Should the U.S. fight another big war, this time in Syria?
How can we stem emigration from Aleppo, which is tearing apart our European allies and spreading terrorism over the globe?
What should be done about the 11 million illegal immigrants living underground in the U.S.?
How can Obamacare be changed to meet its twin goals of available health care at affordable prices?
What is to be done to save the planet from the nightmare of climate change, with rapidly rising seas swamping islands and costal cities and rising temperatures destroying Western states with drought?
What changes in taxes and spending are necessary to save Social Security and Medicare?
How can globalization be softened to secure the survival of the vulnerable while still promoting the future of the fortunate?
How can federal tax policies—which for 30 years have compelled the poor and the middle class to subsidize the already well-off—narrow instead of widen the gap between the 1 percent and the rest of us?
These are the literally earth-shaking issues that will confront the next President on Jan. 20, 2017. Do you hear Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton debating them?
What I hear instead is jabbering about whether Clinton’s emails are classified and how many women—is it a dozen or two dozen?—Trump has physically assaulted. What I have been watching is, in the age of ubiquitous internet porn, the nation’s first X-rated presidential election. What I have been inundated with is salacious gossip, mendacious charges of criminality and endless episodes of pathetic self-immolation.
It’s been said before, but I want to say it again: We, the citizens of the United States, deserve better.
How did we get in this fix?
Here is the short answer:
Donald Trump was incapable of mounting a logical challenge to Hillary Clinton’s policies, diverging instead into egomaniacal self-justification and megalomaniacal self-aggrandizement. He was so busy attacking blacks, Hispanic-Americans, women, veterans, the disabled, PTSD sufferers, Muslims, Chinese, Mexicans, undocumented workers, Syrian refugees, supporters of free trade and opponents of Brexit, that he entirely overlooked his principal task: to set out a plausible program for governing the United States.
Clinton meanwhile allowed herself to take a lazy shortcut to election victory: She let Trump bury himself in his own slime rather than creating a vision for the country she would govern.
As a consequence we witnessed a duel between two personalities, one repulsive and the other opaque, rather than a debate over the titanic policy choices facing the country.
The ill effects of this disgusting campaign will continue, unfortunately, for years. A presidential campaign is a time for the country to reach a consensus on how to go forward. Because we have had no debate, we will have no consensus and thus no path forward. In that lies a tragedy of momentous proportions.
The Associated Press, the colorless, neutral arbiter of American journalism on which nearly all the other media depend for unbiased and accurate facts, opined on Sunday:
“Good riddance to Campaign 2016, the election that put the ugh in ugly. Big league. Headed for history books a week from Tuesday, the duel between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump became a battle of ‘nasty women’ and ‘bad hombres’ vs. ‘deplorables’ and voters who are ‘irredeemable.’ A beauty queen, a Gold Star family, an ex-president and his baggage, the FBI director, even the pope were drawn into the fray. At times, the campaign rhetoric has been so raunchy it’s forced middle-school civics teachers to censor their lesson plans. Thank Trump for that.”
There have been hints here and there of what the campaign could have looked like. The New Yorker editorialized in its Oct. 31 issue:
“We are in the midst of a people’s revolt, a great debate concerning income inequality, the ‘hollowing’ of the middle, globalization’s winners and losers. If the tribune whom the voters of the Republican Party have chosen is a false one, we cannot dismiss the message because we deplore the messenger. The white working-class voters who form the core of Trump’s support—and who were once a Democratic constituency—should not have their anxieties and suffering written off. Their struggle with economic abandonment and an incomplete health-care system demands airing, understanding, and political solutions.”
Thus the real issues were never joined. Both candidates hinted at them but neither developed the crucial themes the country will have to live with. Real issues were obscured by sex and vitriol.
A letter to The Independent last week described the plight of many Americans more coherently than their would-be spokesman Trump has ever done. “I don’t want to be a world citizen, just an American in an America I can be proud of,” wrote K. Mullins from Torrance County. Her simple, humble plaint, without vituperation, would be a lesson for Trump if the bombastic billionaire ever listened to anyone but himself.
The message is a serious one worthy of serious debate: Can members of the planet’s most powerful country stop being global citizens when they grow weary of carrying the world’s weight on their shoulders?
The fundamental issues in American elections haven’t varied in two and a half centuries. There are really only two: peace and prosperity. Because Obama has succeeded in creating both, albeit only partially and perhaps only temporarily, he is now more popular in the polls than at any time since the first roseate days of his presidency, more popular in fact than any recent president in the closing weeks of his administration.
Part of the explanation is that in comparison to those campaigning to succeed him, he looks darn good. He ran two campaigns and they were real campaigns with real issues. The tragedy of this campaign is that there was no campaign, at least none worthy of the word.
Clinton will win, as she deserves to, not primarily because her solutions to America’s problems are better—although I believe they are—but because Trump has humiliated himself and embarrassed the nation. Let’s just hope Clinton governs better than she campaigns.