America Votes One Mistake Too Many

When Americans go to the polls on Tuesday, there will be no chance left to salvage this election. All that remains is picking the lesser of two evils. But the damage has already been done.

A rolling art installation commenting on the state of politics in America sits in Manhattan.

A rolling art installation commenting on the state of politics in America sits in Manhattan.

An Editorial by

There used to be an American sense of comfort in transformation, in change, in the pendulum's eternal swing. It was an American certainty: Even if the present is dreary and gray, there would still be the future, and the future would be bright.

But there was more than that -- this age-old American attitude that anyone can take charge of their destiny at any time. If you don't like your job, you just quit. If you don't like the East Coast, you move out west. You thought George W. Bush was the worst president since 1945? No worries -- there are term limits, after all, and a Barack Obama can always come along.

Such was the thinking of millions of people in the United States -- even among political scientists and historians. It was perhaps a childish view -- the idea that opportunity would always be there because lasting failure and destruction was something that could only happen elsewhere. A Germany that triggered and lost World War II is incapable of that kind of thinking. But for an America that has long been pleased with itself, optimism about life was the default setting.

The fear, though, is new. Fear of social decline, of all things foreign and even of progress.

So, too, are the errors, and there have been far too many of them.

How, for example, could the Democratic Party have allowed itself to arrive at this level of dependency on the Clintons -- how could it have slumped into such dynastic thinking? Everyone in the party knows that Hillary Clinton was strong in her campaign against Obama eight years ago -- and they know that she is no longer strong today. Instead, she's frozen, someone who has been around for what feels like an eternity. She still doesn't grasp her 2008 defeat and this time wants to prevail in her aspiration. It is reckless for a party to push through a weak candidate purely out of principle. And how sad it is that few are still speaking of this wonderful goal, of finally -- after 43 men -- shattering possibly the last remaining glass ceiling by electing the first female president. There is no more passion or lightness in the Clinton camp -- just panic, fear that the most absurd opponent seen in the past 100 years cannot be defeated.

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How could the entire country have allowed the democracy for which it stands to fall into this degree of decline? Years ago, two ranting men emerged at the margins of society with a format called "talk radio": Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Americans have always been addicted to entertainment and that helped allow these two stars to enter the mainstream. And little by little, mainstream society began resembling them. Hateful. Self-righteous. Intolerant. Frightened. Loud. And disdainful of all that seemed too distant: education, ideas, industriousness. The US became a dysfunctional country that was no longer capable of debate, barely capable of making or sticking to decisions and one that had lost that which had once been its source of strength -- and it found nothing new to replace it, at least nothing novel and good. Were this a company, the diagnosis would be as follows: management has abandoned the core brand and botched the restructuring process; bankruptcy is around the corner.

The entire American democracy has also become an endless show, because CNN and other broadcasters are thirsty for breaking news every hour to ensure good ratings and advertising. Even lies pay off and are thus desired -- the result being that, after 18 months of campaigning, 50 percent of those eligible to vote, 100 million people, still do not know today where Trump and Clinton stand on policy. Instead, people scream "Lock Her Up" and "Build the Wall" as soon as Trump takes the stage. Good politicians don't play along with such nonsense.

And no, it's hardly worth saying anything more about the man. How could the Republicans ever have elevated a candidate like Trump to their throne, one so self-absorbed, so misogynistic, so racist and so unqualified? At the very least, the Republican Party has earned its own downfall.

On Tuesday, voting will finally be complete, but there will be no solace -- only, we can hope, the lesser of two evils. Things won't automatically return to normal. Indeed, the American pendulum theory was always naïve because history never starts over from scratch. The 2000 election, decided by the Supreme Court, gave us George W. Bush who, after Sept. 11, attacked Afghanistan and later Iraq, leading to the destabilization of the Middle East, the fall of Libya, Iraq and Syria, to Islamic State, to Turkish and Egyptian dictatorships, to the refugee crisis, Brexit, Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage, Frauke Petry and Trump, to the weakening of America and Europe. To the weakening of the West and liberal democracy.

The relationship between these events is not causal, of course. But elections and political action have consequences, as we in Germany well know. And the same could happen in America -- it could commit one irreversible error too many.

Discuss this issue with other readers!
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john.f.ranta 11/08/2016
1. Wrong headed thinking
As an American reader of Der Spiegel, I feel I have to correct your faulty reasoning. Hillary is not a failed, stale candidate. She was a qualified and experienced candidate in 2008, but a candidate who ran into a more powerful, and charismatic candidate in Barack Obama. Today she remains the most capable, experienced, and worthy candidate in the Democratic party, and in the election. It is not a failure that she has become the Democratic candidate. She fully deserves to be our candidate, and our president. She is the Christiano Ronaldo to Obama's Lionel Messi. Deserving, strong, and qualified, but perhaps not quite as brilliant as Obama. She will be a great president.
macca51 11/08/2016
2. So wrong.
Even by the appallingly low standards of Der Spiegel this editorial really hits rock bottom. Start with: "by electing the first female president." Why should such a sexist comment be even printed? There are enough women throughout the world in positions of authority now to know that they are just as prone to corruption, just as able to be grossly incompetent, just as warlike, just as racist as any man. Why do we need another example? God knows there are plenty to chose from. As for the rubbish about shock jockeys and their influence well there is another view. The complete ignoring by the political set of the concerns and wishes of the majority of people. Don't like the idea of all your countries manufacturing jobs being sent to China? You're a racist. Don't like the idea of being swamped with endless numbers of Third World people? You're a racist. Nervous about importing large numbers of Muslims into your country? You're a racist. Think affirmative action is just another form of discrimination? You're a racist. And on and on and on and on. Any concerns for the direction your country is heading in is not met with calm, rational explanations, since there are no rational explanations for what is going on in the world today. "You're a Nazi, you're a bigot, you're a racistracistracistRACISTRACIST!!!!!" Is always the response. Well if Trump doesn't triumph today someone who is far worse will triumph in the future. And Der Spiegel, by your bigoted, intolerant, biased and ill informed coverage of the American election and many other social issues, you will have played your part.
riverswimmer1956 11/08/2016
3. How? Why?
This article assumes the United States is of the people and for the people, but that is a misnomer. We are not a capitalist country but a corporatist country. Right now, I feel like I am in the middle of a Kurt Vonnegut novel with no way out.
sobo77uk 11/08/2016
4. A case of the ppot calling the kettle black ...
This must be about the dumbest, self-satisfied, conceited, childishly ignorant pieces I have seen in Spiegel International, and that is saying something. The author's stream of thought and conclusions are as dumb as anything that Trump has come up with, and is reflective of small-world view bred on ignorance of bankrupt dogma.
mibrooks27 11/09/2016
5. Told you
Mr. Trump won. The ugly comments by pundits, you in particular, fueled my voting and giving money for the Trump campaign. Your ilk at CNN and the Washington Post, did exactly the same thing for millions of suburban and rural voters, who turned out in droves. I wanted to thank you for that.
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