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Does this election need a time out?

June 3, 2016

Would the U.S. be better off without a President, at least temporarily?

Considering that this is the most thoroughly despised and distrusted group of candidates and the most polarized electorate in recent memory, that’s a question some people feel is worth considering.

With well over 50% of the probable or likely voters saying they wouldn’t vote for either of the two presumptive nominees, and no viable third-party candidates even on the horizon, these people are questioning the validity of the whole process this time around.

They believe that the country has become so divided in the past seven years that it may need a cooling off period. Sort of a national time-out.

It’s really not a bad idea, but as usual, the devil’s in the details.

Pin a few of these folks down for an alternative, and many come up with some variation of an interim national governing board.

They suggest that board members might be drawn from state governors, business leaders, members of Congress, nonprofit leaders, even members of the media or the national parties.

A couple of people even suggested the top ten vote getters from the primary season, party affiliation not to be a qualifier.


Seriously, can you imagine Ted Cruz on the same board with Bernie Sanders?  Trump with Clinton? Bush with Trump? Bill Kristol with Elizabeth Warren? Reince Priebus with Debbie Wasserman-Schultz?

What about the undercard?  Would this just stave off the presidential contest, or would it affect everyone?  How long would it last? How would it affect our international relations?

Would this time-out nullify the primaries, leaving a blank slate to start over with, or does it just postpone the inevitable?

The problem with this election is that America  still doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be when it grows up.

Is it a pure democracy?  Some degree of a representative democracy? Some form of a socialist state? Is it even a nation? Should each state be its own little kingdom?

Déjà vu – all over again

We’ve been here before, specifically in the period from about 1833 through the Civil War era.. A look back in history provides us with some context. Just as today, it took decades for the pot to boil over.

Just prior to the Civil War, the country was divided along very similar liberal progressive vs. hard-line conservative vs. the blended populist ideologies.

Incidentally, the Republican and Democratic parties of 1860 were almost 180 degrees opposite of what they are today, with Republicans being the more liberal progressives on the issues of their time.

The last time we had an election marked by such a clear-cut  ideological divide, Abraham Lincoln, the ultimate outsider of his day, ran a campaign that muted his philosophical roots with the Whigs and instead chose to run and win as a Republican, branding him as a 19th century RINO.

Like Donald Trump, Lincoln  changed his position on the main issue of his day, first publicly supporting the right of states to either embrace or abolish slavery, before ultimately acting on his personal beliefs against slavery very early on in his presidency.

Economically, the nation in 1860 was trying to emerge from a severe recession, the Panic of 1857-58, which was caused largely by an international economic slowdown and the collapse of a speculative bubble in the railroad industry, ultimately leading to a crash in the stock market.

Although the names associated with the various schools of thought have changed over time, the central issues then were also about race relations, a perception of overreach of authority by the Federal  government and a strong middle class perception that their economic condition was caused by corrupt politicians.

(For a fascinating look at just how closely today’s political America resembles its past, read this condensed version of  “The Rise and Fall of the Whig Party – Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War” by Michael F. Holt, published by the Oxford University Press  ©1999.  If you can’t see the resemblance to today’s presidential free-for-all, you might try some new glasses or a more elastic brain.)

Then as now, no one was willing to give an inch to effect a compromise. The end result was the Civil War.

That comparison doesn’t bode well for the country.

The modern-day Whigs, i.e. the so-called Jeffersonian hard-line conservatives, haven’t proven to be much inclined towards moderation, and David French doesn’t look to be a peacemaker, not to mention that no one outside of Washington’s circle of elites has ever heard of him.

While the theoretical idea of a cooling-off period is tempting, it’s unlikely to happen. There is neither legal provision nor public appetite for it.

The only alternative would be for the election to be forced into the House of Representatives.

According to law, if no candidate receives an electoral college majority, or in the event of a tie, the matter would then be decided in the House of Representatives, something that has only happened twice, in 1800 and 1824.

Given the massive chasm between the conservative and liberal factions, even that process leaves the outcome in doubt.

No, just as happened in the past, it looks like we have to pick a side and then hold on for the ride.

Hopefully it turns out better than it did last time.

From → op-ed

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