— 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.