The nation’s 240th birthday is an appropriate moment to ponder the state of its political system – and it’s a pretty dismal picture.
The bloody clash at the state Capitol last month between ultra-left and ultra-right thugs was merely an extreme example of the vitriolic paranoia that permeates political discourse in contemporary America, particularly so-called social media.
Some who read this column will almost certainly insist that they are in the right, and the ignoramuses on the other side are the cause. But truly, closed-minded ideologues of all stripes are equally guilty of feeding the demonization/victimization syndrome, not unlike the hooligans who battered each other at the Capitol.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
They thrive on fact-free rumor and supposition, and politicians who should know better pander to their fears, portraying themselves as guardians against whatever threat, real or contrived, they assume will motivate the masses.
That, of course, brings us to this year’s presidential contest.
I cast my first vote for president in 1964, less than a month after my 21st birthday, and have voted in every presidential election since.
Sometimes my presidential choices were obvious, at other times more difficult. Sometimes, when my candidates have won, I’ve been satisfied with how they performed, and sometimes I’ve been very disappointed. But I’ve never had second thoughts about the choices I’ve made; looking back at the options at the time, I would have cast the same votes.
This year is different.
Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump are truly odious options for anyone who wants a president worthy of the nation’s highest office.
Trump is a bombastic demagogue who contradicts himself not only day to day but moment to moment. He makes wild accusations and equally wild promises that make it utterly impossible to predict what he’d actually do as president – a disaster waiting to happen.
Clinton, however, comes across as secretive and paranoid, believing everyone’s out to get her, and as someone who instinctively obfuscates, as demonstrated by her cynically misleading statements about her private email account and the debacle at the compound in Benghazi that cost American lives. And then there’s the smell of corruption that envelops the Clinton Foundation.
On a more personal level – but indicative of their equally poor character – both exhibit open contempt for journalism, Trump by attacking journalists as they try to cover his campaign, Clinton by refusing even to talk to those trying to cover hers.
One must wonder why neither major political party could find a decent human being to carry its banner this year and how, then, someone who wants a decent president should respond to the choices they are offering.
Should I hold my nose and decide somehow which is the lesser evil? Should I, for the first time, not vote for anyone for president? Or should I vote for someone who can’t win but is a decent person, such as Libertarian Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico?
Happy birthday, America. This is what your poisonously polarized politics have spawned.