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November 7, 2016
John Stackhouse

The “return to normalcy,” a return to the way of life before World War I, was candidate Warren G. Harding's promise in the American presidential campaign of 1920. Many of us hope for such a return after the wildly disquieting campaign of 2016.

But many Americans don’t. They have wanted a revolution, whether socialist, libertarian, fascist, or otherwise, and they won’t rest until they see one. And whatever one prefers, there’s not much chance of normalcy any time soon.

Every important institution involved in this campaign revealed itself to be in serious disarray. Both major parties suffered embarrassing public schisms amid scandals at the highest levels and fierce mutual recrimination. Both ended up nominating the least popular candidates on record.

The mainstream media showed the shallowness of “balanced reporting” by consistently presenting the candidates as more-or-less equally flawed, focusing what they liked to think as proportionately fair attention on Mrs. Clinton’s mistakes and evasions, on the one hand, and Mr. Trump’s multiple lies, errors, slanders, slurs, insinuations, incitements, vices, and abuses, on the other.

Most of the openly ideological media so patently refused to grant the reality of even obvious problems with their favoured candidate while grossly maximizing the flaws of his or her opponent as to forfeit any credibility as sources of “news.” (The exceptions—from National Review to Glenn Beck—were refreshing indeed.) 

The TV comedians to whom many turn for views on the news—with the exception perhaps of John Oliver—either cynically schmoozed their way through the moral disaster of the campaign or became hysterical shills for their preferred candidate.

Even the FBI sacrificed a lot of its credibility, earned painfully after the dark days of J. Edgar Hoover’s partisanship, as it kept offering much-smoke-but-little-fire in regard to the e-mails of Mrs. Clinton and her correspondents. And in this they were no better than the Attorney General who, in a lapse of judgment that ought to have resulted in a resignation, decided to spend a half-hour chatting with the famous husband of a candidate her people were investigating.

Despite my long Canadian pedigree, going back to the United Empire Loyalists, I don’t have an anti-American bone in my body. I enjoyed studying and teaching in the U.S., my sisters and brother are all now American citizens, and I speak fluent American.

But even given my deep affection for America and Americans, one cannot but shake one’s head in horror at the awful, and awfully revealing, mess the American people have served up to the watching world.

None of this, however, would have surprised the Founding Fathers. Despite their philosophical and religious differences, they generally shared a dim view of human nature, both individually and in the collective.

So they designed a polity that, they hoped, would keep any person, any party, and any part of government or society from making too much mischief. Their vaunted “separation of powers” and “checks and balances” made it very difficult for President Obama to get much done in the face of a recalcitrant Congress. (In comparison to his constant grinding stalemate, Canadian prime ministers Harper and Trudeau both have enjoyed happy days, indeed.)

Yet no system can make up for the flaws of those who hold office in it. So in the wake of this next election, we’ll see just how robust the U.S. Constitution really is. We’ll see how resilient the world’s most powerful institutions really are.

And we’ll see whether America’s leaders can rise out of the toxic dump of the 2016 campaign and truly serve the many, many decent people who have shuddered helplessly at all this waste and wreckage.

American stupidity, selfishness, short-sightedness, arrogance, vengefulness, and violence have been all too obvious this year.

May the year to come bring the world American intelligence, generosity, vision, humility, forgiveness, and forbearance. Like any other nation, only with these virtues can the United States of America—which has demonstrated them before—become truly great.


John Stackhouse studied American culture at Wheaton College with Prof. Mark Noll and at the University of Chicago with Prof. Martin Marty. He teaches religious studies at Crandall University in Moncton, New Brunswick.



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