Yearning to breathe free

With pessimism and paranoia and fear of outsiders washing over the countryside, and without a shared sense of national purpose or vision for the future, America will have a presidential election in a little over three months. Here’s a prediction: Nose-holding and lesser-evilism will reach epidemic proportions in 2016.

One party is scary and the other is scared. Scary is coming into sharper focus with each passing day. Scared takes the form of excessive caution and unwillingness to serve up anything more than a main course of status quo with a side dish of incremental change.

The parties have chosen who they want at the top of the ballot, and are offering voters the two most unpopular major party nominees in memory. That’s not to say Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are without admirers. Each has some passionate supporters. Clinton got roughly 15 million votes on her way to securing the Democratic nomination, and Trump got about 13 million votes to win the Republican nomination. But one of them is going to have to convince about 50 million more voters to trust them with the keys to the White House.

The biggest single bloc of these voters who will decide the election fall into either the Never Trump or Never Hillary camps. If the Democrats had not chosen a candidate with so much baggage and who is so intensely despised by the other side, it would be next to impossible to imagine where Trump could find 50 million more votes. If the Republicans had not chosen someone whose appeal to anyone other than angry white men is so obviously limited, it would be hard to see how Hillary could possibly win over another 50 million voters.

Some will hold their noses and vote for Hillary, not because they like her or want her as president but rather because they desperately want to prevent a Trump presidency and see her as the lesser evil. Some will hold their noses and vote for Trump, not because they think he’s fit to be president but rather because they can’t stand Hillary and will do anything to stop her. For them, Trump is the lesser evil. More than usual will vote for one of the minor-party candidates. Tens of millions of others won’t vote at all. The winner will get elected with less than 50% of the vote. Even the party that wins the White House will paradoxically see its standing with the public harmed in the process.

In a little more than three months, it will be over. But voters who are sick and tired of being forced to hold their noses and choose the lesser of evils will be sicker and even more tired. Then it will be time for those yearning to breathe free to get imaginative. Then the time will come to contemplate the death of one or both of the old major parties and the birth of a new one.