Even your cynical political-hack columnists are getting weary of the non-stop analysis, commentary and minutiae of the presidential election. Even for us, Donald Trump’s taxes, his insults toward women, and Hillary Clinton’s email scandal are becoming tedious. So instead of piling on, we offer some philosophical musings on the whole process, even though deep thinking is very difficult for us.
The American system of nominating and electing a president has seldom been more criticized than this year. Does our process usually or rarely achieve the goal of selecting the best person to lead the country and manage the government?
Pignanelli: “Democracy is a form of government in which it is permitted to wonder aloud what the country could do under first-class management.” — Doug Larson
The result of this presidential election will be a direct correlation to the response of Trump attaching a label of “Miss Piggy” to a Miss Universe (I am only half joking). So in this bizarre environment of self-aggrandizement, I will arrogantly compare the national process to my first foray as a political aspirant.
When I announced my candidacy for the Utah House of Representatives, I was a 25-year-old snotty, obnoxious newly minted lawyer lacking the necessary experience for public office. I had no clue about budgeting, tax policies, education and transportation priorities, etc. But I worked hard through knocking on doors, developing messages and cobbling together a coalition of allies while promising to respond to the needs of my community.
Thus, I was similar to thousands of candidates who compete for president, Congress, governor, state legislature and even dogcatcher. American democracy is not about who is the most competent or brightest, but those who intentionally or accidentally resonate with the voters on that Tuesday in November. We expect the winners to select the right advisers, counselors and staff to ensure competency in government.
There is intense frustration with Congress and the presidential nominees. But our republic has survived far worse. Heck, Utah somehow flourished despite the intolerable rantings of a young lawmaker from Salt Lake City. So there is hope.
Webb: We do have a lousy system — but it’s better than all the rest, as Winston Churchill once said. The nation’s crazy-quilt nomination process, which empowers political activists and bestows enormous influence on a few early states, is partly to blame for our two deeply flawed, unpopular candidates.
But, to large degree, our politicians reflect the mood of the people, and in many quarters of America the mood is dark and angry. Voters are looking for a political savior. Government is not performing up to expectations, and politicians are promising far more than they can deliver. A national debt so massive as to be incomprehensible looms over the country.
I remain convinced that an underlying cause of government gridlock and dysfunction, and accompanying frustration and gloom among citizens, is that the federal government has grown so large, has centralized so much control, power and domination, and has raised expectations so high, that it cannot possibly keep all the promises it has made.
We can expect a cycle of diminishing performance and increasing citizen aggravation unless we return many government functions and responsibilities back to state and local levels where the Founders intended them to be.
Politicos are noting that most of the major Utah races are humdrum affairs with expected results. The candidate debates are generating little enthusiasm and not much press coverage. Is our local election process securing the most talented citizens for government offices?
Pignanelli: Despite the lopsided nature of partisan politics in Utah, both parties usually offer competent candidates down the ballot. Although there is little interest in local debates between candidates, the participants are earnest and eager to offer their solutions. Utahns are blessed with good choices.
Webb: We have our challenges, but state and local governments perform well in Utah. Leaders are close to the people and are accessible. For the most part, big issues and problems are confronted and dealt with. Problems get solved — a dramatic contrast with the federal government. Politics doesn’t always appeal to the very best and brightest, but we have good leadership in Utah.
Can Americans and Utahns expect any major changes to correct shortfalls with the current system?
Pignanelli: The SB54/Count My Vote signature petition process for nomination will further enhance the quality of Utah candidates. I am optimistic about the lessons to be learned from 2016 presidential elections. Traditional strategies and tactics of modern campaigning have changed and will drive reforms for selecting candidates.
Webb: After the Trump disaster, a great deal of introspection will occur within the Republican Party. Talk of third parties will get serious as the rebellious Trump and Bernie Sanders followers try to figure out where they fit in. The nomination process will be scrutinized. But I don’t expect much improvement to arise out of the turmoil. Dysfunction will continue and perhaps worsen at the federal level unless Clinton is willing to work with Republicans.