In about 12 hours, polls in Hawaii will be closing, thus hopefully bringing the longest, most vicious, least civil presidential election in American history to an end. I for one am glad to see it go out - in Eliot's phrase - ". . . not with a bang but a whimper." As I'm writing this piece Turner Classic Movies is, most appropriately, airing the 1939 Frank Capra/Sidney Buchman/James Stewart classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, in which one good man - Senator Jefferson Smith (James Stewart) successfully defends American idealism and civic morality from the hellhounds of political corruption, graft and cynicism. As many times as I have watched this movie (somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 dozen), it has never ceased bringing a tear to my eye or a sigh in my soul. For Capra's and screenwriter Buchman's vision of America is fraught with the Founder's dream of - and hopes for - the new country; a land peopled by those who fight for lost causes which, in words written by Buchman and delivered by Stewart are ". . . the only causes worth fighting for. . . . For the only reason any man ever fights for them. Because of just one plain simple rule. Love thy neighbor. And in this world today of great hatred a man who knows that rule has a great trust."
(Now sadly, Sidney Buchman, the man who penned this most movingly patriotic of screenplays (for which he received an Academy Award nomination), would within a decade be blacklisted and hounded out of the very country and industry his talents had given so much luster; his political views were no longer tolerable to "real Americans." He would spend the final 20 years of his life exiled in France, where he died in 1973).
The 2016 election has been all but bereft of the sweet idealism and "love thy neighbor" meme given voice by Capra, Buchman and James Stewart. Rather, the contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump has been both vicious and vindictive, maximally mendacious and minimally edifying. It has put the Party of Lincoln on the critical list and headed for intensive care; it has served as a reviving tonic for White Nationalists, racists, and xenophobes and, for the first time in decades, permitted anti-Semites to once again surface from beneath the primordial ooze. What this campaign season has not done is offer a vision of America one could call truly inspirational. It has served to highlight the deep, fire-walled divisions between the idealized America that the Trumpeters want to return to - white, largely Christian, English-speaking, male dominated, culturally monochromatic, machine-driven, more powerful than a locomotive and able to bend steel in its bare hands - and the America that most Clintonians accept we are increasingly becoming - polyglot, multi-lingual, multi-cultural, gender bending, high-tech driven . . . a member in good standing of the global community. Some call this progress and welcome it; others are in dread fear and wish only for a return to an ideal past that truly never was. Indeed, the 2016 election has exposed the chasmic rift between nationalists and globalists, between the snow-blinded and the visionary that has been gestating for a generation or more. Perhaps nothing highlights this cultural chasm as well as comparing Secretary Clinton's surrogates - Barack and Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders - to Donald Trump's - Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich. And then there's the star-power: Meryl Streep, Beyoncé, Jay Lo, Jay-Z, Lady Gaga and Bruce Springsteen (to name but a few) supporting and performing for Secretary Clinton versus Willie Robertson ("Duck Dynasty"), Dennis Rodman, Scott Baio, Tila Tequila and Ted Nugent backing Donald Trump.
The anger, fear, conspiratorial nightmares and utter dissatisfaction afflicting a vast legion of the Trumpeters does have roots in reality. For indeed, millions have seen their jobs exported overseas never to return; their middle-class security scattered to the breezes. Perpetual gridlock in Washington and a world gone mad. But real as these roots may be, they have nonetheless become malignantly mutated by conspiratorial cheerleaders who likely do not believe most of the crappola they broadcast on radio, television or via social media. These - the Breitbarts, Drudges, Limbaughs, Hannitys, Savages and O'Reillys are as much to blame for the rise of Donald Trump as the man himself. They have both created and reflected an America that is at war with itself. And in the process, they have spawned a large plurality which threatens great damage to our representative democracy if they do not get their way. What is even worse, this plurality hasn't got the slightest idea of how incredibly unpatriotic all their so-called patriotism is.
Much of the 2016 presidential race has seen Secretary and President Clinton's lives, misdeeds - both real and concocted - accomplishments and flaws dissected with everything from a micro scalpel to a meat cleaver. Of course, this is nothing new: the Clinton's have been in the cross-hairs for more than three decades, and charged with everything from corruption and immorality to and murder. Never in American history has one presidential candidate made the imprisonment of their opponent a virtual plank in a political platform. Shouts of "LOCK HER UP!" "LOCK HER UP!" have accentuated - even drowned out - the speeches of Mr. Trump. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the 2016 presidential race; about the state of America, American politics and the future of the two-party system. The question is, will we be guided by what we've learned and somehow manage to face the future as a single people?
At its best, high-stakes politics is like a game of chess, requiring masters whose game strategy can range from blocking and responding to the challenger's next five or ten moves, to forcing the opponent to play your game - to fall into masterly camouflaged traps strewn in their path. Again, that's high-stakes politics at its best. Alas, the tilt between Clinton and Trump has long been a case in which one side (Clinton) has attempted to engage in the "Sport of Kings" while the other is engaged in some gladiatorial bout of mixed martial arts: punching, jabbing, spitting spearing . . . seeking to do maximal mortal damage.
It is to weep.
I for one am looking forward to the inauguration of Hillary Clinton as this country's first female POTUS. In a season in which her hometown Chicago Cubbies made history, so too shall January 20, 2017 be a day of history. But make no mistake about it: it's not going to be easy on the lady from Chicago; she'll no doubt face four years of Congressional hearings on emails, the Clinton Foundation and, once again, Benghazi. She'll have to deal with Republican blockades and the threat to keep any and all of her nominees off the Supreme Court. Then too, there will be the problem of all those Trumpeters who believe that she, like the man she replaced, is both illegitimate and unfit for office. Despite all these challenges, my money's on Hillary Rodham Clinton. For unlike her opponent, she is a political chess master who hasn't promised to "Make America Great Again"; she knows with every fiber of her being that America has always been great and that we are "Stronger Together."
Gee, that sounds like something Senator Jefferson Smith might have said.
12 hours and counting . . .
Copyright©2016 Kurt F. Stone