Elec­tion dis­af­fec­tion

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Kath­leen Parker

— On rare oc­ca­sions, Amer­i­cans co­a­lesce around a com­mon cause, usu­ally fol­low­ing some calamity — a ter­ror­ist at­tack, a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter or, say, dur­ing a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Take to­day. Or rather, take the past sev­eral months dur­ing which Amer­i­cans have be­gun to face the likely prob­a­bil­ity that they’ll elect a pres­i­dent they don’t much like. Polls sug­gest as much, as do my own con­ver­sa­tions with strangers, fam­ily and friends, from which I’ve de­duced the fol­low­ing: When it comes to whom they’ll se­lect for their next pres­i­dent, most Amer­i­cans are stranded in a po­lit­i­cal no man’s land.

Think of the movie “Cast Away” or the ABC se­ries “Lost,” in which a plane crashes, leav­ing sur­vivors to fend for them­selves, and you’ll get the idea. Let’s just say, the jun­gle looms large, and no one is emerg­ing as the leader who can clear a path.

Metaphor off now: There’s no one to vote for.

“What are we go­ing to do?” peo­ple keep ask­ing me.

Ob­vi­ously, the Bernie San­ders and Don­ald Trump bases are as un-con­founded as ever. Hil­lary Clin­ton has her usual camp, in­clud­ing half of women vot­ers. But a vaster num­ber of peo­ple who iden­tify as in­de­pen­dent or mod­er­ate — or re­cently have be­come so thanks to the past year’s can­ni­bal­iz­ing cir­cus — are dis­sat­is­fied with both pre­sump­tive nom­i­nees.

The adage that our pres­i­den­tial elec­tion is a nose-pinch­ing ex­er­cise — or a choice be­tween lesser evils — doesn’t ap­proach the ris­ing level of en­nui flood­ing the Amer­i­can street.

I would char­ac­ter­ize this larger con­stituency as also in­clud­ing peo­ple who, though they may lean left or right, suf­fer a greater re­pul­sion to the po­lit­i­cal mo­ment than to a sin­gle can­di­date, though there’s plenty of re­vul­sion to go around. To the ex­tent that the re­main­ing can­di­dates are cen­tral to the cur­rent en­vi­ron­ment of anger, para­noia and, in some cases, vi­o­lence, all are equally un­ap­peal­ing. And, se­ri­ously, could we stop yelling? There is only one can­di­date for whom this mid­dle bloc of vot­ers could rea­son­ably stom­ach vot­ing. Given that Trump is such an un­pleas­ant char­ac­ter and, by virtue of his own state­ments, un­qual­i­fied to lead the most pow­er­ful na­tion on earth; and given that San­ders wants to cre­ate a na­tion that most Amer­i­cans wouldn’t rec­og­nize; be it re­solved that the saner choice is Clin­ton (not­with­stand­ing ev­ery­thing you hate about her).

Hence the malaise that pas­seth all un­der­stand­ing.

If only by de­fault, Clin­ton holds the higher ground. That even many Democrats find her un­ap­peal­ing — and oth­ers wouldn’t like her if she re­versed cli­mate change, saved ev­ery beast and bog from ex­tinc­tion or ruin, and cured cancer with a sin­gle pill — is un­der­stood. As light­ning rods go, she has no peer. Cave­men could have in­vented elec­tric­ity had Clin­ton been nearby.

Add to her well-known list of pub­lic con­cerns — a lack of trans­parency, per­ceived de­cep­tions, those emails, Beng­hazi and the cur­rent FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion — a po­ten­tially more damn­ing de­vel­op­ment: Her pivot to the left.

This was made nec­es­sary, of course, by San­ders’ an­them of class war­fare, but as Clin­ton pirou­et­ted stage left, she added an­other layer of doubt to the dis­en­fran­chised mid­dle, gave pro­gres­sives an­other rea­son to ques­tion her loy­alty to their goals, and made it more dif­fi­cult for Trump-re­pelled con­ser­va­tives to con­sider her as ac­cept­able al­ter­na­tive.

One might wish that South Carolina Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham’s quip about a con­test be­tween her and Trump were cor­rect. More or less, he said that cor­rupt beats crazy ev­ery time. But even Gra­ham has sur­ren­dered, lock­ing arms in the Trump pa­rade. “Party be­fore Clin­ton” has pre­vailed as well among most of the stop-Trump crowd, a fleet­ing move­ment among a hand­ful of Repub­li­can “for­m­ers.”

For Clin­ton to pre­vail over Trump, she’ll need to win over San­ders’ sup­port­ers, a dim­ming prospect at the mo­ment, as well as the vast mid­dle where mor­tals roam in wounded unity. But sup­port among the lat­ter de­pends on the an­swer to a tricky ques­tion: Is she re­ally as lib­eral as she’s promis­ing to be, or is she fak­ing? Trump-lean­ing vot­ers face the same chal­lenge: Is he re­ally as aw­ful as he seems, or has he just been bluff­ing?

Given the high stakes, a con­test be­tween a schem­ing fake and a dan­ger­ous bluffer in­spires lit­tle con­fi­dence and pos­si­bly lit­tle in­ter­est in vot­ing. To the plea — what are we go­ing to do? — the cor­rect an­swer is, of course, vote. The high ground may be more mole­hill than moun­tain, but it still beats the gut­ter.

Kath­leen Parker is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact her at kath­leen­parker@ wash­post.com.

CHARLESTON, S.C.

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