Though international turmoil and threats from foreign leaders are of consistent concern to Americans heading into the final stretch of the presidential election season, millions of voters are also paying close attention to the domestic issues and challenges the nation faces.
Worries about civil liberties, education and energy production affect Americans across the political spectrum every day — and both presidential candidates have laid out a platform to deal with these challenges in the way they believe would most benefit the nation.
Western Journalism has covered a few of these topics in three previous installments of our 2016 election guide. The final part in our four-part series will focus on the several others.
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On the divisive issue of gun control, Trump — who received an early endorsement from the National Rifle Association — generally comes down on the side of gun owners.
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In the wake of an October 2015 shooting that left 10 dead and seven injured at a Roseburg, Ore., college, Trump focused on mental-health issues instead of new gun laws.
“You have people who are mentally ill and they have problems,” he said in an ABC interview. “And they’re going to slip through the cracks.”
He chided President Barack Obama for politicizing the issue in a speech, calling him “a non-Second Amendment person” and “a divider.”
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Trump has made it clear he does not think anti-gun legislation is the answer to America’s gun-violence problem.
“The places you look at, Chicago — it’s got the toughest gun laws in the United States,” he said. “You look at other places where they have gun laws that are very tough that do, generally speaking, worse than anybody else.”
Clinton unveiled her gun-control platform in a speech around the same time last year.
“When this happens,” she said in reference to the Oregon massacre and other mass shootings, “people are quick to say that they offer their thoughts and prayers. That’s not enough. How many people have to die before we actually act? Before we come together as a nation?”
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Her platform included a number of gun control measures she believes would reduce the number of U.S. deaths caused by firearms.
“There are steps we can take that improve gun safety and further the prevention of violence by guns,” she said. “And today I am proposing what I consider to be commonsense approaches.”
In addition to implementing universal background checks prior to gun purchases, Clinton said the nation must “address the issue of military-style weapons on our streets” while keeping the wrong people from ever obtaining a gun in the first place.
“From my perspective,” she said, “we have got to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them — domestic abusers, people with serious mental health problems. There has got to be a better tracking and record keeping.”
Education at both the K-12 and college levels has been another area in which the differences in the candidates’ proposals are clear.
Trump announced in January his plan to de-federalize much of the education system, including the controversial curriculum program known as Common Core.
“Education has to be at a local level,” he said. “We cannot have the bureaucrats in Washington telling you how to manage your child’s education.”
He went on to call Common Core “a disaster,” insisting the current system is obviously broken.
America’s education program, he said, is “ranked 28 in the world, and frankly we spend far more per pupil than any other country in the world.”
For her part, Clinton has long been a proponent of charter schools as an alternative to traditional public schools even as many in her own party — specifically powerful teachers unions — continue to oppose such programs.
This summer, she was booed by some teachers attending a speech in which she expressed hope that schools of all types would share successes with each other to raise the quality of education across the board.
Whether “traditional public schools or public charter schools,” she said, “let’s figure out what’s working … and share it with schools across America.”
Clinton has moved to the left regarding college tuition costs, taking a position late in the election with some similarities to primary rival Sen. Bernie Sanders’ free education platform.
Her plan calls for free community college for everyone and debt-free college tuition at any public college or university. She has also promoted the right of all graduates to find the lowest interest rates when repaying their college loans.
“If you can refinance your mortgage or your car loan,” she said, “you should be able to refinance your student loan, too.”
When Trump was asked about rising tuition rates, he dismissed the idea of free education, pointing instead to what he believes are the root causes of the cost increases.
“Students become a conduit to the United States government,” he proclaimed. “And the colleges are not watching their costs.”
His plan to combat the trend, as he explained in a town hall event earlier this year, calls for “something with extensions, lower interest rates and a lot of good things” in addition to his oft-repeated promise to create new jobs.
Both Trump and Clinton, though representing opposite ends of the debate, have been criticized for what some see as extreme positions on the issue of abortion.
While Trump declared in 1999 that he was “pro-choice in every respect,” the brash billionaire had an apparent change of heart prior to his 2016 White House bid.
In an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Trump asserted not only his belief that abortion must be banned nationwide, but that “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who undergo the procedure.
The comment sparked almost immediate backlash, prompting the candidate to walk back his support for punitive action. He has continued to maintain, however, a strong pro-life platform throughout the remainder of the election.
Clinton, on the other hand, has occupied a strong pro-abortion rights position, going so far as to suggest Americans with a moral objection to the procedure need to alter their views.
“Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will,” she said during one campaign speech, “and deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.”
When it comes to powering the nation, Trump and Clinton continue to demonstrate very different schools of thought.
The Republican nominee has criticized the increasing push for alternative energy sources, calling it ineffective, expensive and a job killer.
“To begin with,” Trump wrote in his 2015 book Crippled America, “the whole push for renewable energy is being driven by the wrong motivation, the mistaken belief that global climate change is being caused by carbon emissions. If you don’t buy that — and I don’t — then what we have is really just an expensive way of making the tree-huggers feel good about themselves.”
While Trump elaborated during the second presidential debate that he is “all for alternative forms of energy” and wants to see “much more than wind or solar,” Clinton’s platform offered a more prominent nod to the green-energy crowd.
“I have a comprehensive energy policy,” she said during the same debate, “but it really does include fighting climate change, because I think that is a serious problem. And I support moving toward more clean, renewable energy as quickly as we can.”
The rivals found a small patch of common ground in their praise of domestic natural-gas production, which for Clinton was limited to her description of it as “a bridge to more renewable fuels.”
Elaborating on her poorly received previous promise to put coal miners out of work, Clinton has maintained her focus on moving away from coal while projecting “millions of new jobs and businesses” created in the renewable-energy sector.
She touted her “plan to help us revitalize coal country” amid globally low prices for the natural resource.
Trump, however, would explore “clean coal,” which he predicted would power the U.S. for a millennium.
“I will bring our energy companies back,” he said. “They’ll be able to compete. They’ll make money. They’ll pay off our national debt. They’ll pay off our tremendous budget deficits, which are tremendous.”
The final presidential debate gave Trump and Clinton their best opportunity to contrast in person their respective positions on the direction the nation’s highest court should take.
Trump, who has released two lists of potential Supreme Court nominees, pointed to the importance of the judicial branch in the fight to “uphold the Second Amendment, and all amendments, but the Second Amendment, which is under absolute siege.”
Calling his picks “great scholars in all cases,” he pledged that his appointments “will be pro-life” and “will have a conservative bent.”
Instead of ruling based on “what they want to hear,” Trump said he would look for prospective justices who would “interpret the Constitution the way the founders wanted it interpreted.”
Clinton focused on more social issues and other reforms popular on the left in describing her plans for the Supreme Court.
“We need a Supreme Court that will stand up on behalf of women’s issues, on behalf of the rights of the LGBT community, that will stand up and say ‘no’ to Citizens United — a decision that has undermined the election system in this country because of the way it permits dark, unaccountable money to come into our electoral system,” she said.
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