There is no point denying or sugar-coating the plain fact that the voters this election year face a choice between two of the worst candidates in living memory. A professor at Morgan State University summarized the situation by saying that the upcoming debates may enable voters to decide which is the "less insufferable" candidate to be President of the United States.
My own take on this election is that the voter is in a situation much like that of an American fighter pilot in World War II, whose plane has been hit by enemy fire out over the Pacific Ocean and is beginning to burst into flames.
If he bails out, there is no guarantee that his parachute will open. But even if he lands safely in the ocean, he may be eaten by sharks. If he comes down on land, he may be captured by the Japanese and tortured and/or killed.
In other words, there are huge and potentially fatal risks. But, if he remains in the plane, he is doomed for certain. To me, Donald Trump represents multiple and potentially fatal risks. But Hillary Clinton is a certainty of disaster. Her vaunted "experience" is an experience of having repeatedly made decisions that turned out to be not merely wrong but catastrophic.
The most obvious example has been her role as Secretary of State during the Obama administration's decision to undermine and help destroy the governments of two nations — Egypt and Libya — that were no threat whatever to Americans or to America's interests.
The net result was that two Middle East nations that were at least neutral toward the United States, in contrast to others who are hostile and belligerent, were turned into countries where Islamic extremists created turmoil, and one in which Islamic terrorists killed the American ambassador and those who came to his aid.
President Obama and Secretary Clinton inherited an Iraq where terrorists had been soundly defeated, thanks to General David Petraeus' "surge" campaign, which both had opposed when they were in the Senate.
But the Obama administration turned victory into defeat by pulling American troops out of Iraq, against the advice of top military leaders, setting the stage for the emergence of ISIS and its triumphant barbarism that attracted adherents who began waging a terrorist war inside Western nations, including the United States.
A whole series of disastrous military and foreign policy decisions have led to public criticisms by an extraordinary succession of former Secretaries of Defense and top generals who had served under the Obama administration. Such public criticisms of any administration, by its own former high officials, are virtually unheard of.
One of these Secretaries of Defense, Robert Gates — who has served under several administrations of both parties — criticized Donald Trump as well. Secretary Gates said: "The world we confront is too perilous and too complex to have as president a man who believes that he, and he alone, has all the answers and has no need to listen to anyone."
Secretary Gates called Trump "beyond repair." He also criticized Hillary Clinton, so this was no partisan attack. Unfortunately — perhaps tragically — she and Trump are our only alternatives this election year. On the domestic front, as well, Trump is an uncertainty, while Hillary is a guaranteed catastrophe. Given the advanced ages of various Supreme Court justices, whoever becomes the next President of the United States can expect to have enough appointments to that court to determine the future of American law — and American freedom — for decades after that President's term of office is over.
Hillary Clinton has already said that she wants to see the current Supreme Court's decision overturned in a case where they ruled, by a 5 to 4 vote, that both corporations and labor unions have free speech rights. On other issues as well, she has advocated curtailments on free speech. And without free speech, there is no effective limit on what any administration can do.
On racial issues, Mrs. Clinton has repeatedly pushed the idea that blacks are besieged by enemies on all sides, and need her to protect them — in exchange for their votes. Trump has at least supported charter schools, which are one of the few avenues through which the next generation of blacks can get a decent education.
There are no good choices, but nevertheless we must choose.
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 webpage at www.creators.com.