No Way to Run a Democracy



There’s been so much wrong with this election. Far and away the biggest problem is that an unqualified, uniformed and ultimately dangerous candidate has a chance to be elected President of the United States.  All the other problems pale in comparison to that threat.

The factors that have led to Donald Trump being a viable candidate, the reality that both he and Hillary Clinton are disliked and not trusted by significant portions of the electorate, the ugly and vitriolic nature of the race and the ominous possibilities of real instability after November 8 together make 2016 a singular time in the history of the United States.

How did we get to this point?  And more importantly, how do we break the pattern of hyper partisanship, the politics of revenge and demonization of political opponents and the lack of regard for the common welfare of the nation and its citizens?

In many ways, contemporary politics in the United States feels more like the endless animosity of the Middle East or, not so long ago, of Northern Ireland.  A blood feud.  The Hatfields and McCoys.

Our infrastructure is crumbling, many of our schools are failing to educate students for the global economy, generations of poverty go unaddressed, climate change becomes more real by the day yet is denied by an entire political party and racial relations are more on edge today than a decade ago.  Yet, media coverage of the campaign focuses on a Clinton’s email “scandal” that has been investigated for years without discovering any incriminating evidence.

Americans are anxious about the threat of terrorism without being able to devise a rational response.  It’s easier to stigmatize anyone for has a different religion or a different appearance than to figure out what the real dangers are.  Trump offers uninformed simplistic solutions that might well leave us more vulnerable, alienates our allies who are so important to any concerted effort and demonstrates a temperament that would overreact to a perceived slight from a foreign leader.

Meanwhile, reporters have stopped asking about Trump’s emails and his tangled relationship with Russia, issues that do directly impact his fitness for the presidency.  The head of CBS acknowledges that Trump may not be good for the country, but that he is certainly good for the network’s ratings.

In the aftermath of a misguided Supreme Court decision gutting the Voting Rights Act, Republican states are actively working to disenfranchise voters, reduce the number of polling places and construct obstacles to voting not seen since the days of Jim Crow.  Meanwhile, Trump encourages his supporters to become vigilante poll watchers in “certain communities”, his most recent racist dog whistler.

Politicians insist on wearing flag pins, calling on God to bless the United States of America, lining up for tickets to “Hamilton” and declaring that they venerate the Constitution.  Yet, Republicans are already taking about refusing to approve any Supreme Court nominee proposed by Clinton, hinting ominously about impeaching her as soon as she takes office and creating all sorts of rationalizations for ignoring Trump’s lack of qualifications.

Rome did not last forever.  Neither did Alexander’s empire or any of the Chinese dynasties.  Are we losing our capacity for self-governance?  Are we so much focused on the things that divide us that we are unable to appreciate those things that could unite us?

To those who ask why we don’t have a better choice for president this year, consider the viciousness of politics today.  Many smart and capable people would never enter politics because of the personal cost to them and their families.  Whether they have made mistakes or not, they will be subject to lies, innuendos and smears on their character and their reputation.  To run for president today, you either have to be incredibly tough and thick-skinned or you have to be a colossal narcissist.

The outsized role of money and the resulting television ads have certainly contributed mightily to the toxic atmosphere.  For example, as we approach the final weekend before the election, more than $100 million of outside money has poured into the senate election in Pennsylvania.  That doesn’t count the money spent by the candidate’s own campaigns.  As a result, the airwaves are filled with attack ads suggesting that each of the candidates is a corrupt schemer who will undermine the nation’s future if elected.

Let me clear: I am voting for Hillary Clinton, not merely against Donald Trump.  She is certainly a candidate with flaws, but I’m hard pressed to think of any candidate in the history of the Republic who was flawless.  But, even if you really don’t like her, her shortcomings pale in comparison to Trump’s.

The fact that he might win is the most disturbing indicator of how troubled our democracy is.  He is not a rational choice, yet many in this country are willing to cast aside common sense and take a risk so dangerous that it makes you doubt their commitment to the fundamental values of our constitutional system.

Still, buoyed by the Chicago Cubs’ victory in the World Series, I remain cautiously optimistic about next Tuesday’s election, but incredibly anxious at the same time.  I’m afraid that anxiety won’t disappear next Wednesday.