- - Tuesday, August 9, 2016


For one brief moment this week it looked possible, if not exactly probable, that the presidential campaign of 2016 might focus on real issues of actual concern to Americans, after all. Donald Trump delivered a speech outlining an economic plan he says would get the millions of Americans left behind in recent years back to work, lighten the tax burden on the middle class with Reagan-like tax cuts and double the annual GDP growth rate. His plan was applauded in many quarters. He was talking about a positive future and a program that might give meaning to his famous slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

In response, Hillary Clinton delivered a speech with a very different vision, but it was specific enough to enable the candidates and their campaigns to actually begin a debate on where the winner could lead the country. It’s debates of this sort that should dominate presidential campaigns, and the two speeches could lay out the way forward.

But, alas, that doesn’t seem likely. Hillary responded to Mr. Trump by ridiculing his advisers, not the merits of his program and the Donald, as usual, couldn’t resist focusing not on what might be wrong with her vision, but on some of her fans. We learned that the U.S. Communist Party is partial to Hillary and the American Nazi Party likes Mr. Trump. The father of the Islamic jihadi who killed 49 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando likes Hillary and Russia’s Vladimir Putin seems to prefer Mr. Trump.

This is all tantalizing and perhaps even entertaining, but meaningless. Neither a Communist nor a Nazi is likely to be invited to join the Cabinet of either presidential candidate, and the heated discussions of exaggeration and hyperbole are pointless to Americans who can’t find a job or the money to pay the rent, or to those in the cities who are afraid to leave their homes as crime and violence blossoms around them. Neither candidate will be accused of perfection, and most voters will go to the polls to vote for the lesser of two evils.

An intelligent choice is based on choosing from competing visions and programs, to find something that makes sense in a nonsensical time, and the mighty organs of the media seem dedicated not to enlightening voters, but to scare them out of their pants. The modern media can’t thunder for squeaking. Most of this noise has been directed at Mr. Trump, who is variously described as a warmonger who should never be allowed anywhere near nuclear weapons, or as someone eager to take Vladimir Putin on his own terms.

To his credit, Mr. Trump has finally tried to “turn the corner” or “reboot” his campaign, to discuss his vision and not his pet peeves. Neither of them is willing to talk about real issues. Throwing mud is more fun. This is the silliest campaign in the memories of the oldest among us, and the time to “get real” is swiftly slipping away.

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