A few years ago, we had to put the second of our two cats to sleep. Her health had deteriorated and it was time. As she lay on the vet’s table not sure about what was happening, I stroked her gently, fighting back tears and repeating softly, “It’s OK, Zoey. It’s gonna be OK.”
And she trusted me. And it wasn’t OK. And I knew it.
I’ve had a similar sense of foreboding about this presidential election pretty much since candidates began announcing their intentions to run last year, only it was me telling myself it would be OK. Someone exciting will emerge from this scrum, I said to myself. I’m an incurable optimist, always expecting that a presidential election will bring out at least one of our best and brightest.
And we got Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Good grief. We have the greatest democracy in the world, and these two are what our system spit out? There have been times before or after the day each became his or her party’s presumptive presidential nominee that they seemed to hit rock bottom, but I wouldn’t want to insult either by selling short their capacity to repel.
Clinton’s plunge came last week with the FBI report on her damn emails.
Director James Comey shredded her talking points, including her contentions that all work-related emails had been turned over to the State Department and none had been marked classified.
Her response was to ignore most of Comey’s remarks and treat the rest as some sort of validation. Combined, it showcased her arrogance about process and the family beliefs that rules don’t apply to them, and that truth can be massaged. The difference between extremely careless and not enough to indict is microscopic in the court of public opinion.
Then there’s Trump, the only candidate whose negatives are higher than Clinton’s, and who has a seemingly inexhaustible capacity for derogatory remarks.
As for truth, the nonpartisan Pulitzer Prize-winning organization PolitiFact has labeled 76 percent of the Trump statements it fact-checked as mostly false, false or “Pants on Fire” (Clinton was at 27 percent).
Call me naive, but I expect elections to be uplifting and inspirational and to challenge us to think about our nation and its future and the ideas that will get us there. Instead, we’ve got a race to the bottom. No matter which side you’re on, you have to close your eyes and hold your nose. Who can support either candidate without equivocation?
The problem isn’t only Trump and Clinton. Congress no longer functions and is despised by record numbers of Americans. Everyone is frustrated. Have we reached the point where we admit that this two-party system of ours does not work anymore?
The candidacies of Trump and Bernie Sanders say so. For the different perspectives they offered, each might as well have been heading his own party. And that (putting aside Trump’s flaws for the moment) is what we need. More voices. More options. More than Democrats and Republicans. We need more viable candidates in November, people unafraid to challenge convention, who force rivals to react to them and get all of us thinking. We could start down that road by opening up the presidential debates in the fall to anyone who is on the ballot in all 50 states, such as Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico.
How interesting it would be to see three or four people on that stage debating actual ideas than just the two we’re stuck with tearing into each other. That’s not going to be OK. And we all know it.
Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.