Monday, November 7, 2016

'Any way you look at it, you lose.'

Of the 18 Election Eves of my life, this is by far the most depressing.

Tomorrow either a former Secretary of State who ignored warnings of an imminent attack on an American consulate and then failed to respond to hundreds of desperate pleas for help from its dying staff; who incredibly used a private and easily-hackable email server to receive messages containing state secrets and who even now fails to recognize the gravity of the blunder; who enthusiastically supports some of the most destructive social changes in America's history and would probably appoint enough Supreme Court justices during the next four years to eliminate any realistic chance of the Constitution being saved from a continuing tsunami of decisions which have substituted the private preferences of radical judges for the actual provisions of that document and of the law in general; and who would doubtless prove the most shrill and divisive Chief Executive in our nation's history at the very moment which desperately calls for a unifier and a healer, or an ignorant, psychologically unstable and immature psychopath who is the champion of the darkest and most hate-motivated white nationalists in America, with a history of incompetence and a set of policy proposals which would certainly endanger our national security and plunge the economy back into recession; who is an even more consistent liar than his opponent and exhibits a pattern of childish and even paranoid delusions which would seriously impair his ability to deal with reality; and who wonders what the point is of having nuclear weapons if we can't use them!

Possibly the most disturbing thing of all is the number of voters who see the second candidate as a viable alternative to the first one. That the reverse is also true is a predictable absurdity.

Most people with an ounce of judgment are making their decision this year on the basis of which candidate they think would do the least damage over the course of the next four years with the expectation that whoever is elected will be replaced four years from now. But the Democrats will still be as radical, the Republicans still tainted with both the stain and the influence of a movement which comes closer to outright fascism than any in our history. How are we going to do all that much better in four years?

I suppose it's possible that the Republicans will repudiate Trumpism and nominate a responsible centrist next time out, but that seems unlikely. Ted Cruz or someone very much like him will probably be the Republican candidate in 2020. That the Democrats will remain as radical as eve is a given.

Realistically, the only hope, it seems to me, is a new centrist party probably emerging from the campaign of Evan McMullin this time out. That career CIA clandestine counter-terrorism officer appears to have a real chance of carrying both Idaho and Utah tomorrow. If that happens, and- as recent polls make seem increasingly possible- neither Clinton nor Trump receives a majority in the Electoral College, the House of Representatives will choose among Clinton, Trump, and McMullin.

McMullin is the former policy director of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives and easily the most reasonable and safest choice for the nation. Whether the Republican caucus in the House- if in fact, Trump's disastrous candidacy doesn't cost the Republicans the House- will have the patriotism and the courage to vote for McMullin rather than the unfit Trump is another matter.

Green Party candidate Jill Stein is even more radical than Hillary. Libertarian Gary Johnson is essentially Trump on foreign policy and Clinton on domestic policy, combining the worst aspects of the philosophy of each. Constitution Party candidate Darryl Castle is a tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorist. McMullin is the only remotely credible candidate- emphatically including the two major party candidates- in the race. It's a sad commentary on the state of the Republic that it probably isn't enough.

But there we are. Where does the blame lie? In the first place, with the primary voters who decided to throw a temper tantrum and vote for  an unqualified demagogue who was the only GOP candidate who couldn't beat Hillary rather than choose a president. In the second place, with the candidates and party leaders who failed to recognize early enough that the Republican party could only be saved by uniting behind a single rational alternative to Trump early enough to have made a difference. And in the third place, with  a very, very liberal Democrat who was by general consensus also one of the most decent human beings ever to seek the presidency, George McGovern.

In the aftermath of Richard Nixon's election in 1068, the Democrats appointed McGovern to head a commission to design a new and more democratic system of nominating presidential candidates.  The nomination of Hubert Humphrey by the violence-plagued convention of 1968 was not, in retrospect, the disaster it seemed to be at the time. Robert Kennedy was dead, and the only other possibility- Eugene McCarthy- was a brilliant man who lacked the personality to be an effective president.

In fact, the old system of letting the party professionals- who knew the candidates well, often personally, and who were motivated to choose wisely by their own instinct for political self-preservation- didn't need replacing. The relatively few primaries in those days were "beauty contests" designed chiefly to provide vague and cursory glimpses at public opinion. But the brutal fact was, and remains, that the average voter knows little or nothing about the candidates when he or she participates in a presidential caucus or primary. I don't think any reasonable person who studies the candidates who were nominated before the McGovern guidelines mandated the Democrats and pressured the Republicans into "democratizing" the presidential nomination process can avoid the conclusion that the qualify of the candidates who have been nominated has in general declined drastically

It was only a matter of time before the least-informed and rational primary voters managed to become a plurality in a year in which a large number of candidates were running and nominate someone entirely unfit. That is what happened this year in the case of Donald Trump.

But going back to the old system would not be politically possible for either party. We are stuck with the fruits of the McGovern Commission's labors, and the prospect of similar disasters in the future looms before us.

Not that it matters. At this point, both parties are so firmly in the hands of the most irrational and least responsible of their components and the country itself so divided between the extremes that there seems little prospect of either once again becoming a reliable and efficient mechanism for choosing potential presidents. The only hope is the birth of a party- or maybe, eventually, even two parties-
of the center intent on uniting rather than dividing us and basing their appeal on stable principles rather than the shifting power balances of two different conglomerations of increasingly unstable interest groups. Maybe we need to become more like the Europeans in that respect. If 2016 has taught us anything, it's that the present party structure is inadequate to dependably produce a candidate who stands for what the party has historically stood for.

But in the meantime, we have to live through tomorrow and the next four years. In my judgment, McMullin's election by the House, while unlikely, is the best possible outcome. Second best would be Hillary's election- she won't blow us up, at least, or discredit us in the eyes of the world or endanger our national security to the degree that a Trump presidency would even in view of Emailgate- together with a Republican Senate that grows a spinal column and refuses to confirm her Supreme Court nominees or cooperate with the more radical aspects of her social problems.

But if Trump should somehow be elected, we will begin with the unseemly spectacle of the President-Elect of the United States going on trial on Federal racketeering charges less than three weeks after the election. And it will go downhill from there.

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