How has this happened? How have the two major political parties contrived to give their presidential nominations to candidates who, according to opinion polls, are both heartily disapproved by a majority of voters generally even as they command majority support in their own parties?
Must the next president be a megalomaniac and serially bankrupt buffoon leading a pack of hateful brownshirts, or a clumsily pandering, posturing grifter leading a pack of parasites?
No presidential election in modern times has offered as much opportunity for a third-party challenge. John Anderson took almost 7 percent of the vote in 1980 and Ross Perot almost 20 percent of the vote in 1992 against candidates whom the public did not find half as repulsive as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Is there no one in public life in this country whose approval rating exceeds his or her disapproval rating — no one who, while perhaps little known at the moment, might earn the country’s respect rather than its contempt in a few months?
Of course since elections are usually exercises in building consensus, campaigns can be a slog toward mediocrity. Disappointed with the result of the 1924 presidential election, the social critic H.L. Mencken renounced democracy itself.
“Democracy,” Mencken wrote, “is that system of government under which the people, having 35,717,342 native-born adult white men to choose from, including many who are handsome and thousands who are wise, pick out a Coolidge to be head of the state. It is as if a hungry man, set before a banquet prepared by master cooks and covering a table an acre in area, should turn his back upon the feast and stay his stomach by catching and eating flies.”
And Coolidge didn’t turn out so badly, as Mencken had to admit when he wrote the former president’s obituary in 1933: “He had no ideas and he was not a nuisance.”
But Donald Trump in charge of the nuclear arsenal? Hillary Clinton —futures trader extraordinaire, tool of Goldman Sachs, destroyer of universal medical insurance, dissembler of Benghazi, compromiser of classified documents — in charge of anything?
Now will someone please start circulating the petitions?
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.