Well, here we are in September. And in just over two months, we’ll elect a new president.
It’s hard to remember a more dispiriting election campaign. And I can’t remember being more concerned about the country’s prospects as we prepare for a new presidential administration.
Even the candidates themselves are a problem. The uninformed, hot-headed Donald Trump has absolutely no experience that would qualify him for the presidency. He would be a terrible national leader – and he would very likely be a dangerous one.
And I’m not nearly as enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton as many people are; to me, she’s not the best person to lead this divided country right now. But Clinton is experienced, and she is bright, and I think she could make a fairly good president.
If she’s elected, though, odds are that her supporters’ celebration will be a short one.
For one thing, there seems little chance that Republicans in Congress will be any more willing to compromise with Clinton than they have been with President Obama. Big money has far too much influence with elected officials. And even without that pressure, the country is so deeply polarized that legislators who compromise can find themselves voted out of office.
All this at a time when the next president and Congress will be handed enormous, complicated challenges: climate change, health care, the country’s aging infrastructure, trade agreements, immigration, the economy, terrorism, criminal justice, racism, foreign policy. And it will take a strong, cohesive Congress working with an intelligent, experienced president to deal with them.
Making matters worse: the public’s lack of enthusiasm about both candidates. On a recent PBS NewsHour, syndicated columnist Mark Shields cited a Gallup poll suggesting that 51 percent of Republicans and 42 percent of Democrats wish their party had nominated someone else.
And New York Times columnist David Brooks noted the ramifications of Clinton’s large “unfavorable” numbers. Assuming that Clinton is elected, he said, “we go into an administration with someone the country fundamentally doesn’t trust.”
What, Brooks asked, does that do to the nation’s morale? “Somehow,” he said, “it just seems so dispiriting, if she does win, that we would go through four years where people feel this personal distrust for the commander in chief. That can’t be good for the country, if it stays like that.”
We need to find a way to heal the divisions in this country, and ideally, the healing would start with all of us. With us embracing our diversity – our diversity of ethnicity and religion, and our diversity of opinion. And with all of us being willing to respect different opinions, and to understand that in a democracy, we have to find a way to compromise and move forward together.
We haven’t done much of that for the past eight years. And we’re so deeply divided now, and so bitterly vocal about our divisions, that I’m not sure the healing can start with us.
If that’s the case, healing is up to elected officials. They’ll have to be not only our representatives but also our leaders. Our healers and role models. It’s hard to hold out hope for that, though, with elected officials on the right and left wallowing in the mud. (Subject line of an email I received last week: “Defeat this pathetic coward.” The sender: Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren.)
I’ve become fascinated with articles and books about American presidents who served in times of crisis, who led and inspired the nation. How did they do that?
“As Americans,” the Times’ Thomas Friedman wrote recently, “we were once summoned by our politics to be participants in a race to the moon. Lately we’ve been summoned by our politics to be spectators in a race to the bottom. We can do better, and we must.”
I wish I felt confident that the next president could help us do that.