Seriously, why didn’t America sell tickets? If only its national election had been pay-per-view for the rest of the world, the United States could have wiped out America’s national debt. But while viewers around the world seem to be lapping up America’s national reality TV show, are the citizens of America going to get anything out of it?
Specifically, are they going to get the thing they need the most and have enjoyed least during this century: Effective government? Americans have too much deferred maintenance to fix, too much deferred leadership to generate and too much deferred re-imagining to undertake to wait another four years to solve their biggest problems, especially in this age of accelerating technology and climate change.
If Americans are to indulge in almost two years of electoral entertainment and pathos, just to end up back where they were, only worse, with even more venomous gridlock in Washington, it won’t just be emotionally depressing, but it will really start to mark the decline of the US as a nation. When Americans forfeit governing their country strategically at the national level for this long, inevitably the roof will start to leak and the floors will start to buckle.
But how can anything good come from a campaign where the entertainment is increasingly X-rated and where the winner will be so morally injured — because of the hatchet wounds that were inflicted by the loser or that were self-inflicted?
What needs to happen for this election-drama script to end differently, or at least not so tragically?
For starters, this version of the Republican Party has to die. I don’t say that as a partisan. I say that as a citizen who believes that America needs a healthy centre-right party that offers more market-based solutions to problems; keeps the pressure on for deregulation, freer trade and smaller government; and is willing to compromise. But today’s version of the GOP is not such a problem-solving party.
We have known that ever since the GOP speaker of the House John Boehner quit, not because he couldn’t work with President Barack Obama, but because roughly a quarter of House Republicans, the so-called Freedom Caucus, were simply not interested in governing and had made his job impossible.
For the sake of the country, this version of the Republican Party has to be fractured, with the extreme far-right going off with the likes of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, the Tea Party, Ted Cruz — along with all the right-wing TV and radio gasbags who thrive on chaos — leaving behind a moderate centre-right bloc, which, one hopes, one day will become the new GOP. But it will need to nurture a new base, one inspired by a Jack Kemp spirit of conservative innovation, not by Trump dog whistles of anger, xenophobia and racial enmity.
Towards that end, it is particularly important that Trump be crushed at the polls to send the message inside the GOP and out that someone of his poisonous ilk can never win in America, and to strip him and his loyalists of any argument that the election was rigged.
At the same time, America has to hope not only that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton wins the national election, but also that Democrats retake at least the Senate, so she has some real leverage to forge trade-offs with a more sane GOP to start fixing things: Putting in place common-sense gun laws, like restoring the Assault Weapons Ban, requiring universal background checks and making it illegal for anyone on the terrorist watch list to buy a gun; borrowing money at near-zero interest rates to rebuild America’s infrastructure; replacing some income and corporate taxes with a revenue-neutral carbon tax to stimulate more clean-energy production; fixing Obamacare; and implementing sensible immigration reform and responsible tax and entitlement reforms.
The bigger Clinton’s margin of victory, the less dependent she’d be, I hope, on the left-wing of her party, and the more likely she’d work with Republicans, as she vowed during the last debate, by “finding common ground, because you have to be able to get along with people to get things done in Washington”.
I say “hope” because I don’t know who the real Hillary is — the more Bernie Sandersish one speaking publicly or the more Bill Clintonish one who spoke privately to Goldman Sachs.
The nightmare scenario — ruling out a Trump victory — is that Clinton wins with a slim majority and the GOP holds the House and the Senate. The Democratic Left would then have a stranglehold on Clinton while Trump, who would start his own TV network and movement, would keep the Republican base in a state of permanent anger, intimidating every Republican lawmaker who contemplated compromise. If that happens, America will be adrift.
One more wish. Within hours of the leak of the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape showing Trump saying vile things about women, WikiLeaks leaked Democratic Party emails meant to embarrass Clinton. The Clinton camp suggested that Russia was trying to tilt the election to Trump. If so, crushing Trump at the polls is the best way for Americans to respond to it.
But please, let that not be the only good thing to come out of this election.
— New York Times News Service
Thomas L. Friedman is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and author