In an election-eve interview last week, retired TV newsman Bob Schieffer, a veteran of forty-two years in the TV news industry, stated that he had never seen a presidential campaign like this one in all the fourteen campaigns he covered as a newsman. “This one is different,” Schieffer said, “and not in a good way.”
As a professional historian for the past twenty-nine years, I would tend to agree with Schieffer about the uniquely disgusting character of this campaign. We’ve had some bad ones over the years (though it has been a while) but this one really is in a class by itself.
The election of 1800 was not one of the republic’s finer moments. A supporter of John Adams claimed that if rival candidate Thomas Jefferson were elected, “we would see our wives and daughters the victims of legal prostitution,” while another Adams man said that under a Jefferson administration “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will openly be taught and practiced.” Not to be outdone, a pro-Jefferson publisher wrote that the second president was a “gross hypocrite” who “behaved neither like a man nor like a woman but instead possessed a hideous hermaphroditical character.”
In 1828, supporters of John Quincy Adams made much of the fact that Andrew Jackson’s first and only wife, Rachel, had previously endured a three-year marriage to an abusive husband who had abandoned and divorced her. Because of a flaw in the technicalities the divorce had not been legally valid, though this was unknown either to Andrew or to Rachel when they married three years later. Adams supporters denounced Rachel Jackson as a bigamist, a “dirty black wench,” and a “convicted adulteress.” They also claimed the highly devout Mrs. Jackson was prone to “open and notorious lewdness.” On the other hand, some Jackson supporters went so far as to claim that while ambassador to Russia, Adams had sold his wife’s maid as a concubine to the czar.
There have been a few other bad elections in our history perhaps slightly less shocking, but I believe there’s a sense in which the election of 2016 stands alone. In previous elections, some of the more extreme partisans of each side might hurl scurrilous accusations at the opposing candidate, and many of their fellow partisans might believe those charges during the heat of the campaign. But the charges were not true. Partisans of the other side, as well as all reflecting persons of either side, knew it. That’s not to say we’ve never had bad presidents. Obviously we have. But the American people have never before been asked to choose between two such openly and notoriously unfit candidates as these.
This year’s election has of course included some of the same excessive charges from overheated partisans. Democrats have raged that Trump would perpetrate racial atrocities while Republicans have shrieked that Hillary’s election would “totally destroy the world as we have known it,” and cause Americans to be “enslaved and disenfranchised generations to come.” Ann Coulter wrote that a Clinton victory would be “the end of America.”
What has been different this year is that many of the criticisms of each candidate’s character have been demonstrably true, based on solid, non-partisan sources. Careful, reflecting people of both parties, or neither, have recognized that neither major-party candidate was fit to be president.
Americans who were paying attention heard FBI Director James Comey state that although Hillary Clinton would not be charged in the matter, she had in fact fulfilled the criteria for violating federal law by handling classified information with gross negligence (“extremely careless” were the words Comey used). People go to prison for doing that, but the powerful Clintons skate. Also, the Clinton Foundation is still under FBI investigation as a probable mechanism for influence peddling and laundering bribes. The pattern of the Democratic nominee was that of a completely corrupt politician and habitual criminal.
Americans hardly had to be paying attention to hear Donald Trump’s own voice stating that he had tried to commit adultery with a married woman and that he used his celebrity status to molest women sexually. They could also hardly have helped hearing his repeated use of the vilest of language while addressing large crowds at his rallies. If Americans were paying attention, they would also have known that he owned casinos and strip clubs, boasted of his many adulteries with married women, and entered dressing rooms at beauty pageants. And those are just the things to which he admits. He says he has never asked God’s forgiveness because he had not done anything for which he needed to repent.
Throughout the campaign Hillary Clinton’s unfavorability rating in the polls has varied between 50 and 55 percent, while Trump’s has similarly fluctuated between 55 and 65 percent. These are unprecedented numbers for presidential candidates, literally the two highest unfavorability ratings since pollsters started tracking such numbers.
Fourteen percent of voters in last week’s election believed neither candidate was qualified to be president. Thirty-one percent believed neither was honest. Apparently at least 17 percent believed a dishonest candidate could be qualified to be president, which is disturbing in its own right. Eighty-two percent of Americans said they were disgusted by the campaign. This may be reflected in the fact that voter turnout in this election was at a twenty-year low.
America can do better than this. Yes, I know it has been said we get the government we deserve, and there’s a good deal of truth in that. Yes, I know the election reflects the growing debauchery of American voters. But America can still do better than the two sorry choices we had this year. Both of the existing major political parties are dominated by entrenched, corrupt ruling cliques that value nothing as much as the perpetuation of their own power. In the Republican Party that system allowed 35% of primary voters to foist a unacceptable candidate on the rest of the party. On the Democratic side, party leaders and “super-delegates” secured the nomination for a corrupt crony politician. America might vote for a better candidate if a better candidate were on offer in the general election.
Christians and other constitutional conservatives are in an especially bad position now. The Republican Party has kicked them to the curb but still won the election with the votes of most of those who would normally have voted for a constitutional conservative. This it did by fear-mongering about the “binary system” and the horrors of Hillary. It’s high time there was a party with nation-wide ballot access that can give the people a clear, constitutional alternative to the sorry choices the Democrats and Republicans have just served up. That’s why I’m especially pleased to see the launch of the new Federalist Party. It’s much needed. Will it succeed? Well, I’m not a prophet, and I can’t tell you the future, but I’m convinced it’s worth trying. Check out its Facebook page or the related news website TheNewAmericana.com. We’ve been needing something like this. America really can do better than what we’ve had.