Much like a sports franchise may sacrifice a year or two as building years, it may be that this election season will portend a building quadrennial. The best we can hope for is that the down-ballot races will result in a Congress that can actually get things done so the President doesn't feel compelled to do everything through executive order. The best we may be able to do in the presidential election is to vote for the candidate who will do the least damage. Fortunately, we'll get a do-over on the executive branch in 2020 when our political vision may finally become clear. In other words, we should look forward to 20/20 hindsight in 2020.
It's a sad commentary on the current state of American politics that the standard-bearers of the two major parties are among the least popular candidates in history. It may be a wake-up call for the electorate when we finally choose one of these undesirables to lead our country and represent our interests to the rest of the world. If Clinton wins, the soul she sold to woo Sanders' supporters may be an albatross around her neck; if Trump wins, he'll likely usher in a new era of cronyism and self-aggrandizement that will undo centuries of progress as it primarily increases his own wealth and power, if he doesn't destroy the global economy in the process.
It's undeniable now that our choice is between Clinton and Trump. No third-party candidate can draw enough voters from both camps to steal the election (although they can still affect the decision). Where we do have a real choice, though, is in the down-ballot races, where Senators and Representatives are vying for offices. We don't have to be rocket surgeons to realize that one of the biggest problems we have with our government is the intransigence and inertia of Congress. Our founding fathers established the Separation-of-Powers doctrine for our government to vest responsibility for making laws with the legislative branch, enforcing them with the executive branch, and interpreting them with the judicial branch.
It's hard to find a time in our history when the Separation-of-Powers doctrine was so challenged. The system of checks and balances has become unchecked and unbalanced. Legislative gridlock has led to executive overreach, and politicization has tainted the judiciary. Congress can't get anything done, the President can't execute laws that don't exist, the Supreme Court can't make rulings (or comments) without reflecting the political polarity of its members, and the FBI can't help but put its finger on the scales of justice as it tries to do its job with some degree of transparency.
Say what you will about politics and the current state of this election. For all its rancor and disharmony, it's exposed the dark underbelly of our country. Many of our latent prejudices, oversimplified views of global challenges, continuing stratification of our social structure, and many other moral and ethical deficiencies, have been laid bare. It gives us a clear-eyed view that all is not well in our democracy, even though it's better than it was. The immediate and long-term challenges facing the next President will be substantial.
If Clinton wins, stung by defeat, Republicans in Congress are likely to continue their strategy of "No," especially as it relates to judicial appointments. However, with some moderation, they could actually restore some balance of power to our government. If they wield their power reasonably and carefully, and seek to codify where there is agreement rather than division, they may be able to forge compromises that actually work. If Clinton has listened to the electorate over the past 18 months, she'll realize that her win isn't a mandate, but rather an opportunity to bring the country together for the common good, and reach across the aisle to engage and not punish her foes. Wouldn't that be refreshing?
If Trump wins, devastated by total loss of power, Democrats in Congress are likely to co-opt the strategy of "No," and reward the Republicans with the same kind of obstructionism that they rewarded President Obama with. Trump will further politicize the Supreme Court, tire quickly of the glacial speed of Congress, and issue executive orders like so many tweets. His "my way or the highway" approach to negotiation is anathema to the spirit of compromise that is necessary to govern a country of disparate needs and social strata. It's hard to see how the country can survive a Trump presidency, even if it's just a single term.
It may be as some suggest that Clinton thinks she's above the law, but if she believes that, she's sorely mistaken and will have a lot of people watching. Trump surely thinks he can make the law suit his own self-interest, and he'll stop at nothing to serve himself. Electing Clinton to the presidency should do the least damage over the next four years. Electing responsible Republicans and Democrats dedicated to finding common ground on which to build legislation is a good way to keep her in check. The only way to control Trump is to keep him out of the Oval Office altogether.
In 2020, we'll have the benefit of hindsight, and perhaps with some foresight, we can improve the vision of the future. If Congress finally becomes functional again, and if the Supreme Court abandons its political biases and receives more moderate appointees, perhaps a Clinton presidency won't be so bad after all. A Trump presidency would likely validate our worst fears, but we can hope there will still be time to recover. If things have deteriorated further under either as President, we'll have a chance to correct our mistake, and perhaps this year's Faustian choices will give rise to better candidates from both parties -- we will have reached our nadir, and there's only one way to go from there.