Once again, defeat has been snatched from the jaws of victory by a deeply flawed, polarizing candidate. Pity the poor people of Alabama, who are now represented by a man whose policy positions are far to the left of most of the state’s population (meaning he’s a mainstream Democrat). It remains to be seen whether this is good news or bad news for them, for the political parties, and for the nation as a whole.
The Republicans are caught between a conservative rock and a populist hard place, and they know it. I’ve long thought that the two are, in the end, incompatible. Conservatives stress the importance of acknowledging and working within the limits of an essentially-unchanging and imperfect human nature. That requires respect for the past and applying the lessons it teaches, respect for the process even at the occasional cost of bad results, respect for one’s opponents in spite of their own manifest flaws.
Populists are just angry. They are driven by resentment of (perceived) past injustices, resentment of societal changes, and resentment of those who dare to oppose their causes. Even though populists from the right and conservatives generally (but not completely) share the same policy goals, it’s hard to see how they can reconcile their differences. One party cannot at the same time stress the need to work within the system, and advocate to burn the system down.
Democrats have a similar problem with populists from the left, who yearn for the revolution to remake the nation in spite of the revolution’s failure to do anything other than create death and misery wherever it’s been tried. Whether on the left or the right, it seems to me that the populists are doing neither the parties nor the nation as a whole any favors.
Whch raises the question of how much good the political parties are doing the nation. It would seem that a sizable segment of the American citizenry has decided — not much. We have arrived at one of those strange times when the prevailing sentiment regarding our politics and politicians is disgust.
Which brings me to one of those evergreen proposals which seem to make eminently good sense but never go anywhere when legislatures get down to business. In a little over a year we’ve had two elections with national repercussions in which the candidates were, shall we say, problematic. In the first, our choice for president came down to the most-disliked candidates in modern history. The one, a shallow, thin-skinned businessman whose ego towers as high as his buildings, whose grasp of policy is questionable at best, and whose supporters mistake his mean-spirited insults of detractors and supporters alike as “telling it like it is.”
The other, a talentless hack of no real accomplishment, a history of destroying other women to protect her faithless husband and a still-unbelievable email scandal that should have disqualified her from holding any office. In the other, the voters of Alabama had to choose between a man whose devotion to the Democratic agenda made him anathema to many, and whose election could make or break President Trump’s agenda, which they largely support; or a far-right demagogue and religious bigot with a strange understanding of the law, who may or may not be guilty of the heinous sexual abuse of teenage girls.
What an awful choice. Are these the best people the parties could nominate? If so, that’s a damning indictment of the parties. However, I suspect it’s more a case of a flawed process. Perhaps primaries are better than conventions and the proverbial smoke-filled back room, but here is proof positive that primaries are far from perfect, too, since they are subject to hijacking by a handful of extremists who can impose a candidate on a party who is simply unelectable.
Which argues for a way in the general election to reject an entire slate of candidates. “NONE OF THE ABOVE” should be an option on every ballot, by which the voters refuse to elect anyone, and force a new election. At the federal level, it would only involve the president and vice president and might require a Constitutional amendment. For all other offices, the states probably have all the authority they need already.
No more Donald Trumps, Hillary Clintons, Roy Moores or Doug Joneses foisted on us. Now that’s a law I could live with. Let’s give it a try.
Kenneth D. Gough of Elizabethton is a semi-retired businessman.