America’s last presidential election was perhaps the most desultory moment in our nation’s political history, with two of the worst Americans ever as the major party nominees. They advocated very different but equally appealing policies, and in the end it all came down to which candidate’s character you thought was more awful. This year isn’t looking any better.
Last time around both finalists for the highest office in the land were scandal-ridden scoundrels, and in eerily similar ways. Republican nominee Donald Trump was credibly accused by a dozen women of decades of sexual assault, and was caught on audiotape bragging about it in the most vulgar terms, but Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was a longtime enabler of her ex-president husband’s just as egregious sexual piggery. The Clintons had a phony-baloney family foundation supported mostly by big-bucks donors courting Hillary’s Clinton’s influence as Secretary of State, but Trump had his own phony-baloney family foundation that did made all sorts of questionable spending including a big campaign contribution to a Florida Secretary of State who immediately withdrew from a multi-state lawsuit against the fraudulent Trump University that had bilked hundreds of suckers out of million dollars and Trump eventually settled that for $25 million and the family foundation was put out of business by the New York state courts, who also decreed that anyone named Trump would have to take an ethics course before they were ever again allowed to be involved a New York charity.
Both the Clintons and the Trumps had decades of financial shenanigans, ranging from the former’s Whitewater dealings to pretty much the entirety of the latter’s career as an oft-bankrupt billionaire mogul, but for the most part they got away with it. Clinton had to hide records of the millions she and her husband had made from giving speeches to special interest groups, but ran as an heiress to the mostly scandal-free administration of President Barack Obama. Trump had openly bragged about buying off Democratic and Republican politicians to get favorable treatment in his very fishy business dealings, and went to extraordinary lengths to hide his educational and military and health and tax records, but argued that made him the ideal guy to lock up “Crooked Hillary” and “drain the swamp.”
This time around looks to be every bit as tawdry. The apparent Democratic nominee after a truncated-by-coronavirus race is former Vice President Joe Biden, an underwhelming career politician with all the baggage you’d expect after four decades of riding trains to Washington, D.C., and Trump is once again the Republican party’s nominee. Biden’s son seems to have made a lot of money while in Ukraine while Dad was in charge of America’s foreign policy in that country, but the Trump kids have also been doing well in China and other countries while their father is president, and although the details of both stories are complicated it looks bad no matter how closely you look.
Both men now stand credibly accused of rape, too. A former Biden employee has come forward by her name, Tara Reade, to allege that 27 years ago then-Sen. Biden pushed against a wall in an empty hallway and penetrated her with his fingers. This is on top of another dozen women Biden’s behavior made them feel “uncomfortable,” and ample photographic and videographer evidence of Biden being somewhat creepily touchy with women. Some two dozen women have accused Trump of even worse behavior, of the sort he’s bragged about on a surreptitious audiotape and on Howard Stern’s nationally broadcast shock jock radio shows, and a woman named E. Jean Carroll has publicly come forward to allege that Trump raped her in a department store dressing room in the ’90s.
Which will certainly take a lot of the fun out of the next election for a lot of people, who might well conclude that we’re choosing between two rapists to lead our country.
Our sixty-some years of observing human nature have convinced us that women sometimes do make false allegations of sexual harassment and rape, but that it’s by far more common for men to sexually harass and rape women, so we’re usually inclined to believe women who have nothing to gain and much to lose with accusations against powerful men. We try apply that same standard regardless of the accused’s party affiliation, and we’ve long noticed Democrats and Republicans are about equally as likely to land in the docket. In this case, we can’t look at either man’s life history and say he’s too much a gentleman for us to even imagine him ever doing such a thing.
We’re instinctively disinclined to look at anything from the Democrats’ perspective, but if you want to get deep into the weeds of all this theDemocrats have the slightly better argument.
Reade is only now making her 27-year-old allegation, after staying silent through Senatorial campaigns and Biden’s vice presidential nomination, and he’s asked the Senate to release any complaints she might have made at the time, and she’s admitted to the press that she only filed a vaguely worded complaint about being “uncomfortable,” and Obama’s thorough vetting team didn’t turn up anything to keep him off the ticket. Carroll didn’t file any charges against Trump at the time, but she did report it to friends who are willing to come forward by name to talk about it, and she has a reputation as a journalist and comedy writer that she’s put at stake, and Trump denies it by saying she’s not his type, which leaves one to wonder on what type of woman he might rape.
As for all the financial shenanigans, whatever Biden’s ethical lapses he’s not become nearly so rich from them as Trump claims to be, and there’s no reason to believe his son got rich in Ukraine by the same sort of quid pro quo deal with the Ukrainian government that got impeached and should have had him removed from office, and Trump’s kids have done pretty well in Dad’s negotiations over the past three years. With apologies to Irving Berlin, we can hear them at the debates singing a rendition of “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Awfuler.”
There’s really no need to wade so deep into the weeds, however, as it really won’t matter much in the election. The public will wind up reconciling itself to a a presidential choice between two scoundrels who are obviously corrupt and quite possibly rapists. So far Trump hasn’t hypocritically seized on Biden’s rape problem, instead noting that powerful men are targets for such allegations, but that’s obviously self-interested and is likely to change between now and election day. A large segment of the Democratic party sticking to principle and trying to somehow find some other nominee, but we expect they’ll mostly fail line and turn out in November to vote against Trump.
A small but decisive minority of independent and independent-minded voters will wind up deciding the election, and what they do depends on what happens between now November, which we admit we have no way of knowing. There’s a chance that a couple hundred thousand Americans will be dead and millions more unemployed and bankrupt, with many more voting by mail if the postal service still exists because they’ve been cooped up at home and grocery shopping in face masks for months, and they’ll care more about that than the candidates’ grotesque character flaws.
Neither Trump nor Biden seem to have any answers for the crisis of the moment, though, nor any inspiring ideas about what to do when we eventually get past it no matter how badly it’s been bungled. Our Republican and Democratic friends alike are once again telling us it’s a binary choice and we have to pick a side, and that the fate of our nation once again hangs on it. Ignoring such shrill and panicked cries, for the second time in our lives we’ll probably pick some obscure protest candidate as a “none of the above” vote.
We’re trying to muddle through the current crisis and see beyond the weeds and past the swamp toward a country that can choose between two candidates of stellar character who strive to unite a great nation of 330 million free men and women behind a plausible program for a better future. We invite dispirited Republicans and Democrats and independents of all races and sexes and classes to join us on this quixotic quest.
— Bud Norman