Here’s the good news, America: Less than two weeks remain in what might be the most embarrassing election of all time, at least on our fruited plain. This presidential contest has ruined countless perfectly good dinner parties, made cringing a national pastime, and inspired more than a few young children to quietly fear that either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, depending on their family’s predispositions, will sneak down the chimney, Grinch-like, and steal all their Halloween candy.
If this election were a high-school student, it would easily win “Most Likely to Blow Everyone’s Minds, But Not in a Good Way,” or perhaps “That Guy Who Never Changes His Shirt and Always Has a Bunch of Questionable Stuff in the Trunk of His Car.” But here we are, thank goodness, and in 30 states, early voting has begun — not with a whimper, but with a spectacular bang.
In a year where many voters found themselves profoundly depressed about their presidential choices, a significant number couldn’t wait to get to the polls. So far, over 350,000 Minnesotans have cast their ballot or requested absentee forms, cracking record levels. In Chicago’s Cook County suburbs, early voters nearly doubled “the previous first-day record set before the 2012 presidential election,” according to the local Daily Herald. In Texas, early voting surged past previous records, with a few counties racking up double the votes they received the first day of voting in 2012.
We can debate the merits or demerits of early voting, but one thing is clear: Many Americans are fixin’, as they say down south, to get this election over and done. After a sad streak of more than a dozen fractious months, the most popular vote this year seems to be to tell the election of 2016 not to let the door hit it on the way out.
I suspect, deep down, that many early voters — and many Americans in general — simply want to evict both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton from their brains. Imagine: No more sex scandals on the debate stage! No more dubious roars of “Believe me!” No more faux “grandmotherly” moments or strange bouts of fake, cackling laughter! Peace, tranquility, and glee: In this imaginary world, after neatly checking the box at the polls, the Trump/Clinton skirmish would gloriously fade away, leaving only the sound of birds chirping, the prospect of the evening’s World Series game, and the pleasant dilemma of what to make for dinner.
Sadly, we all know the truth. Even after the election, neither of these yahoos will go away. One of them, alarmingly, will continue on as president of the United States. But make no mistake: The other will continue to haunt us in the public eye, either through lingering scandal or self-important enthusiasm.
Let’s take Hillary Clinton, who recently appeared on New York’s Power 105.1, a hip-hop and R&B station, to discuss her imaginary role as America’s proverbial deranged cruise director. “We’ve got to close the fun deficit,” Clinton told her hosts, D.J. Envy and Charlamagne Tha God, who, despite their marvelous stage names, stood by and somehow agreed. “I think we need a big national dance. Maybe bring everybody together.” Before you shrink in horror at the thought of a Clinton-led National Awkward Forced Fun Prom, wait for the kicker: “We’ve got to think of something for people to do.”
Wait, what? Dear Hillary Clinton: Whether you’re president or not, and whether you’re half-joking or not—Hillary’s first merry calls to fix “the fun deficit” came in March of 2015—it is not your job to think of “something for people to do.” Nor is it your job to worry about America’s having fun. Also, I hate to break it to you, but most genuine fun, at least these days, seems to stem from one common thread: Not thinking about Hillary Clinton.
Then, of course, there’s Donald Trump, he of the amped-up, darkly crazed golf-cart forever careening around in the Mar a Lagos of our minds. This week, Trump made waves by largely cutting off fundraising to the RNC, then using precious campaign time to launch — what else? — his new D.C. hotel. Both could be viewed as preparation for an electoral loss, and also a warning: Whether he wins or loses, Trump will loom large in America’s mental bandwidth even after November 8.
Whether people want him to is another story. It is quite a paradox, really, and one of the more fascinating elements of this election: Two widely disliked candidates, a flabbergasted electorate, and yet, amidst a widespread desperation for it to end, the near-certainty that both parties will camp out on our various screens for the months to come. The presidential-entertainment complex, for now, seems fairly well established. Hopefully, next time around, the nation can unite around picking better stars.