I believe in America.
But we are losing our way.
That is why we face a choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. They are, to put it bluntly, bad people. They put themselves before God or country. They are beyond the pale.
Saints don’t make it to the White House. But the misdeeds of even our most compromised presidents were not widely known until long after they had won.
We do not enjoy the comfort of such illusions this year. We’ve known that Hillary Clinton lacks character since the early 1990s; Trump’s flaws have been a public spectacle even longer.
Still, we selected them. They are the only two people in our dynamic nation of 320 million who have a reasonable shot at becoming the most powerful person on earth.
Each of us will have to pick the lesser evil this November.
But, like all elections, this race is not just about the candidates. It’s about us, the people. In the strange and powerful way that history bends toward the truth – becomes a mirror that shows not what’s best, but what is – it has given us these two figures.
It reflects a people who are losing their moral compass – not so much at home or at work, but in our politics. When it comes to collective decision making, we have become so divided, so filled with fear and loathing, that we have cast aside principle for partisan gain.
Too many of us seem willing to forfeit our souls to gain power.
A principled people would not have nominated Clinton or Trump.
One of the surest signs that we have abandoned principle is the incessant invocation of morality in our political discussions. This Orwellian corruption of language illuminates the dark cynicism we have embraced.
Sadly, North Carolinians need not look to the national stage for evidence of this. We see it daily in the contretemps of state and local politics. Consider the election “reforms” passed by Republican legislators in 2013 that were overturned last week by a federal court. There is little doubt that these laws, which curtailed early voting and required picture IDs, targeted people who tend to support Democrats, including African-Americans.
GOP claims that they were nobly seeking to curb voter fraud were fraudulent. Their sole aspiration was partisan gain. This action was not an outlier but consistent with other efforts by Republican leaders to game the system to serve their own interests. Given our state’s history, however, their election laws were especially tin-eared and egregious.
The ugly and reckless accusations of those who opposed those laws were also scurrilous. Seeing an opportunity to gain political advantage, Democratic activists inflated these relatively minor changes into a sweeping effort by the GOP to re-establish Jim Crow and the Old Confederacy in the Tar Heel state. Their media allies uncritically repeated and amplified these slanders through drumbeat coverage that was less akin to reportage than propaganda.
Think for a moment of the ugly implications of that charge. Imagine if it were true. What would that say about our state’s leaders and the voters who elected and re-elected them?
Consider the message it sends to minorities. It is not the truth – which is that one party is seeking slight political advantage in an unprincipled manner – but that a huge swath of their fellow citizens wishes to crush them underfoot.
This is the same achingly divisive and irresponsible tactic we see in the constant comparisons of Trump to Hitler and his supporters to proto-fascists. The cynical use of such comparisons may bring short-term advantage, but it is a crime against history and language, suggesting that the Nazis and Jim Crow weren’t so bad.
What happened after all that high dudgeon masquerading and high-mindedness? Minority turnout in North Carolina increased in the 2014 midterm elections, compared with 2010.
Let’s be honest. North Carolina Democrats relaxed the voting requirements Republicans sought to thwart because they believed it was to their advantage. If a fundamental ideal were truly at stake, we wouldn’t find that the majority of states that do not allow early voting are controlled by Democrats.
We would hear the leaders outraged by our legislature assailing their allies in New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Are those blue states run by racist extremists?
I believe we will pass through this darkness; we are a good people.
We can begin by recognizing that Clinton and Trump are an honest reflection of our politics.
Do you like what you see?
Contributing columnist J. Peder Zane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.