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The State of Our Union is Bleak

Walter Russell Mead

While all eyes are (understandably) focused on the GOP’s spectacular presidential meltdown, the Democratic Party’s problems are quietly mounting.

Consider two stories from yesterday’s papers. The first, in the New York Times, on plummeting turnout in the Democratic primaries:

Democratic turnout has fallen drastically since 2008, the last time the party had a contested primary, with roughly three million fewer Democrats voting in the 15 states that have held caucuses or primaries through Tuesday, according to unofficial election results tallied through Wednesday afternoon.

... Some Democrats now worry that Mrs. Clinton will have difficulty matching the surge in new black, Hispanic and young voters who came to the polls for President Obama in 2008 and 2012.

And the second, in the Washington Post on the latest turn in the ongoing investigation into possible misconduct by the presumptive Democratic nominee:

The Justice Department has granted immunity to a former State Department staffer, who worked on Hillary Clinton’s private email server, as part of a criminal investigation into the possible mishandling of classified information, according to a senior law enforcement official.

These stories should remind us that the weakness in our key political institutions is bipartisan. The Republicans are suffering from an establishment power vacuum that has allowed a demagogue to very nearly take control of the party; and the Democratic establishment, constantly trailed by an air of scandal and suspicion, is unable to engender much enthusiasm from its base. It’s still not clear which of the two parties will win the demolition derby that the 2016 election has become. But it’s looking more and more that no matter which party ‘wins’ this bizarre election contest, the clear loser is the United States.

Our political system is in deep trouble, and while one can think of some procedural fixes that could help (superdelegates on the Republican side, stronger and more impartial enforcement of government rules on information security and conflict of interest in the case of the Clinton machine) the real problems are more dangerous and harder to treat: A moral and spiritual collapse that has frayed the bonds between the country’s ordinary people and those who seek to lead them, a hollowing out of institutions from Congress and political parties to local churches and civic life, and the disintegration of a shared national intellectual and cultural framework for discussing the issues that confront us. As we approach a critical presidential election at a time of global turmoil and disorder, the state of our union is not strong.

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