“Trump or Hillary?” I get asked this question as soon as someone realizes that I am an American. Uber drivers, fellow beer drinkers, the maintenance guy in my building, all of them. I smile after they ask, trying not to let it morph into a cringe. Then, we bumble through a conversation of broken French and (less-broken) English. There are a lot of shoulder shrugs, and “Je ne sais pas.” Inevitably, I begin to feel ashamed of the farce of democracy that has been playing out on the American stage for the better part of the last two years.
Let’s pause for a moment and think about that. Two. Fucking. Years. At least during the Democrat’s primary season, there was some substantive debate about policy. The Republicans tried, but eventually their message descended into “Dumpster Fire America, 2016.” I am not going to pretend like I am unbiased, I am a self-proclaimed socialist, but even the most die-hard conservatives must be disappointed in how this race has turned out.
We have given the candidates two years to explain why they are qualified for the highest office in the country and, arguably, the world. We have given them two years to flesh out their plans to improve international relations, the economy, and the lives of Americans. Yet, after the debates, I’m still not sure if I know where the candidates stand on any of the issues.
This is disappointing for all of us. We should be in mourning over the loss of the political process. When the first official presidential debate aired in 1960, the main purpose was to inform the electorate of the candidates’ positions. It was to give candidates the opportunity to go up against their opponents and give the American voters a clear idea of who they were voting into office. In other words, it was supposed to be a debate, one with questions and actual answers. A debate we deserve after enduring the last two years of campaigning. We deserve to have candidates that are prepared, and ready to talk about their plans for America. We do not deserve to have have one candidate talk over the other, and rob us of the political process.
This is the insidiousness of Trump’s candidacy. He shows up and preys on the anxieties that a decade of Republican fear mongering has created. He shows his supporters that he doesn’t have to respect the political process, because he is above it. He shows them that he doesn’t have to respect the American people, because he is above them, and they eat it up.
I may not completely agree with Clinton, but I am upset for her. She is a woman who has devoted her life to public policy, and thus opened herself up to the world that is, frankly, unkind to ambitious women. She is highly educated and qualified (if somewhat untrustworthy, but it’s a mistake to fully trust politicians), and her opponent is a misogynist, racist, xenophobe, whose greatest accomplishment is building an empire devoted to his own narcissism.
So, I get asked “Trump or Hillary?” and I want to scream. I want to say “Our process is more than this!” I want to wax poetic about political philosophy. I want to explain that American politics just made some questionable decisions in the 80’s, like all the good Boomers. I want to be proud that a woman is running for president, and not have that overshadowed by another puffy old white dude. Unfortunately, there is never quite enough time for that, so I go on my way and try to pretend that American politics is actually made of the things in Aaron Sorkin’s dreams.