The 21st century has not been kind to the United States. Disaster has followed disaster. Recoveries have been sluggish and inadequate to nonexistent. Opportunities have been missed, squandered or deliberately ignored. The US has suffered through, arguably, the two worst presidencies in its history, and no matter who wins in November, a third consecutive failed presidency seems likely.And the world knows it.However, it does matter who wins in November.For the current electoral freak show, this shande fur die ganze welt is no accident. It is the logical product of what American politics and culture have become. No matter who wins, we won’t be rid of the losers or their surrogates and successors. So this election, like the 2008 economic collapse, ISIS, climate change and the rest, should serve as a warning of things much worse ahead.But for now, let’s just talk presidents.“Is he presidential timber?” A question now of interest mostly to historians, but that’s how prior generations phrased it. Does a candidate for the presidency have the necessary character? (Circa 1988, the question changed from “presidential timber?” to “paper or plastic?” – but that’s for another column.) Many men generally considered lightweights have done the job well, among them Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman. Perhaps they “grew” in office, but those who have had much experience observing or participating in presidential affairs would doubt it.The White House is no place to grow up. You arrive with what you are, intellectually and morally, and then bad stuff starts coming at you, so heavy and so fast that you’ve haven’t time to think, sometimes even to react before the next iteration of disaster. The president of the US is the most manipulated person in America. He or she sits in the White House and knows mostly what other people provide, usually for reasons of their own. A president must have sources and friends outside the normal channels. In the end, presidents depend on the values, habits and perspectives they developed long ago.And so, on to what’s on offer du jour.Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton share two fundamental character traits and one situation. The first is a rampaging sense of entitlement. Trump got his the old-fashioned way, through inherited wealth, indiscipline and the accompanying mind-set. Clinton took the baby boomer route, falling in with the “best and brightest”ism of a generation that presumed itself capable of saving the world, and has tried, with predictable results.Trump: “I deserve anything I want to have, do or say because I’m richer than you are.”Clinton: “I deserve anything I want to have, do or say because I’m smarter than you are.”The second shared character trait: We get away with it. Trump’s strategy has been to say anything convenient that comes to mind; truth is irrelevant. It is to savage persons and groups. It is to bully. It is to pronounce his name as a religious talisman. It is to divide the world into winners and losers and scorn the latter – today so many of his supporters. It is an old tactic for the people on the top to tell the people in the middle that their real enemies are the people under them, but rarely has this been done with such poorly veiled contempt for those to be so persuaded.Clinton also gets away with it, but in the Slick Willie (dare one invoke “Tricky Dick”?) manner: words carefully chosen to sound good, while promising little and delivering less. Remember the Slick Willy three-step: “There is no problem. It’s only a little problem. Can’t we just move on?” Here a curious moral inversion occurs.They get away with it precisely because nobody expects any better. Their situation in common is that they’ve both been fixtures of American life since the 1980s. Trump’s meanderings, philandering and raucous self-worship are well known, as is his general attitude to all things (subject to change without notice). But my most memorable recent glimpse of his character came via some fund-raising emails, proclaiming that he would “personally” write a matching check for up to two million dollars in voter contributions.If you give me money, I’ll give me money.Clinton also has money from uncounted (uncountable?) corporate and foreign sources. However, the corruption of the “limousine liberals” interests me less here than the question: “In 40 years in public life, what has Clinton accomplished?” Not much.So these are the choices: logical products of corrupt politics and a culture of human debasement. Take your choice or sit it out. Either way, America, this is what you’ve become, what you’ve let your country become, so if you don’t like what you see...Next: The election – what it did and meant for America and Israel.