There has never been a golden age when reasonable people could disagree in a civil fashion over complex issues resistant to simple-minded solutions. Politics has always been an ugly and devious business that attracts the vain and needy. It's mainly populated by hollow people seeking public notice to compensate for their lack of interior satisfaction.
I try not to be jaded, remembering the good people who have campaigned against other good people with modest hopes of making the world kinder and fairer. But the images that return again and again are not pretty. Petty tantrums and sycophancy and moral cowardice continue to poison my view of their ilk.
And that's not fair, for most of us are in whatever it is we are in for ourselves first. You will find your saints among the poor and quiet. They don't run for Congress or write newspaper columns.
We get the kind of political leadership we deserve. What is heartbreaking is not the discovery that a character like Donald Trump will carry on like Donald Trump even if he has had a heap of important seriousness thrust upon him, but that the American people failed a basic test of decency by voting for him in numbers sufficient to secure his election.
Whatever illusions held about the basic goodness of common folk were shattered in 2016. Even though I could feel it coming, I really never believed that--knowing what we knew about Trump--we'd ever elect him.
But we did. And while there was some fluky stuff about that election--some of which had to do with the hubris of the Democratic candidate, some with the irritating sanctimoniousness of James Comey, and some with the inability of a whole bunch of our fellow citizens to distinguish Russian trolls from Walter Cronkite--Trump did emerge (much to his own horror) as the winner of the shebang.
A lot of professional Republicans were also shocked and horrified by the election of Trump, even though they wouldn't say so out loud. (More are speaking up every day.) Others probably thought he was better than the alternative, a position I could understand without sharing. I didn't think it would be this bad, and worried in 2016 that some of the things I was writing sounded shrill and alarmist.
Especially since I counted on that firewall of basic decency to save us from actually having to put up with a Trump presidency. For most of 2016, I was more concerned about the damage a Hillary Clinton administration might inflict on the republic, like putting a few Wall Street billionaires in her cabinet.
Yet, though we pooched it pretty badly in 2016, I'm not sure that simply doing away with the Electoral College in favor of a straight up-and-down popular vote is the way to go. I harbor a Hamiltonian suspicion of the will of the people and am not outraged by the possibility of the second-place vote gatherer occasionally winning out. (It's happened at least five times in 58 elections, which works out to 8.6 percent of the time.)
There are other problems with the EC. It distorts how campaigns are run, effectively allowing voters in so-called swing states to decide elections. But I'm not willing to junk it simply because more people voted for Clinton than Trump. We could reform the process, but that won't change the 2016 results. Trump won under the rules of the system that was in place, but only because everything broke right for him.
Those polls that everybody now thinks were so bad weren't so bad. They all allowed that he had about a 20 percent chance of prevailing. In a horse race, those are decent odds. You might take a flyer. If you make 80 percent of your free throws, you're not shocked when you miss one.
Those same polls are now giving Trump about the same chance of winning this election. Maybe the likelihood is that he won't, but there are all sorts of reasons for Joe Biden supporters--for Trump dislikers--to be anxious.
Because we understand that the main electoral strategy for Trump and the GOP--the party that I still believe he's leading to destruction--is voter suppression. They want to discourage people from voting by scaring them or by convincing them their ballots won't matter. And this works, because Americans traditionally vote in lower numbers than almost any other people on the planet.
Discouraging voting by making it inconvenient or complicated is evil, but they think it's just business.
Americans shouldn't have any anxiety about whether their votes are going to count, but this year people are taking extraordinary steps to make sure their ballots are accepted by marching their absentee envelopes down to the county clerk's office. Anecdotally, it seems like the very voters the president is trying to discourage are turning out in droves. I hope that is true, that despite the covid and the recent irregularities of our once hyper-reliable postal system, the targeted and marginalized manage to overcome.
It's more likely than not that nothing will be settled in the first week in November, that we will have to endure the spectacle of a wounded and desperate man clinging tenaciously to power, abetted by clever people who see fidelity to first principles as a game for suckers and losers. Trump knows that he will face personal challenges if he is turned out of office; he may be determined to test the limits of that office's power in his quest to hold onto it.
This is something that we have done to ourselves, the product of intellectual lassitude combined with indifference to the suffering of others. We like to tell ourselves stories about how able and wise we are, to imagine there are some things that will never happen here.
I have often told myself and others that our country is too big and diverse, too speckled and spiced with diversity, to ever succumb to the sort of narrow nationalist visions espoused by populist scoundrels and con artists.
But it has happened here, and the wishful thoughts and prayers of patriots will never be enough to counter the calculated maneuvers of those who understand the law yet abhor justice. It's not dark yet, but it's getting there. We should not delude ourselves. Decency isn't common, and no one is coming to save us. It's up to us to do better.
Or to fail.
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