We must frankly face the fact that the front runners in both political parties represent a new low, at a time of domestic polarization and unprecedented nuclear dangers internationally. This year's general election will offer a choice between a thoroughly corrupt liar and an utterly irresponsible egomaniac.
The Republican establishment, whose serial betrayals of their supporters created the setting for a Donald Trump to arise, must now decide how best to deal with the apparent inevitability of his candidacy.
Choosing among various unpalatable options may require some tricky maneuvering on their part, but they have been used to tricky maneuvering before, which is how they find themselves in this predicament in the first place.
Apparently some Republican leaders have opted to try to make the best of a bad situation by creating at least the illusion of party "unity" going into this year's elections. But the toxic image of Donald Trump can follow the Republicans repeatedly in future elections.
The careers of young Republicans are especially at risk of acquiring an indelible stain by being associated with Trump, much as Marco Rubio may never live down his association with Senator Chuck Schumer's attempt to create bipartisan amnesty.
The smart money says that, when all is said and done, Republican voters are going to have to vote for Trump. If they stay home, that is the same as voting for Hillary Clinton.
As former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich put it, Hillary Clinton in the White House means a Supreme Court packed with justices who will undermine the Constitution for decades to come. He has a point — but not necessarily a decisive point.
Seeing the freedom for which generations of Americans have fought and died eroded away by judicial sophistry in the coming years is certainly a grim prospect.
But nuclear annihilation is one of the few prospects that are even worse — and a man with a runaway egomania may not have the finesse or the depth to steer through troubled international waters that include a nuclear Iran and a nuclear North Korea.
If a man in his sixties has not yet matured, he is unlikely to grow up in his seventies. This is not a question about whether Donald Trump is as evil as Hillary Clinton. He may well be the proverbial "lesser of the two evils" in that sense, and yet be the more dangerous President to have in the White House.
Some have argued that a President Trump could surround himself with experienced and savvy advisers to cover for his own shallow understanding of many national and international issues. But Barack Obama has already shown us that a headstrong egomaniac can ignore even unanimous advice from military advisers. That is how he pulled troops out of Iraq and set the stage for ISIS.
Those of us who are far more concerned about the fate of this country than about the fate of the Republican party face far tougher questions than how to get through this year's election.
Some people are said to be thinking about a third-party candidate. Desperate times may call for desperate measures. But if such a desperate choice is made, a third party has virtually no chance of electing its candidate.
The most a third party could hope for would be to take enough votes from both Democrats and Republicans to deny either party's candidate a victory in the Electoral College. That would throw the election of the President of the United States into the House of Representatives.
No one knows who would then become President. But it would be hard to find someone worse than either Hillary or Trump.
The very fact that we are left with such desperate options is not only a rebuke to the professional politicians, but also a painful revelation about the voting public.
Immediately after electing a President with virtually no track record, on the basis of rhetoric and symbolism, and seeing disaster after disaster during his administration, many are now prepared to do the same thing all over again.
More than two centuries ago, Thomas Jefferson said, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." If so, can people who cannot be bothered to look up from their electronic devices expect to remain a free people?
Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His website is www.tsowell.com. To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: Maxwell Hamilton