In most presidential election years (six out of every seven to be precise), we all would have voted by now. By law, the election of the country’s president is held every four years on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November. That formula is why we are voting on the last possible day (November 8) this year. And doesn’t it seem like the campaign has been going on forever?
Of course, it officially started about a month early as well, since both political parties held their nominating conventions in July instead of August. Thus we had an extra month with officially nominated candidates on the stump shouting at each other and generally making us all think we were watching a reality TV show that should have been cancelled after the first few weeks.
And all of the activity (the polite word for what we have been witness to) since mid-summer was preceded by a never-ending primary season that started a full year earlier when the candidates began their hunt for votes and money. Donald Trump announced his candidacy in June of 2015, three months after Hillary Clinton announced hers. And both had been household names for years, so it wasn’t as if we needed that much time to get to know them.
Or maybe we did. We certainly have learned a lot more about Trump than we knew then, little of it the kind of knowledge most of us are happy to know. And while the Hillary Clinton bio hasn’t expanded much, we have gotten to see her sling mud with the best of them and attempt to clean off more than her share of it that has landed on her. Some of it has been unfairly aimed at her, but she has also brought a bunch of it on herself. Yes, she is maligned excessively for being “untrustworthy,” but she made the critical mistake of setting up a private server for her emails while serving as the nation’s secretary of state. And she has still never explained why she did it, which is one of the most infuriating things about her: she just doesn’t trust the people with complete candor. And that character flaw, more than anything else, is why she doesn’t sell well to a large percentage of voters.
Still, she is a saint compared to Trump, who is so distrustful of the voters that he won’t even release his tax returns (not just the ones he claims are being audited, but any of them from the last twenty years). And, he lies, wantonly, with such seeming ease that he may be the true embodiment of a pathological liar. Coupled with his ignorance of most policy issues (he readily admits that he doesn’t read anything of substance) and his complete lack of experience in any kind of government service or public service or military service or any other kind of service other than the service of his own personal interests, Trump is easily the most unqualified and unfit candidate for president either party has ever nominated.
And yet he is adored by legions of voters, many of whom are as ignorant as he is, some of whom are as bigoted and xenophobic as he appears to be, most of whom see him as someone who will shake things up, if not truly make America great again. What era of greatness do they want to rediscover, these hopeful masses of Americans? No one, certainly not Mr. Trump, ever says.
Secretary Clinton wants to make America better, which seems a much more attainable (and realistic) goal. She says we can be “stronger together,” which makes sense if you accept diversity as an asset and not a liability. Hers would be a left of center administration, not unlike, in most instances, the one we have now. His would be a mish-mash of policies, some hewing to the right, even to the alt-right, others yet to be determined (mostly because Trump hasn’t thought about them yet). In foreign affairs, she’d probably be more hawkish than Obama has been; Trump will be, um, uncertain – maybe more willing to use U.S. military force, but maybe not, depending on how he feels at the time. The charitable way of envisioning a Trump foreign policy would be a “common sense” approach. “It would be nice to get along with Putin,” he has said. “He’s said nice things about me,” he’s added. Ah, if only it were that simple.
So, what will next week’s results be? What will we learn about ourselves and our future? Which of these two highly flawed, yet distinctly different candidates will we choose to lead us for the next four years? Back in July, before the nominating conventions but after Trump and Clinton had both become presumptive nominees, I listed six alternative results, none of which I could predict with any degree of certainty. Of those six, I now discount these two: Trump wins in a landslide; Trump wins handily. And, with FBI Director Comey’s bizarre and now highly-criticized revelation about further email discoveries (on Anthony Weiner’s laptop?!), a third possible outcome (a Clinton landslide) also seems unlikely.
The other three possible outcomes I suggested in July are still very plausible: either Clinton wins handily, Clinton wins in a squeaker, or Trump wins in a squeaker. And, assuming the Electoral College map is still too big of a hurdle for Trump to overcome, of the two possible Clinton wins, the difference between a squeaker (something in the 0-2 percent range) and winning handily (a 3-7 percent win) would be significant because a very narrow Clinton win would probably mean the Republicans would retain control of the Senate. And that result will severely limit her ability to accomplish much against a significantly changed Republican Party (pushed by the remnants of Trump’s demagogy) that is likely to be much more anxious to impeach Hillary than to give her any legislative victories.
And if Trump does win, demagogy will run rampant, and sane conversation will be a vaguely recalled aspect of happier times. A Trump presidency will take the country down paths that have not yet been mapped. A Clinton presidency will keep the march headed in the same general direction, no new maps required.
But, whatever the result of next week’s election, for good or for bad, at least this sickeningly dreadful campaign will finally be over. And in its aftermath, irrespective of which candidate prevails, the country may well face its greatest challenge.