Let me be the bearer of good news. Things are pretty good. And the track of this election proves it.
If our current situation and mood were as devastatingly down in the dumps as the headlines and the memes and Donald Trump make it sound, Trump and Hillary Clinton wouldn’t be leading the polls.
Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein would be. Or Bernie Sanders would have been.
One of the signs of a great nation is a populace that isn’t looking for big changes. Most Americans fit that description. In his nomination acceptance speech and in the debate Monday night, Trump painted the nation as a dystopian wasteland where poverty and violence reign. However, he doesn’t support the huge policy changes that would suggest he believes his own fearmongering. And the mere fact that Trump has never run for office does not make voting for him some kind of a rebellious act.
He supports a strong military, law and order, relatively modest tax cuts and much tougher immigration controls. In terms of what he’s claiming he’d do for this country, Trump is offering mostly a standard GOP platform with two differences: Trump does not talk about cutting social programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and food stamps. And he opposes the kind of international free-trade deals that GOP business owners love and the money in politics that true insiders are addicted to.
So he’s a bit different, but Trump’s not talking about eliminating taxes, arming kindergartners or banning pizza. He did not invent “the wall” or corporate tax cuts. Believing the nation should be run by a wealthy white male with a tough-guy complex is not a revolutionary stand. It’s our norm.
And Clinton? A vote for her is a vote of confidence that the path the nation has been on for the past eight years, while not perfect, isn’t the highway to hell. She wants taxes higher on the richest people, she wants to give the environment and clean energy more priority, and she’s actually more GOP than Trump on international trade and the military. Pro tip: Commie revolutionaries don’t openly take millions in fees and campaign contributions from banks.
To argue we’re on the cusp of huge change, frenzied commentators love to cite polls saying two-thirds of the nation’s voters believe the country is on the wrong path. But those angry voters are split between believing we’re too liberal and believing we’re too conservative. What we get is the moderate status quo.
Johnson wants serious change: much lower taxes, far more personal freedom, a weak central government and military spending (and wars) slashed to the bone. He’s polling at just under 8 percent, but in 2012, he got 1 percent after drawing as high as 6 percent in some pre-election polls. If that result is any indication, his current support will melt away by Election Day.
Stein wants serious change: far higher taxes, far more communitarian social programs, fossil fuels out, renewables in. She’s pulling 1 percent support.
People do want relief from a system they think is rigged toward big money, big corporations, governmental secrecy and ultracareful politicians who say nothing.
But it’s important to be grateful for what we have. This is a nation where most people are safe, fed, sheltered and free. It is a nation where there is generally opportunity, justice, safety, charity and love.
The United States is deeply imperfect, and we need to work to make it better. But it’s not dystopian and horrible. And that’s why the two candidates who have a shot at the presidency are promising to tinker with the engine, not to blow up the ride.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.