Here we are just one revolution of the earth from the polls opening and then closing the books on what might have been the longest, pettiest and angriest political scrap since Burr vs. Hamilton.
Huh. Pistol duel. Let’s get back to that.
And as much as I hate to bear bad tidings, if you were among the many Americans pegging an earnest hope on this all going away late Tuesday with an election result, well, sorry. It would be nice to believe we’ll snap back to some mythical place of common ground when Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton shrinks back into private life.
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Wishing, of course, doesn’t make it so.
The campaign ads will go away, and someone will finally get around to picking up all those yard signs, but the things that divide us – ideology, philosophy, temperament – those are rooted in our souls. So short of another Bush vs. Gore, this miserable race will end, but the bitterness will live on.
Yes, the candidates’ peculiar frailties unquestionably fuel the fire. Clinton and her acolytes might not understand it, but she provokes more intense and consistent rage among just about everyone else than either of the two Democratic presidents she hopes to follow, her husband and her former boss.
The belief among many Republicans, conservatives and independents – as much as they are distinct subgroups – is that she plays by a set of rules not available to the rest of us. This is evidenced in an overly friendly Justice Department and off-again-on-again FBI not pursuing a richly deserved criminal indictment for mishandling classified information through an ill-advised private email server.
And pay-to-play through the Clinton Foundation? Open your eyes, brother: It doesn’t just look like a duck, her critics might say, with increasing degrees of intensity.
Win or lose, that feeling will not dissipate Wednesday morning. Don’t expect that percentage of Trump supporters – half, she said, before crawfishing – to forget that they were lumped into a “basket of deplorables,” dismissed as “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, you name it.”
“Irredeemable,” she said. “Not America,” she said.
People tend to remember such things, usually not fondly and often for entire presidencies. Some might recall clinging bitterly to their guns and religion all these years later.
Which is not to argue that Clinton is our most polarizing candidate. To be fair, she would have to go a ways to out-polarize Trump, who’s truly in a class by himself.
A danger of a shoot-from-the-hip candidacy is that it’s harder to aim and you might hit your own foot.
Trump’s faux pas have been well chronicled – in fact, to a far greater extent than his opponent’s, mostly because well-meaning journalists decided to abandon any pretense of objectivity in attempting to save America from the Trumpenstein plague. You may decide if that was wise or fair.
That instinct did not originate in newsrooms or even boardrooms. It began with a segment of the public that viewed Trump not as a candidate to be defeated but as a monster to be slain and dragged through town, his head on a pike as a warning to others. It started among Republicans during the primary season and quickly spread to once-dismissive Clinton Democrats, even as they viewed him as the easiest prey among the GOP candidates.
Admittedly, that fervor is somewhat unique to this campaign. Opponents of Mitt Romney, John McCain, George W. Bush, Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush did not necessarily wish for their fiery demise, but those Republican nominees, too, had their share of devoted enemies – the latter Bush in particular.
And Ronald Reagan, despite a general and electoral popularity, had his most vociferous detractors.
Trump proved particularly adept at pushing buttons – often on the left, but among Republicans, too. His early alienation of Hispanic voters undid years of courtship by some GOP leaders. The wall that he insists Mexico would pay to build. The ban on Muslims, revised only after the damage was done. The hamfisted appeals to “the blacks” and “the gays.”
Anything involving women.
His fans didn’t care, of course. Pushing buttons meant Trump was tapping into feelings that existed long before he thought running for president might help build his personal brand. Not to overgeneralize, but those he offended, by and large, were not constituencies the GOP had friended on Facebook.
Trump did step in it, repeatedly, but in part that was confirmation bias. He gave every indication he would, we began to expect it, and we were quick to told-you-so when he did.
Would a Ted Cruz campaign head-to-head against Clinton or any other Democrat have gone so differently? Would the left have spared him the opprobrium, just because he was more qualified than Trump?
One of these two, Clinton or Trump, will be our next president. The victor can expect the loser’s forces to carp and caterwaul every day for the next four years. Think of it as one team on offense for four years, the other on defense. Day after day.
Our desire for a unified nation, all oars rowing in sync, laws passing without rancor, comity, liberty and justice for all – on some level it’s appealing. And it’s fiction, no matter the litany of come-together speeches you may hear.
Trump vs. Clinton may have been an extreme exemplification of our fundamental differences, but it is by no means unique. Even musket balls at 20 paces won’t bridge that gap. It cannot end with the final vote counted Tuesday night because, stripped down, those differences are part of who we are. If we wanted to change, to compromise our beliefs, we’d have done so by now.
See if I’m wrong when you wake up Wednesday.
Mike Hashimoto is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.