The State of the Union

Those regular readers of this blog will know that it has been a few months since my last post. My pen has been stilled for two reasons: first my wife Sally and I took a lengthy trip to Europe in June to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. More fundamentally, I have not known what to say. I am deeply troubled by the political situation in our country. The problems are well-documented: the inability of those in Washington to craft solutions to a range of pressing problems, the hyper-polarization of the two political parties, the absence of "putting the Nation first" amongst our political leaders, and now a Presidential contest featuring perhaps the most ludicrous and yet dangerous candidate in my considerable lifetime.

I was with several friends from different parts of the country in Colorado this past week. At our final dinner all of these issues emerged in a lengthy discussion. Most of the assembled were successful professionals in the sixty plus age group. I would guess a small majority were Republicans, though the range of opinion was not particularly reflective of party politics. It was reflective of disturbed, concerned, frustrated Americans who want the American ideal to "work".

Virtually all ten people present indicated that they would vote for Hillary Clinton because of the danger of having anyone as unqualified and demagogic as Donald Trump for President. However, several saw Hillary as a deeply-flawed candidate herself. In a lively discussion of whether Hillary should have been indicted for misusing personal emails while Secretary of State, there was strong feeling that the incident reflected, yet again, the Clintons' overbearing hubris and sense of noblesse oblige. It is no wonder that in a recent poll, two thirds of Americans feel Hillary is untrustworthy.

So here we are anticipating an election season that promises to lower political dialogue to depths considered impossible until Donald Trump showed the technique successful in his primary campaign.

What does this say about us? Much political ink has flowed attempting to address this question: the economic squeezing of the aging white male blue collar worker, frustrations with "immigrants" taking our jobs and draining our public services, the impact of free trade agreements exporting good jobs overseas, and Obamacare have all been mentioned.

All of these issues are understandable on some level - though the experts would argue that the facts support none of these arguments, except the first, the squeezing of the blue collar middle class.

To me there is another factor, too seldom named, that bears much of the blame for the Trump phenomenon. This is the increasing tendency of Americans to conflate reality TV with the real world. Many of us have become susceptible to whatever we see or hear in the world of talk-radio, political blogs, or television. Much of this is neither fact based nor truthful, but too many of us don't seem to care.

Witness the pollster who interviewed Trump supporters about Trump statements that were false, racist, or demeaning of women. The degree to which Trump supporters dismissed such comments was unprecedented in that pollster's experience.

All of this seems to say that we have become politically lazy - uninformed except in the ways fed by outlets that amplify our prejudices and feed us a steady diet of distorted information.

Perhaps we are seeing in the current political situation the beginnings of the disintegration of American democracy.  At the end of a recent New Yorker article about his experience following the Trump Campaign up close, George Saunders wrote: "I've never before imagined America as fragile, as an experiment that could, within my very lifetime, fail. But I imagine it that way now." Sobering stuff.

The Trump candidacy is a last wakeup call to the "better angels of our nature". If we flunk this test, we may well be writing the first chapter of America's epitaph. " It was a fine country   overcome by the easy slide to self indulgence. It was a victim of too much ice cream and too much television."

The choice is ours to make. We are at a seminal point in our history. Once upon a time I was sure the pure logic of the choice between these candidates was so clear that Trump would be soundly thumped. I also thought Britain would not leave the European Union. These are strange times.