10/16/2014 04:00 pm ET Updated Dec 16, 2014

Fear and Loathing on Election Eve

The central problem with American democracy -- and it is by no means restricted to our democracy -- is that you have to pretend to be stupid to get elected. (It doesn't hurt to actually be stupid.)

Forgive me if I sound like some wannabe Hunter Thompson -- I'm not shooting from the hip, and I'm not aiming at anyone's heart. I'm trying to save myself here, and that requires a plainspoken diagnosis. Which, of course, is what everyone says before delivering the lethal blow. 'I'm just being honest!'

This, too, tells you something about our situation -- that honesty is of such dubious value that it can only be understood as passive-aggressive. Well, I identify with neither of the elements in that compound, and certainly not with their sum.

But I also can't relate to a system in which I'm forced to guess after my leaders' best instincts, to hope that there's something straight and true beneath their surface idiocy and obsequiousness. It's about the most politically demoralizing thing I can think of -- trying to convince yourself that a candidate is less clueless and indifferent than he's doing his damnedest to appear.

That, however, is what our system is designed to produce. At its foundation, democracy isn't about addressing needs or solving problems, and it certainly isn't about anything as lofty as the truth. First and foremost, it's a means of reducing conflict -- of electing people that most of us can kinda sorta live with. On a bell curve, the bulk is in the middle, and so are the votes. We get the middling and the pious, the gape-mouthed gladhanders, the cast of Dallas. We go to the polls, pull a lever, get a sticker, and receive congratulations for doing our civic duty by the people who've finally secured our contempt. And then we wait, nursing our wounds, shielding our hope.