical corollary to the 1964 Presidential election is clear. This is when Kennedy’s political heir, Lyndon Johnson, successfully beat back hardened conservative Barry Goldwater with the image of a nuclear mushroom exploding in a television commercial.

Drawing attention to policy distinction and updating the message for 2016, Alter says “Clinton would stick with the world order that has served us so well.”

To thinking Republicans who have backed NATO throughout history, this was cause for pause and Clinton drew a clear distinction when she said: “I’m proud to stand by NATO in any threat they face, including from Russia.”

In his column, Alter then takes the logic to the next level with mention of Adolph Hitler:

Will a President Trump allow Russia—still a serious threat to world peace even after the demise of communism—to gobble up not just Crimea and eastern Ukraine but the Baltic states? This would threaten a confrontation with Western Europe much as Adolf Hitler’s demand for “breathing room” in Czechoslovakia and other states kicked off World War II.

Will a President Trump listen to foreign policy advisors?

Professionals in the State Department, Central Intelligence Agency and other foreign policy experts model this analysis in depth. Clinton has shown she listens to her advisors and would engage in logical, cool-headed analysis. But its not just performance during crisis that matters. Other motives could come into play.

Alter takes the Trump attack a step further by implying an illicit relationship between Putin and Trump.

With Trump, we’d get a dangerous secret relationship with Russian oligarchs. Three of his top advisers—Paul Manafort, Carter Page, and retired Gen. Michael Flynn—all have close ties to Russian or Russian-backed thugs and propagandists. And we now know from the FBI that Russia is intervening directly in a presidential election on Trump’s behalf by hacking the files of the Democratic National Committee on the eve of its convention.

The Manafort involvement in Ukraine is in particular noteworthy and appears to fly in the face of George Soros and more mainstream thought which backed the Western-focused political groups in the region. Bloomberg, for its part, also noted that at one point in the campaign Trump had said mentioned a relationship with Putin, but now denies these charges in the wake of his publicly calling on Russia to find Hillary’s lost emails.

It’s difficult to determine if Trump has an oddball sense of humor or if he was serious with encouraging the Russian government to hack a major US political candidate. Regardless, Hillary and her supporters found such unhinging comments to be dangerous if not treasonous. But there is one problem.

These are logical arguments to those who recognize how power works in the world. The analysis uses logic and speaks to foreign policy probability paths and game theory. The problem is, the messaging is on a different level than that which are reaching Trump voters.