WASHINGTON, Jan. 12, 2016 — The fact that the front-runners in the 2016 presidential race now are Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton tells us much about contemporary American politics, none of it good.
Trump has no experience whatever in political life. He fills large arenas by stirring emotions with vitriolic attacks on immigrants and Muslims and with insults against other candidates. He makes statements that are clearly untrue, claiming the president wants to admit hundreds of thousands of Middle Eastern refugees and that 80 percent of white homicide victims are killed by blacks.
He denounced the Pacific trade agreement as exporting American jobs to China; China is not a signatory to the pact. He never apologizes for such statements but assures his audiences that, somehow, he will “make America great again.”
His policy prescriptions amount to “Leave it to me, I’m rich and smart. I’ll take care of it.” That seems enough to lead in the polls.
Republican elder statesmen are concerned. Former Sen. William Brock, who was chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1977 to 1981, laments,
For democracy to work, men and women with different points of view have to debate, then work for solutions to the problems we face. In Brock’s view,
In Hillary Clinton we have a woman of unlimited ambition but limited accomplishment and questionable ethical standards. The Clinton Foundation raised millions of dollars from foreign interests with business before the U.S. government while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. Bill Clinton gave speeches for hundreds of thousands of dollars per speech to these groups, as did Hillary both before and after she held public office.
The Clintons have become rich selling influence.
Whether Hillary’s use of a private email server for classified State Department mail was illegal is yet to be determined. We do know she initially blamed the Benghazi attack on a video and declined to identify it as terrorism. We do know that the State Department refused repeated requests for additional security. We do know that as secretary of state she led the effort to overthrow the government of Libya without any plan about what would replace it.
Now Libya is in the hands of ISIS and other Islamic extremists, fueling an international refugee crisis. Is this really a record to run on?
As a result of calling on her husband Bill to be a campaign surrogate and charging her opponents, including Bernie Sanders, with “sexism,” Hillary has drawn attention to her role in attempts to discredit women who claimed Bill Clinton sexually assaulted and even raped them.
In Iowa last fall, Hillary said that survivors of sexual assault had “the right to be believed.” Hillary’s “most sensitive pressure point,” writes New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, is
Editorially, the New York Times, no foe of either Clinton, admits Hillary’s vulnerability here:
Our country has real problems, both at home and abroad. Thus far, our political system seems unprepared to address them. If we continue with the kinds of campaigns we have seen from Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, all of us will be the losers. Many Americans over the years have feared that our democratic system had to be carefully nurtured lest it decline and fall.
One of these was the author James Fennimore Cooper, who produced his first novel in 1820. In 30 years, he wrote 33 novels, two political satires and an important political treatise, “The American Democrat.”
Majority rule, Cooper pointed out, was never meant to be “unlimited” majority rule for, without limits, tyranny would surely result. He wrote,
Our economy is precarious. Globalization has caused a decline in manufacturing and in well-paying jobs for those who do not have a college education. The income gap is growing. Wall Street has undue influence in our politics and when it collapsed it asked taxpayers to bail it out. This is crony capitalism, a kind of socialism, not the free enterprise system at all.
The nation’s infrastructure is in serious decline, as is our educational system. We face the growth of radical Islam and a mounting international refugee problem. An emboldened Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed the Crimea, while we and NATO looked on. The Chinese economy is in serious trouble, and its impact is felt here as well.
In a troubled world, can our political system do no better than our current front-runners? Perhaps as the campaign progresses, we will see some evidence that Americans want something more substantial in a leader. If they don’t, our political system will prove that it is irrelevant to the very real challenges we face.