Anyone who says it doesn’t matter whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton wins this election needs their head examined. The damage Trump could do to our nation is in a league of its own. Hillary has personal ethics issues she needs to confront, but she’s got the chops to be president.
What interests me most right now, though, is a different question. It’s not, “Who are they – our politicians?” It’s, “Who are we – the voters?”
To be specific: Are we all Shiites and Sunnis now?
More and more, our politics resembles the Middle East’s core sectarian conflict between Islam’s two branches. That is not good. Because whether you’re talking about Shiites and Sunnis — or Iranians and Saudis, Israelis and Palestinians, Turks and Kurds — a binary rule dominates their politics: “I am strong, why should I compromise? I am weak, how can I compromise?”
Politico last week reported that while some G.O.P. officials may vote for Hillary, they are sketching plans “to stymie a President Hillary Clinton agenda.” Liberals are warning Clinton not to bring Republicans into her cabinet or explore meeting them halfway.
That kind of sectarian/tribal thinking, reinforced by social media enforcers, gerrymandering and giant campaign funders, gives you House Speaker Paul Ryan sayingTrump’s pronouncements are “textbook” racism, but he’s supporting Trump anyway.
And it gives you Clinton surrogates defending her, even though she embraced a pattern of major donors to the Clinton Foundation being given preferential access to her as secretary of state.
Shiites stick with Shiites. Sunnis stick with Sunnis.
That is not always true in other walks of life. We just got that lesson at the Olympics. American runner Abbey D’Agostino clipped New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin from behind in the women’s 5000-meter qualifying heat, sending both tumbling to the ground well short of the finish.
The Associated Press reported: “D’Agostino got up, but Hamblin was just lying there.... D’Agostino crouched down and put her hand on the New Zealander’s shoulder, then under her arms to help her up, and softly urged her not to quit.” They embraced at the finish.
Yes, I know, politics is about winning. But it’s also about winning with a mandate to govern. And right now, everything suggests the next four years will be like the last eight: a gridlocked Democrat-Republican civil war.
There is no doubt Republicans during the Obama presidency pioneered and perfected this scorched-earth politics and have now paid a price for it. They let themselves be led around by a group of no-compromise talk-radio gasbags, think-tank ideologues in the pay of one industry or another, Fox News know-nothings and an alt-right fringe, who, together, so poisoned the G.O.P. garden that an invasive species, Donald Trump, just took it over.
That is all the more reason for Clinton to reach out, at the right time, and see if any of them have learned their lesson. She won’t get anything big done otherwise. We have to break this fever.
It will be a tragedy if center-right Republicans conclude their only problem is Donald Trump, and that once he’s gone the G.O.P. will be theirs again. Their party is over. They either have to become conservative Democrats or redefine a responsible center-right G.O.P. with a different base. But it will be equally sad if Clinton wastes the opportunity of a potentially substantial victory, achieved with some G.O.P. votes, to rebuild our country’s political center.
We Americans were once summoned by our politics to be participants in a race to the moon. Lately we’ve been summoned by our politics to be spectators in a race to the bottom. We can do better, and we must.