Forget the cheering, bravado and juvenile attacks that came from Republicans in Cleveland this week.
Ignore the apocalyptic predictions of what could become of the United States should either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton be elected president.
Ask yourself only this: Is this the best we can do?
With instability and terrorism threats abroad, cop killings and economic insecurity at home, American voters face a historically dismal choice for president.
The Republicans offer a narcissist who says cogent policy is for losers. He mistakes name-calling for debate. He condemns entire groups with sweeping generalizations. Only he can bend to his will Congress, allies and adversaries to, quote, “make America great again.”
The Democrats offer a high-functioning narcissist with an honesty problem. The FBI director says her e-mail practices exposed national security secrets to foreign rivals — an act with staggering implications. And she seems to think recitation of more government programs passes for leadership in an age devoid of it.
Unify behind either of these two? Hardly.
Trump and Clinton are heading deeply divided parties — thanks, in part, to their unique brands of high self-regard.
Trump’s coup has the party in shambles. Scores of big-name Republicans boycotted Cleveland, if Trump didn’t boycott them first. Donors are hanging on to their wallets or funneling their dollars mostly to House and Senate races.
The party of realpolitik and fiscal rectitude this week chose a four-time bankrupt as its nominee. He refuses to make his tax returns public. He offers qualified praise for Saddam Hussein. And his skepticism of NATO is music to the ears of Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Clinton is the model of stability by comparison — or not. Her party proposes for commander-in-chief a former secretary of state whose cavalier handling of classified information would make her ineligible for a security clearance…in any administration, except her own.
The FBI isn’t saying what the Russians, Chinese or Iranians may have from Clinton’s basement servers. But you can bet its counter-intelligence arm is scrambling to determine what the bad guys have on the would-be president.
Add the sordid mess of the Clinton Foundation and the appearance that donations to it ensured access in the next White House. The result is an Oval Office with “Compromised” stamped all over it.
This choice between shrill incompetence on the right and rank corruption on the left is embarrassing.
Unifying it’s not: the Republicans and the Democrats are nominating the most divisive candidates in the past 50 years.
Both parties should be ashamed. They’re not fielding serious people for very serious times. They’re pushing candidates who’d barely make it out of Iowa in saner times…when policy and, especially, character still mattered to the body politic.
But they don’t. American politics are slouching toward the conjuring of H.L. Mencken. He said, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it…good and hard.”
We have only ourselves to blame.
Daniel Howes is a columnist at The Detroit News. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, the University of Michigan.