I took part in my first presidential election race in 1964. I was six and my dad was a Republican, so he taught me a jingle: "Goldwater, Goldwater, he's our man! Johnson belongs in the garbage can!" He even dropped me off on election day on the side of some road in Albany, Georgia with a Goldwater sign and told me to hold it up and yell whenever a car went by. Goldwater lost. And Johnson, against McNamara's - JFK's appointed Secretary of State - advice, got the country mired in Vietnam. I learned early that Americans don't always make the right choice when they vote.
For a progressive like me, the rise and rise (followed by, I can only hope, an eventual fall) of Donald Trump has been a little terrifying. He is clearly going all-in for the presidency, not in terms of the money he intends to spend to get there, but because he is making a greater number of enemies the longer he stays in the race. He probably knows this (I'll give him that much credit), but he probably considers that it's a small price to pay for becoming president. I can't for the life of me imagine what President Donald Trump will be like, but I also can't see anything positive coming from a Trump presidency.
This past week, Pope Francis said that Trump isn't a true Christian. Of course he isn't. He's a typical capitalist bully. And if all human relationships are based on either love or power, it obviously wasn't love that made Trump a billionaire, and it also explains why he wants to be president.
Many pundits are watching this loathsome man's advance with rapt disbelief, like they're watching an unfolding disaster in a movie (a fully loaded dump truck has lost it's brakes and is hurtling toward a schoolyard filled with children) and are powerless to intervene. Knowing the outcomes of some previous presidential elections, how could they not be fearful? In 2004, George W. Bush, who led us into a war on utterly mistaken, or possibly manufactured, evidence of WMDs - a war that resulted in the ascendence of ISIL - was nominated by his party and beat John Kerry in the general election. By the time he left office, the nation was on the verge of economic collapse. How can anyone trust in the judgement of the American voter any more?
I kind of understood Dubya's appeal to a majority of Americans. I think that he won the election in 2000 because, after eight years of Slick Willy, the great equivocator, what they wanted more than anything else was a president who was not subtle, who always said what he meant. But how he managed to win re-election is a deep mystery to me.
But there have been other examples of voter culpability in presidential elections that are even more mysterious. There was a bumper sticker that was popular in the years following Nixon's re-election in '72 that read: "Don't blame me, I voted for McGovern." But is it enough to oppose, to accept the defeat of one's candidate and watch as the guy who won drags the country into a grossly unnecessary war and subjects prisoners-of-war to illegal imprisonment and torture? Some faint-hearted Liberals were talking of moving to Canada after the results of 2004's election. I can't say I blame them, but whose country is it anyway, and do they think it might be worth the trouble to try and take it back?
While the followers of Trump don't give me much confidence in their intelligence, there used to be an implicit trust is the difference between knowledge and wisdom. The old saying is, "I'd rather the country were run by the first hundred names in the white pages than the deans of all the Ivy League schools." The reason was that, while the deans are more knowledgable, those one hundred nobodies in any big American city probably possessed more wisdom, more practical experience of solving problems and making decisions.
That formula doesn't inspire much confidence any more, if it ever did. The Republican candidates are uninanimously attacking President Obama, without convincing anyone with eyes in his or her head that America is worse off than it was four or eight years ago. They tried to pull the same wool over voters' eyes in 2000. How could anyone seriously believe that the policies of Bill Clinton made America a worse place than he found it in 1993? So, too, only the incurably stupid would suppose that the country has not recovered from a near-meltdown of the economy, restored from the brink of another Great Depression.
Trump's emphasis on immigration is a typical red herring to distract voters from an unemployment rate below five per cent and gas prices under two dollars. What I would like to ask Trump is why all those Mexicans (and other Latinos) are streaming across our border? Could it be because America is successful and that there are jobs for the taking? If Trump spent a week with an undocumented immigrant, from the border to Anywhere, USA, he might be forced to reassess his low opinion of the American economy, not to mention his opinion of immigrants. The working people who support him say they want a president like him because he's a "job-maker." What none of them seems to realize is that Trump only creates jobs - making other people work for him - to make himself richer.
The word "electability" is being tossed around by people of both political persuasions. It shows that alot of voters are less concerned that their favorite candidate should get their party's nomination than that their party wins. The reason why exit polls aren't allowed to be broadcast until the last polls close is that projecting a winner will discourage people from voting if they know that their candidate is projected to lose. This is somewhat surprising, but American life, it seems, is all about winning.
The few people who were smart enough to vote for George McGovern in 1972 and Al Gore in 2000 had at least the satisfaction of being proved right. Whatever they might have accomplished as presidents, we might at least have been spared the national disgraces of Watergate, the invasion of Iraq and the ongoing disgrace of Gitmo.
Easily the best candidate in the race this year is Bernie Sanders, who was all but ignored by the media because he is so beautifully unpresentable. Makeup artists preparing him for a television appearance must be in despair. A bespectacled, white-haired septegenarian with a Brooklyn accent, and a lifelong socialist, is definitely not ready for prime time. But Hillary Clinton seems to be propelled by a kind of manifest destiny - a destiny promised her some time ago by the DNC. If Sanders somehow confounds all of the back-room wheeling and dealing and wins enough delegates, this might turn into an election worth taking seriously.
Occasionally in American elections a candidate comes along who is worthy of my vote, but in most cases the best candidate is the lesser of two evils - the one who is the least likely to lie to us, to get us into or more deeply involve us in a war, or make us look like a bunch of fools to the rest of the world for having elected him.