By Tom Ehrich

The desperate tone of Bill Clinton’s attack on his wife’s opponent, the mutual sliming of both Democratic candidates through “Gotcha!” discoveries from their pasts, aging feminists attacking young women, a debate that seemed more about shouting than substance – these are disturbing signs that Democrats are following Republicans in their race to the bottom.

Bare knuckles aren’t unusual in American politics, of course. Neither are attack ads, character assassinations, falsehoods paraded as truth, phony arguments, and trivial people and trivial issues pretending to be “important.”

It’s just disheartening to see Clinton and Sanders abandoning higher ground in order to scrounge for votes. Maybe they have each caught the fever and want so badly to win that they now will do and say anything to get there. Trump, Cruz, Rubio et al certainly have chosen that path. Maybe primaries bring out the worst in everyone. Maybe the general election will trend nobler, though I doubt it.

Still, it’s disheartening. This seems to be the nature of American politicking in 2016: candidates, their mega-buck backers and countless hangers-on go to great lengths to reduce their opponents to filth. Not just people with different ideas, but horrible people, inherently “other,” scum, not to be trusted or followed, vile and deceitful.

Given the hold that fear and cowardice have on the American public, these depictions don’t just vanish on the day after Election Day. Eight years after his campaign, Barack Obama still hasn’t escaped the accusations and hated-other tag placed on him. When people are encouraged to loathe and hate, recoil and fear, they don’t just go about their citizenship duties after voting. They continue to sneer and quake, and some future candidate will notice their sneering and quaking and turn it into campaign fodder. Our quadrennial elections become eruptions of a boiling that is stoked by the ambitious and never allowed to simmer down.

Government, then, can’t be allowed to function, because to do the actual work of governing would mean acknowledging election results and both the opinions and needs of citizens. It would mean compromising with opponents now portrayed as evil. It would mean setting aside well-crafted slogans of hatred and putting actual love of country first. That can’t be allowed to happen, because a well-funded, 24/7 hate-the-other industry depends on acrimony.

I think it important for each citizen to say whether such political behavior is acceptable. Eventually, voters will need to demand better. Better candidates, better campaigning, better ideas, better ethics, better self-discipline. I, for one, am ready for better. Those who would lead us are missing the mark.