Opinion Columns & Blogs

Could we recognize a perfect candidate?


The coming summer of our discontent has the perfect lineup for would-be voters: Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders and John Kasich provide people of all shades of political persuasion someone to hate.

Inspired by and instructed in the dark arts of hate speech by talk show host Rush Limbaugh and his horde of doppelgangers, we have over the past couple of decades become proficient at hating our politicians. We possess the loaded vocabulary, the practiced inflections of sarcasm and ridicule, and, worse, the darkened hearts and closed minds required to banish civility and potential progress from the public square.

Judging by the content of social media and the blogosphere, our greatest personal satisfaction comes from destruction rather than accomplishment. The anonymous comments on the right-hand side of this page or online can be, like most speech, either tools or weapons, but are far more often drive-by editorials than attempts to inform or support.

The chances are close to 100 percent that one of the five candidates listed above will be our next president.

Excepting Trump, the others would be survivable as president, though all five would enter the White House with high levels of disapproval and permanent reputational stains from campaigns of unprecedented bitterness, negativity and dishonesty.

Excepting Trump, each of the others, freed from the corrosive pressures of political campaigning, could be expected to exhibit at least some portion of the grace, manners and restraint normally seen in leaders of the free world.

Excepting Trump, each of the others possesses a resume that demonstrates some level of intellectual discipline, emotional maturity and appreciation for and participation in the governing process, though the qualitative differences in experience among them are stark.

Excepting Trump, the others are not vastly unlike all of the presidents and most of the presidential candidates who preceded them.

Excepting Trump, who makes up policy positions on the run from raucous rally to raucous rally and calculatingly avoids clarity, the others’ presidential intentions and philosophies are well-understood.

Excepting Trump, in other words, they are about what our political history would predict.

And yet one of the persistent memes of the past two years has been a cross-party complaint, even a lamentation: Can’t America produce better candidates than this bunch, or at least one person capable of creating more enthusiasm than anger and frustration?

But perhaps that’s not the right question.

How about: Why, seen in the long flow of American history, are we now unable to be enthusiastic about, rather than frustrated by, the choices we have?

Could it have more to do with us than with them?

Each of the five has a definable core of supporters – Trump’s angry white, working-class men; Sanders’ young rebels and traditional far-leftists; Cruz’s evangelicals and far-right conservatives; Clinton’s traditional Democrats; Kasich’s moderate Republicans.

Those supporters communicate with each other on social media, sharing grievances and swapping snarky bons mots and outrageous half-truths. They hear one another and absorb it as reinforcement. If they hear others at all, it’s sloughed off as propaganda.

Finally, and forebodingly, this may be the core question: Would a fragmented society comprised of multiple, soundproof echo chambers even recognize a perfect consensus candidate if one – or even several – were to arise?

What would you bet on that?

Davis Merritt, a Wichita journalist and author, can be reached at dmerritt9@cox.net.