This morning, while reading Eugene Robinson and David Brooks in tandem, it struck me with uncommon intensity just how flatly two-dimensional this charade of a presidential contest has become, in print anyway.
Liberal commentators are aghast at the "conservative" candidate, and they — we, you and I — cannot help but repeat and repeat again the bloody conspicuousness of his ghastliness. It's all we have. Conservative commentators, on the other hand, tend to affected sorrow. They're even more aghast at the Republican nominee, since they and their party are the ones stuck with him; but about that, the less said the better. And so they dwell in tender pity, sighing that the Democratic nominee isn't a saint. It's all they have.
I give you Mr. Robinson, who attempts a subtle seduction:
I realize that most of Trump’s ardent fans do not take kindly to being lectured by the likes of me. But it is with a certain degree of genuine sympathy that I say what has to be said: Your candidate is a flake. A fraud. A bag of air. A con man. A joke.
One can hit the thesaurus for variations on this theme, but they'll all mean the same: Donald Trump is a ghastly human being, and even ghastlier nominee. Next week, two more Robinson commentaries saying the same thing; 20 or so here. It's all we have.
Turning to Brooks and his Bill Bennettlike columns of virtues, we find much sadness — sadness that Hillary Clinton is insufficiently "gracious." But Brooks,
fighting despair, is there to help, to exhort, to guide.
The gracious people one sees in life and reads about in history books — I’m thinking of the all-time greats like Lincoln, Gandhi, Mandela and Dorothy Day as well as closer figures ranging from Francis to Havel — turn awareness of their own frailty into sympathy for others' frailty.
I should like to remind Brooks that Abraham Lincoln, attorney for powerful corporate interests and relentlessly ambitious politician, didn't trust his fellow citizens. He postponed and then mitigated emancipation in the certain knowledge that most white voting Northerners were racist boobs who gave not a fig about the enslaved. Losing more sons and brothers to "prematurely" ending the plight of the racially disdained could be, well, rather impolitic.
As for Brooks' similarly embraced "saint" of Mahatma Gandhi, I'll let Orwell speak:
I have never been able to feel much liking for Gandhi, but I do not feel sure that as a political thinker he was wrong in the main…. His main political objective, the peaceful ending of British rule, had after all been attained…. One may feel, as I do, a sort of aesthetic distaste for Gandhi, one may reject the claims of sainthood made on his behalf (he never made any such claim himself, by the way), one may also reject sainthood as an ideal and therefore feel that Gandhi's basic aims were anti-human and reactionary: but regarded simply as a politician, and compared with the other leading political figures of our time, how clean a smell he has managed to leave behind!
And there we have it. Even most reputed saints are less than saintly (excluding Mandela, Day, Francis of Assisi and Buddy Rich), and, above all, among their ranks one will never find a politician. The fulfillment of political objectives too consistently requires at least a touch of the tawdry. For Brooks, this entails Mrs. Clinton's inadequate graciousness. Maybe so, maybe not. And yet Hillary's objective is the peaceful ending of de facto Republican rule — not sainthood. One may have an aesthetic distaste for her, but anyone of conscience cannot argue with her fundamental aim. And compared with that other leading political figure of our time, how clean a smell she has!
Conceding that, though, would, for Brooks, violate the protocol of partisanship. The poor thing must dwell in pity. As for the rest of us — it's back to ghastliness.