Down, down, down spirals the presidential campaign. Where it stops, nobody knows.
On Monday, Vice President Joe Biden suggested that Donald Trump "would have loved Stalin." Taking in this Olympian pronouncement requires a few gulps of fresh air. Never mind: The same day, the media bubbled with suggestions, or outright assertions, that the race was over.
"If (Trump) were trying to avoid winning the election," declared the Washington Post's Dan Balz, "he could hardly be doing a better job." MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, a former GOP congressman from Florida, earlier said of Trump, "This is a guy who is in self-destruct mode."
Yes, yes; it's the liberal media. I get that. But even so, the admission cannot account for The Wall Street Journal's assessment. Declared that paper's editors, custodians of the sacred space where the best newspaper commentary in all the land can be found: "If (the Republicans) can't get Mr. Trump to change his act by Labor Day, the GOP will have no choice but to write off the nominee as hopeless and focus on salvaging the Senate and House and other down-ballot races." As for Trump himself, if he can't "behave like someone who wants to be president," he should yield the top spot on the ticket to Mike Pence.
Don't tell me what I already know: None of this is dispositive; none of it suggests the authority of the Witch of Endor, in 1 Samuel 28, when she afforded King Saul a peek at his desolate future. To say Trump will lose isn't to make him lose. But a Democratic vice president so mentally occluded as to hustle the ghost of Joe Stalin onto the American stage, what with the president already depicting Trump as a menace to society, and Hillary Clinton seconding the motion with customary warmth — it all demonstrates what a pass we've come to.
We have a Republican nominee behaving without dignity. We have the other party and its minions' answering without dignity or even common sense.
The sinews of democracy are being strained and tested as rarely before. The election of 1860 comes to mind.
It is time not just for political regrouping. It is time for moral regrouping. Over time, and due to considerable woes and stresses, we appear to have given up on the most basic element of republican democracy, which is reconciliation of differing objectives. We have lost the taste for peace and order. We crave victory: the extinction of those who oppose us.
How do we think Donald Trump got where he is now if not by grinding down — to cheers and applause — any primary opponent he could possibly depict as soft on The Enemy: for instance, "low energy" Jeb Bush, with his focus on putting forth ideas, then securing consent to them. Bush's ideas never got a hearing. They were Bush's ideas — no energy in 'em — hence hardly worth discussing.
The Democrats bought in easily enough to the new, improved style of political combat. Clinton now wouldn't give Trump the time of day, provided he stooped to ask for it. Stalin! Wow — what a name and presence to invoke to discredit an opponent. Why stop there? How about Attila the Hun — can't you just imagine Trump with Hun pin-ups on his wall, images of nice smoke rising from burned and pillaged cities? Keep it up, Brother Biden! This campaign needs your kind of class and sagacity!
For the uproar and disruption, no panaceas suggest themselves. It may be that in the end the victors and the vanquished, rightly horrified by the spectacle, will ask, "What have we done?" Or they may not. Bloodlust can be fun, reportedly.
Meanwhile, there is ground to secure. The Wall Street Journal is right: Salvaging the Senate and the House — very do-able tasks for the GOP — should take priority over electing Trump. A Republican Senate can thwart Clinton's plan to make the Supreme Court into a "Stepford Wives" sort of club for made-over Ruth Bader Ginsburgs. A Republican House can make sure the president spends the people's money on things other than government-subsidized college tuition.
What a slimy, greasy mess for the world's greatest democracy. Ah, well. No one did it to us; we did it to ourselves.
William Murchison writes from Dallas. His latest book is "The Cost of Liberty: The Life of John Dickinson." To find out more about William Murchison, and to see features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.