Steinberg: The rough beast awakes and slouches toward 2020

SHARE Steinberg: The rough beast awakes and slouches toward 2020

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally Sunday in Las Vegas, Nevada. | Getty Images

Follow @neilsteinbergEight days to the election. One week from Tuesday. Just under 200 hours.

You’d think we’d be home free.

Yet we’re not. The thing keeps getting weirder.

Where to start?

There’s the Washington Post/ABC poll last week that finds the candidates 1 percentage point apart, with 46 percent of voters backing Hillary Clinton and 45 percent backing Donald Trump.

A dead heat.

And at week’s end the whole email server nightmare came roaring back. How could it not? As with any good horror movie, just when the monster has been blown up and shot and stabbed and the building has collapsed atop him, just when the heroes are finally grinning and ruffling each other’s hair and making their movie’s-over jokes, suddenly the yammering yam comes bursting out of the rubble, red eyes glowing, his election hopes inexplicably alive.


Follow @neilsteinbergWasn’t it a week or two ago that Trump’s campaign chances were dead and shriven and buried under the weight of squalid allegations of him groping women? Now he comes rearing out of the grave, a la “Carrie,” supercharged by the electric zap of news that FBI Director James Comey sent an inexplicable letter to Congress saying, in essence, we’ve got some emails that may involve Clinton on Anthony Weiner’s computer.

Anthony Weiner. It had to be him. One of the few personalities in politics even more reprehensible than Trump. The former congressman whose career was destroyed, not once but twice, by naughty cellphone photos he felt compelled to send to strangers. First as congressman, then as mayoral candidate. He happened to be married — in one of those coincidences that would look trite in fiction — to one of Clinton’s top aides, Huma Abedin.

The latest email development was almost instantly debunked as more FBI director career self-immolation than significant campaign issue. But it doesn’t matter. Trump exalted, his supporters cheered as if this were the smoking gun. “Worse than Watergate” is what Trump actually said. I hesitate to declare that facts have mattered less in this election than any in our history — there have been some doozies — so I will just say, “Why should the truth start mattering now?” Just the word “emails,” like the word “Benghazi,” is red meat to a school of piranhas.

That the emails don’t seem to reveal anything or even necessarily involve Clinton is just the icing on the cake of horror. Of course. When one of the major candidates lives in a fact-free echo chamber — “This changes everything!” Trump crowed — it makes sense that this non-story would rock the campaign.

Actually, it doesn’t change anything. We’re right where we’ve been for a year, sitting in the mire of the muddiest presidential campaign in modern history. Clinton has been thoroughly demonized for supposed offenses — the tragedy in Libya, her high-paid speeches, the endless server scandal — that vaporize into insignificance when held up against the bone-deep bigotry, ignorance and anti-Americanism of Donald Trump and everything he unambiguously and proudly represents.

For those who bother to make the comparison. Forty-six percent of voters, apparently.

I was tempted to conclude that, in generations to come, saner heads will recall the 2016 election with awe, as the nadir, the hard bottom we bounced up from. Pretty to think so. Because that sounds wishful. My gut tells me that this is just the opening bell of our dystopian future, with charismatic non-politicians whipping up grass-roots mobs by saying anything that comes to mind, with tweet wars and battling TV comedians giving us our news.

As terrible as the election of 2016 is, it is also only the beginning. Clinton might win — I hold out hope she will win, unless of course she doesn’t. But that won’t be the end. Somewhere, a sharper, slicker, more disciplined, more palatable version of Donald Trump — Donald 2.0 — is being assembled. Some Marco Rubio-caliber fraud is staring hard at himself in the mirror, liking what he sees, and cooing, “Next time, it’s your turn baby!” The rough beast awakes and slouches toward 2020 to be born.

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