A Political Hurricane That, Like Matthew, Has Left Wreckage

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It is less than a month until the nation votes — or will we, after all we’ve been through, finally decide en masse not to show up?

Soon it will be Nov. 8. Soon, our long national nightmare will be over.

Ever since Donald Trump joined a mob of 17 or 18 people vying for the Republican nomination, we have been living our lives in Campaign 2016 mode. All of it — the Hillary-Bernie ride, Trump and his less than magnificent compatriots on the GOP side — has culminated in what we saw and heard this past weekend.

What was the upshot of all this? What was it all about — the Trump rallies, the 16 little GOP Indians dropping out one by one, primary by primary, insult by insult? Trump at the top of the ticket. Trump: the all-time political vulgarian, who could make LBJ look graceful, setting the house on fire like James Cagney in “White Heat” — “Top of the world, Ma!” indeed.

We saw emails, thousands of them. We saw Trump now praise famous men — like Vladimir Putin. We saw a battle with Little Marco over height and body-part size. We saw Clinton perhaps faint. We saw … oh, you know the drill, all of it.

There is a story out there somewhere about a desperate soul who fell on hard times and said that he had hit rock bottom, that he was in the basement. That is, until he discovered the cellar door.

Politically, we have made it to the cellar door and crawled through.

Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse, or more vulgar, or more insane or nutty or shameful or just plain weird, things got vulgarer, insaner, weirderer (straining even the language).

Donald Trump — who once said that he could shoot somebody and nobody would care, or words to that effect — came close to doing that. For months, people said that this one thing or that other thing was the last straw, to the point where the campaign trail is littered with straws. Nothing could seriously wound the Donald.

Until, it appeared, this past weekend, when an Access Hollywood videotape with Billy Bush came out, in which Trump talked about women in the most graphic way, about trying to seduce a married woman and grabbing women’s P-words. When it was released, most media types called it a bombshell.

If fact, it was like yelling fire in a crowded theater. It sparked a major exit by GOP stalwarts, candidates and politicians, many of them women. Trump’s own wife called his comments “offensive” but accepted his apology. He apologized more of less in the same dismissive way he admitted that the president of the United States was an actual citizen, as in, “Let’s move on.”

People did move on. Trump was disinvited to a fundraising rally, his own running mate wanted him to apologize and many Republican leaders got busy trying to figure out what an election landscape without Donald Trump would look like.

But wait … there’s more.

There was a debate yesterday, Sunday, Oct. 9. On a day when the Washington Nationals beat the Los Angeles Dodgers to tie their playoff series 1-1, and the Redskins beat the Ravens 16-10 in a sloppy game, Trump and Clinton squared off and beat each other up in what became a blistering brawl that ended in what was most likely a draw.

Nobody won—least of all the American people.

As usual, the experts were wrong in thinking that the Trump sex-tape-without-sex would be the most talked-about item in the debate — which was in a town-hall format, with questions from the audience and on social media. Although he was supposed to be abjectly apologetic, Trump was neither abject nor particularly sorry. He delivered a pro-forma apology and dismissed everything as locker-room banter.

He prowled the stage like a fuming, aging tiger throughout. Clinton fought off his attacks and continued to call him unfit for the presidency, and probably unfit for anything else. Little new came out of this dog-and-cat fight, although Trump appeared to be effective in going after Clinton about her emails, and in referring to tapes of speeches in which she appeared to be double-talking about public and private stances on issues. In trying to dodge this particularly embarrassing charge, she managed to suggest that Lincoln did the same thing, while getting a plug in for her Hollywood pal, director Steven Spielberg.

Watching it was like being in the middle of the worst Thanksgiving family dinner ever. Neither Trump nor Clinton particularly did themselves proud. Trump, when not pacing, struck his curled-lip, Roman-emperor stance. He battled with and interrupted Clinton often, and took on the moderators, too.

You could be forgiven if, while watching this, the thought, “This is what we have come to,” entered your head and stayed there.

Clinton remained steady throughout, but it was Trump who had a lot to lose. For what it was worth, he probably got a stay of execution. Still, here was a man who threatened to have Hillary indicted if he won the election, who called her a devil and a liar too many times to count. Although he was an admirer of Putin, he said he didn’t know anything about Russia, and apparently not too many other things (except tax codes and breaks).

There was something just plain wrong about the night, which was, once again, billed as a kind of Armageddon. There remains one debate to go, and, yes, you’re welcome for the warning.

Somewhere else, a landscape of destruction emerged in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, full of flooded streets, wrecked homes and billions in damages from Haiti to North Carolina.

The 2016 presidential campaign, which began in 2015, has been something of a political hurricane, and it too has left a lot of wreckage behind: the idea of civility in politics and, most of all, the notion of respect — for the candidates by the American voters and for the American voters by the candidates.

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