And now the scene shifts in our national slapstick comedy/tragedy from politics to government. Oh, wait … there clearly isn’t any difference. If anybody had any lingering hope, it was certainly snuffed by the Benghazi committee hearing, where various Republican hard-liners trying to box with Hillary Clinton only showed that they were lightweights. It was an embarrassing show.
But if somebody doesn’t rise above the low camp for just a brief moment, the United States of America faces a fall from superpower to financial disgrace, defaulting on its financial obligations for the first time ever and making a mockery out of the term faith and credit.” Yes, we’ve heard all this before. Each time the debt ceiling needs to be raised in order for the U.S. to pay its creditors, we get those on the far right who make it clear that they are willing to bring the country down in order to get their way.
It didn’t used to be that way. As sleazy as our system has been for generations, we could count on the wheeler-dealers to routinely agree on the issues that, at the very least, would avoid international disgrace. Not anymore. Now, they are quite willing to toy around with their government’s standing in the world. So once again, we have to hold our collective breath as their leaders try to figure out some way to sidestep the fanatics.
What makes this time around so precarious is that it happens in an election cycle. One thing we can say about the members of the House of Representatives is that they are indeed representative of the citizens who elected them. It’s hard to call ourselves “United States” when we are obviously so not united.
However, back in their gerrymandered districts, the constituents of the ultraconservative congressmen and congresswomen are in lockstep when it comes to their passions. First and foremost, they despise Barack Obama. He’s not one of “us” … he’s, well, different. ‘Nuff said. Beyond that, he stands for the kind of change that is swirling around and overwhelming those who don’t want change. They are infuriated when they have to adjust to new values that seem to threaten the very being of those who fearfully cling to the past.
So they send people to Washington who are truly out of their league. And they’re egged on by many of the presidential candidates, the ones who intentionally push the buttons of frightened voters who don’t care anymore whether the rhetoric is factual or even sane, and the promises remotely doable. All they know is that they are enraged at an amorphous someone, or something. And rightfully so. We’ve been had by a system that requires corruption.
Unfortunately, America is not going to be rescued by moronic bombast. Donald Trump can trash anyone he wants; he’s not going to solve anything. Ben Carson can utter whatever outlandish opinion he wants in his soft-spoken way; it doesn’t matter that he’s a brain surgeon — he’s showing that this is way more complicated than brain surgery.
There are several others, like Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, who would drag us kicking and screaming back to the 16th century, and Carly Fiorina, who manages to be appealing even as she distorts the truth. But at the moment, Trump and Carson are the main attractions in the GOP circus.
Meanwhile, Jeb Bush is on a bad downward spiral. He needs to dominate the next debate if he’s got any chance to rescue his quest to extend the family White House dynasty. And don’t hold your breath about that one. Jeb is not exactly Mr. Excitement.
Still in all, the first real test in the presidential marathon doesn’t happen for three months. More immediate is this unnecessary test of Congress and the ability of our legislative branch to keep the U.S. of A. above water. That will mean a whole lot of people will have to show a teeny bit of intelligence. Usually, they keep it well hidden.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.