As always has been the case, the nation today faces many formidable challenges. Eight years after the Great Recession threatened to wipe out our economy, the climb back to prosperity has been methodical rather than spectacular.
Terrorism remains a significant menace, mutating into more insidious forms that become increasingly difficult to detect.
Our national debt grows. The gap between rich and poor widens. Immigration issues go unaddressed. The cost of college skyrockets. Medical costs do, too.
These challenges as well as others are real. The world is in the midst of seismic change. But this is America. Our history teaches we have the power and resilience to meet all these challenges.
But friends, we cannot meet them unless we resolve the growing divisions within our union.
To us, that division presents the most foreboding challenge.
We live in an age of anger, an age of disinformation where facts are discounted if they disagree with our views, an age of social media opinion that comes disguised as wisdom, an age where the point of an argument is to win rather than to learn, an age of shouting instead of listening. We live in an age of a great divide.
And why? When there is so much going right in the country? When America is plentiful in wealth and ideals and our aim should be to make the nation ever greater?
Neighbors, this great divide is a troubling thing. It makes us fear for our republic.
We say this to all sides -- to progressives, to conservatives, to moderates, to those who cannot be labeled:
It is time that we begin talking to each other rather than trying to delegitimize each other.
We are Americans. Let's embrace and defend our union.
With that, let us share our thoughts on the presidential election. Elsewhere on these pages, we've asked you to share yours, and on dailyherald.com, we invite you to offer your comments at the end of this editorial. We hope to use it also as a springboard for discussion on the Daily Herald Facebook page (@DailyHeraldFans).
The institutional philosophy of our editorial board is fiscally conservative, socially moderate or occasionally even progressive. We view foreign affairs through a pragmatic, slightly hawkish lens. Fundamentally, we believe in common-sense solutions that recognize most problems are complex and require sophisticated responses.
With such a philosophy, we began this election season assuming that 2016 could be a big Republican year, that the GOP not only had a chance to reclaim the White House but to solidify its holds on both houses of Congress, too.
Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, John Kasich -- we began this election season assuming one of them, or a centrist like them, probably would win the GOP nomination and then likely our support this fall.
Instead, today we explain to you why we not only endorse Park Ridge native Hillary Clinton for president but why we do so enthusiastically; why we feel she is fully prepared for the office and why though she has flaws, frankly that attribute alone makes her the only serious option on the ballot.
In endorsing Clinton, we're not the only newspaper to repudiate Donald Trump. In fact, every major newspaper in the country has done so. The virtual universality of editorial board opposition to him is unprecedented, from perspectives across the nation of every ideological bent, from East Coast to West Coast and everywhere in between.
Is it a reflection, as Trump would have you believe, that we're all part of a vast, conspiratorial media elite trying cynically to maintain our stations at the expense of the people and their self-sacrificing savior?
Please, we're your neighbors. We travel the same streets, send our kids to the same schools, worship at the same churches, feel the same community pride, worry about the same things. We're not a sinister dark force conniving to move pieces on a mythical global chess board.
The explanation for our opposition, and for that of almost every newspaper editorial board in the country, is much simpler -- rooted not in conspiracy but in our sense of obligation. For the first time in decades of elections, we arrive at 2016 to witness the candidacy of a narcissistic demagogue whose election could imperil the country.
If we fail to express that heartfelt fear, we fail in our obligation to you.
Make no mistake, Trump has struck a chord with many in the country who feel unheard. While almost every candidacy has its fringe supporters -- Clinton as well as Trump -- Trump's constituency cannot simply be disregarded as a collection of racist "deplorables."
No doubt some of his supporters may fall into that category, but as cracked.com columnist David Wong described insightfully (and, to be forewarned, at times coarsely) a week ago, most represent a great swath of middle America that has been talked down to and unlistened to, been dismissed and disrespected.
They are people with real concerns about the loss of manufacturing jobs, about the impact of unchecked immigration, about ISIS' pledge to slip terrorists into the country.
The disconnect, Wong observes, is between urban America, the epicenter of the nation's popular culture, and rural America, where people not only worry that traditional American values of faith, hard work and family may be receding but also that their expressions of concern are ridiculed and ignored.
"Basic, obvious truths that have gone unquestioned for thousands of years," Wong writes, "now get laughed at and shouted down -- the fact that hard work is better than dependence on government, that children do better with both parents in the picture, that peace is better than rioting, that a strict moral code is better than blithe hedonism, that humans tend to value things they've earned more than what they get for free, that not getting exploded by a bomb is better than getting exploded by a bomb."
Here in the suburbs, we may well be a combination of those conflicting Americas, part rural in outlook but increasingly urban.
There can be no doubt that Trump is a divisive figure, but he did not invent this division in America. He merely gave it voice -- combative, sophomoric, simplistic, to be sure, but still a voice.
Indeed, these concerns call out for constructive representation. They ought to be part of the national dialogue.
Unfortunately, Trump's buffoonery makes that message less likely to be heard. And his representation is one of destruction. Rather than being "the only one who can fix it," Trump has become a cynical fomenter who may demolish the very things he vows to repair.
The sad reality is, Donald Trump is a danger. And he is unfit.
He is a man who repeatedly denies to our face things we have all seen him say. Repeatedly.
He is a man who disdains the press but views the National Enquirer as journalism.
He is a man of prodigious capacity for marketing but of an even more enormous ego; a man, in short, of arrested development. We all knew bullies somewhat like him when we were in the seventh grade. "You're the puppet. No, you're the puppet."
We quote The Atlantic, which earlier this month made an endorsement in the presidential race for only the third time in the long history of the magazine:
Trump, the magazine said, "has no record of public service and no qualifications for public office. His affect is that of an infomercial huckster; he traffics in conspiracy theories and racist invective; he is appallingly sexist; he is erratic, secretive and xenophobic; he expresses admiration for authoritarian rulers, and evinces authoritarian tendencies himself. He is easily goaded, a poor quality for someone seeking control of America's nuclear arsenal. He is an enemy of fact-based discourse; he is ignorant of, and indifferent to, the Constitution; he appears not to read."
To all that exacting description, we would add that Trump appears not to have an attention span, either. Imagine his aides trying to brief him on complicated world problems while he plays with his Twitter feed.
This is a man we want in the White House? A man who mocks someone with a disability and makes fun of his opponent's bout with pneumonia? A man well into his second half-century who expounds crudely about a woman's anatomy and about his own endowment? A man with such hypersensitivity that he can't let even the tiniest perceived slight go?
He likely is the most divisive political figure to arise atop a major party ticket since the age of slavery. Even as you read these words, he is at work slandering the institutions of democracy for his own ego and aggrandizement.
The irony, the hypocrisy is that he wantonly characterizes his opponents and critics as dishonest. This from a man who apparently believes that the more often you state a falsehood and the more loudly you state it, the more it will become truth.
As a candidate, Trump already has damaged the country and our national discourse.
As a president, he could lead us to ruin.
We do not say this for effect. His naiveté and shortsightedness on foreign affairs is frightening. Positions he has espoused hold the potential to lead on the one hand to full-fledged jihad or on the other to nuclear war.
His ill-advised economic policy would benefit billionaires like himself but bankrupt the country with the likelihood of sending us hurtling into another Great Recession.
And most of his empty promises to solve our problems overnight (remember his assessment that we could end gang shootings in Chicago "in a week"?) come ridiculously without explanation for how they'd be kept. Just, "believe me."
Some who doubt Trump's fitness have suggested Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson as an alternative.
Much as we respect their sincerity, we disagree. Neither Johnson nor Green Party candidate Jill Stein is any more qualified for the presidency than Trump.
And even if they were, they cannot win. A protest vote for either may feel good, but it would provide little solace over the next four years if it contributed to a Trump election.
The same can be said of arguments to write in a candidate or to stay home and sit out the election. Either alternative is, in effect, a vote not to keep Trump out of the White House, a vote to acquiesce to all the havoc a Trump presidency would wreak.
Critics of Donald Trump, no matter their ideological beliefs or party allegiances, have only one realistic option: Hillary Clinton.
Clinton, by her own admission, is not a perfect candidate. Her campaign style is stilted and beset unfortunately by apparent self-consciousness.
She lacks Barack Obama's gorgeous smile and uplifting eloquence. She does not possess Ronald Reagan's warmth and self-deprecating charm. George W. Bush and Bill Clinton had a certain gee-whiz likability that seems to escape her.
But what sets Hillary Clinton apart is dogged courage, a tenacious strength to get up every morning and keep going that even Trump acknowledged in their second debate.
She is smart, assiduous, earnest, disciplined, prepared. Her orientation is less ideological than it is problem solving. She seizes on a problem and is relentless and creative in searching out solutions for it. She may not articulate passion, but her work ethic fairly glows with it.
She is open to advice, compromise and collaboration. If she can't get a whole loaf, she'll willingly accept half.
These are appealing attributes for someone who wishes to occupy the Oval Office.
For a quarter-century, Clinton has been the focus of unabating, vicious political attacks, many brought on by her own shortcomings, but most the result of some combination of exaggeration, conspiracy theory, jealousy and yes, to no small degree, sexism.
For all the shock and awe feigned over the Democratic campaign documents stolen and exposed by WikiLeaks, we're more amazed by what they don't show than by what they do. Just imagine the embarrassment for any large organization that would have its private email and unguarded thoughts suddenly strewn bare. All those Clinton campaign emails, almost nothing there.
Clinton, we tend to forget, has made her way in what before her had been largely a man's world. And still is. For anyone to question her stamina, well, that's just nonsense. In fact, it's not only baseless; it's offensive.
You don't achieve what she has achieved, in the harsh environment in which she has achieved it, without great stores of energy and resilience. You don't forge history, carve out a path that never before had been hewn, without tirelessness and bravery.
Don't misunderstand. Clinton has made her share of mistakes. Her misuse of government email was an unconscionable lack of judgment. She failed to establish appropriate boundaries between her office at State and the otherwise laudable Clinton Foundation. She's too secretive and too prone to defensive falsehoods. We disagreed with her vote on the Iraq War and disagree with some of her positions now.
Were there a more credible opponent to contest her, perhaps these shortcomings might be great enough to cost our endorsement.
But there is no credible opponent, and Clinton has shown the capacity to learn from her mistakes.
She has been, from her earliest days at First United Methodist Church in Park Ridge and Maine South High School, dedicated to public service. For Clinton, this does not reflect a late-in-life tangent, but a lifelong commitment.
She is a centrist at heart, and a collaborator in leadership style.
As first lady, she worked with both sides of the aisle to find common ground in the health care debate to help create the State Children's Health Insurance Program.
She put together a coalition to enact the Adoption and Safe Families Act which has greatly increased adoptions and curbed physical abuses.
As senator, she fought for funding for the redevelopment of the World Trade Center and to provide compensation for the health problems of the 9/11 first responders.
As secretary of state, she traveled more than any of her predecessors. She helped shape the diplomacy that ended fighting between Hamas and Israel, played a crucial role in prodding China to cut its carbon emissions, rallied the world behind sanctions to force Iran to the negotiating table regarding its nuclear ambitions and reached agreement with Russia on the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty.
"In the real world, progress is often halting," Bill Scher, a liberal analyst with the Campaign for America's Future, told Politico. "But the fact remains that Clinton struck major and consequential diplomatic achievements, even if the final historical judgment on their lasting impact is years away."
She long has been a staunch advocate for women's rights, for children's rights, for civil rights.
Her campaign slogan, "Stronger Together," is an appropriate calling in this doleful age of a great divide.
For those who suspect the slogan may be purely a matter of political calculation, recall that it was Clinton who coined the expression, "It takes a village."
That title appeared on bookstore shelves two decades ago. Twenty years ago.
It's evidence that the idea is no passing fancy, that Hillary Clinton believes her message.
Here's hope that the rest of us believe it too.
We are Americans. Let's embrace and defend our union.