Can the US win this election?

Seriously, why didn't we sell tickets? If only our national election had been pay-per-view for the rest of the world, we could have wiped out the national debt. But while viewers around the world seem to be lapping up our national reality TV show, are we, the citizens of America, going to get anything out of it?

Specifically, are we going to get the thing we need most and have enjoyed least this century: effective government?

We have too much deferred maintenance to fix, too much deferred leadership to generate and too much deferred re-imagining to undertake to wait another four years to solve our biggest problems, especially in this age of accelerating technology and climate change.

If we will have indulged in almost two years of electoral entertainment and pathos just to end up back where we were, only worse, with even more venomous gridlock in Washington, it won't just be emotionally depressing, we'll really start to decline as a nation. When we forfeit governing our country strategically at the national level for this long, inevitably the roof will start to leak and the floors will start to buckle.

But how can anything good come from a campaign where the entertainment is increasingly X-rated and where the winner will be so morally injured - because of the hatchet wounds that were inflicted by the loser or that were self-inflicted?

What needs to happen for this election-drama script to end differently, or at least not so tragically?

For starters, this version of the Republican Party has to die. I don't say that as a partisan. I say that as a citizen who believes that America needs a healthy centre-right party that offers more market-based solutions to problems; keeps the pressure on for deregulation, freer trade and smaller government; and is willing to compromise. But today's version of the GOP (Grand Old Party, which refers to the Republican Party) is not such a problem-solving body.

People watching the second presidential debate between Mrs Clinton and Mr Trump at the United Democratic Headquarters in California on Sunday. Columnist Friedman believes Mrs Clinton needs to crush Mr Trump at the polls to send the message inside the GOP and out that someone of his “poisonous ilk” can never win in America. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

We have known that ever since the GOP speaker of the House John Boehner quit, not because he couldn't work with US President Barack Obama but because roughly a quarter of House Republicans, the so-called Freedom Caucus, were simply not interested in governing and had made his job impossible.

For the sake of the country, this version of the Republican Party has to be fractured, with the extreme far right going off with the likes of presidential candidate Donald Trump, the Tea Party, Texas Senator Ted Cruz - along with all the right-wing TV and radio gasbags who thrive on chaos - leaving behind a moderate centre-right bloc, which, one hopes, one day would become the new GOP. But it would need to nurture a new base, one inspired by a Jack Kemp - a Republican politician - spirit of conservative innovation, not by Trump dog whistles of anger, xenophobia and racial enmity.

Towards that end, it is particularly important that Trump be crushed at the polls to send the message inside the GOP and out that someone of his poisonous ilk can never win in America, and to strip him and his loyalists of any argument that the election was rigged.

At the same time, we have to hope not only that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wins the national election, but also that Democrats retake at least the Senate, so she has some real leverage to forge trade-offs with a more sane GOP to start fixing things: putting in place common-sense gun laws, like restoring the Assault Weapons Ban, requiring universal background checks and making it illegal for anyone on the terrorist watch list to buy a gun; borrowing money at near-zero interest rates to rebuild our infrastructure; replacing some income and corporate taxes with a revenue-neutral carbon tax to stimulate more clean-energy production; fixing Obamacare; and implementing sensible immigration reform and responsible tax and entitlement reforms.

The bigger Mrs Clinton's margin of victory, the less dependent she'd be, I hope, on the left wing of her party, and the more likely she'd work with Republicans, as she vowed during the last debate, by "finding common ground, because you have to be able to get along with people to get things done in Washington". I say "hope" because I don't know who the real Hillary is - the more Mr Bernie Sander-ish one speaking publicly or the more Mr Bill Clinton-ish one who spoke privately to Goldman Sachs.

The nightmare scenario - ruling out, God forbid, a Trump victory - is that Mrs Clinton wins with a slim majority, and the GOP holds the House and the Senate. The Democratic left would have a stranglehold on Mrs Clinton, while Mr Trump, who would start his own TV network and movement, would keep the Republican base in a state of permanent anger, intimidating every Republican lawmaker who contemplated compromise. If that happens, America will be adrift.

One more wish. Within hours of the leak of the Access Hollywood tape showing Mr Trump saying vile things about women, WikiLeaks, which seems to have become an arm of Russian intelligence, leaked Democratic Party e-mails meant to embarrass Mrs Clinton. The Clinton camp suggested that Russia was trying to tilt the election to Mr Trump. If so, crushing Mr Trump at the polls is the best way for Americans to say to Russian President Vladimir Putin, "You can manipulate your elections, but you can't manipulate ours."

But please, Lord, let that not be the only good thing to come out of this election.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2016, with the headline 'Can the US win this election?'. Subscribe