My favorite religious movie hands down is Groundhog Day, the 1993 Bill Murray comedy where an arrogant TV anchor is forced to relive the same day thousands of times until he fixes his attitude and learns to care about his neighbors. He can't move on with his life until he graduates from his purgatory in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. It's a brilliant allegory for our spiritual journey as individuals and, apparently, as a nation.
The political parallels are obvious as the nation braces for a rerun of 2020's bitter election pitting the most narcissistic and cruel person I've seen in public life against a man whose main attribute is he's not the other guy. "President Joe Biden is 'old' and 'confused,' and former President Donald Trump is 'corrupt' and 'dishonest,'" according to most respondents in a recent major poll.
Yet here we go again. Whatever Americans tell pollsters, we're locked in a partisan grudge match that shows signs of escalating rather than abating. This remains one of the freest and most prosperous nations that's ever existed, and yet Americans are angry, pessimistic and don't seem to like their fellow Americans very much. We can't even agree on a basic set of facts—and virtually no one cuts their opponents any slack.
It also reminds me of a TV show—specifically the Seinfeld episode where George Castanza drives his late girlfriend's parents to his house in the Hamptons. George has no such house. The Rosses know he has no such house. George knows they know he has no such house. Yet they're going to make the long journey anyway. "All right—we're taking it up a notch!" George declares as they start the drive.
This week, we learned that Sen. Mitt Romney (R–Utah) won't run for re-election. He sees the writing on the wall. "My wing of the party talks about policy and about issues that will make a difference in the lives of the American people," he said at a press conference. "The Trump wing of the party talks about resentments of various kinds and getting even and settling scores and revisiting the 2020 election."
He's not wrong. Nor is he wrong saying Trump and Biden ought to step aside and let new leaders emerge. Perusing X, formerly known as Twitter, I saw GOP friends say they never want the party to go back to where it was 11 years ago when Romney was the nominee. I disagree with Romney on many things, but I'd be thrilled to be back where losing candidates didn't try to overturn the election or incite mobs to attack the Capitol, or face 91 mostly serious criminal charges or have dinner with extremists.
Quite a few state and county officials endured doxing and threats after they certified the 2020 results. One—GOP supervisor Bill Gates from Maricopa County, Ariz.—had publicly announced he won't seek-re-election. "Gates, who, along with his family, has been the target of threats and attacks during his tenure from those trumpeting false election claims, previously said that he suffers from PTSD," Politico reported. Is this the world we want to live in?
Regarding Biden, even most Democrats believe he is too old. Vice President Kamala Harris clearly isn't up to replace him. I covered her as California attorney general, and she seemed remarkably unprincipled and remains unable to articulate her views in a coherent manner. One need not be a Republican to realize inflation is soaring – driven by the administration's federal spending initiatives. Biden and Harris promote the type of outmoded union policies that have destroyed jobs and opportunities in California.
Energized by its base, Republicans are sure Democrats want to turn America into a socialist hellhole. Trump still promotes his denial of election results, so Democrats aren't wrong to suspect a Trump victory could mean the end of our democratic system. Progressives, of course, disdain the free-market system, but conservatives now embrace big government—with some MAGA intellectuals touting authoritarian Hungary as the model. Conspiratorialism is rampant on both sides.
The Republican presidential debate sums up our problems. Trump didn't participate and the most popular alternative candidates are auditioning for the MAGA mantle in case, for some reason (such as a prison sentence) the former president can't occupy the White House. On the Democratic side, it's easy to forget that socialist Bernie Sanders came perilously close to gaining the nomination.
As evidence of the Horseshow Theory of Politics (where far left and far right share more similarities than differences, as in a horseshoe rather than a straight line), many populist Bernie Bros. are warming up to a second Trump presidency. So it looks like we're taking things up a notch. We're set to continue repeating this nonsense until more Americans have had enough of it—and learn to believe in our nation and our neighbors more than they believe the latest online nonsense.
This column was first published in The Orange County Register.