Wherever I go these days I hear people telling me that they are depressed by the state of American politics.
They observe that the leading candidate among the Republicans, Donald Trump, is a blustering demagogue, scapegoating Muslims and Mexicans. Lurking just behind Mr. Trump is Ted Cruz, a Republican so extreme — "hyperpartisan...abrasive," in the words of a recent USA Today editorial likening him to Barack Obama — that only Mr. Trump could make him look palatable. On the Democratic side, the candidate is likely to be Hillary Clinton, a candidate so cynically opportunistic she's been on both sides of issues such as gay marriage and the Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement. Mrs. Clinton is running to "rein in Wall Street," having, with her husband, accepted a total of $875,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs in 2013.
"The most depressing presidential campaign of your lifetime," the journalist Felix Salmon wrote. That was back in April, even. Even the usually cheerful Bret Stephens, a Pulitzer Prize winner, used the "depressing" word in the Wall Street Journal the other day to describe a speech by Senator Cruz.
Anyone genuinely, clinically depressed should get medical treatment. As for those many of us who have been just using the d-word as shorthand for feeling sincerely downbeat and disappointed, verging on despondent, about the presidential race, take it from me — it's not really that bad.
I mean, okay, it is pretty bad.
One potentially constructive way to handle it, though, is to try to focus on some of the positive aspects that have been widely ignored elsewhere. Doing so may cause you to delay contemplating that move overseas, or at least cheer you up a little.
Start with Mrs. Clinton. Less than 100 years ago, women did not even have a constitutional guarantee of the right to vote in this country. The Nineteenth Amendment was ratified only on August 18, 1920. It's taken some time, but a major party seems close to nominating a woman who has a genuine chance at winning. Taking the long view, that's an encouraging sign of real progress for the half of the American people — women — that still bump into glass ceilings.
Even leaving gender aside, Mrs. Clinton's persistence shows a degree of grit that is impressive simply on a human level. Remember, this is a woman who had some public low points that might have sent other people retiring to the sidelines. As first lady, she was humiliated by the exposure of her husband's affair with a White House intern. In 2008, she lost to Barack Obama in a hard-fought race for the Democratic nomination. Yet rather than walking away or heading for a cushy life in the world of foundations, academia, or lawyer-lobbying, Mrs. Clinton is running around Iowa and New Hampshire again in her pantsuits. I can't help but admire her ability to bounce back.
On the issues, Mrs. Clinton at her best is showing promising signs of the centrism that made her husband so popular, proclaiming, "I'm the only Democratic candidate in this race who will pledge to raise your incomes, not your taxes," calling for tax simplification and for making it easier to start small businesses.
On foreign policy, in an important and underreported recent speech at the Brookings Institution, Mrs. Clinton called for deepening U.S.-Israel cooperation and for intensifying the campaign against ISIS by creating a no-fly zone in Syria and "more robust support for opposition forces." She called for enforcing the Iran nuclear deal with an approach of "distrust and verify," "including taking military action" if necessary. If a President Clinton follows through, she may represent a positive change from an Obama foreign policy, a policy that many of us share Mrs. Clinton's view has been insufficiently "robust."
As for the Republicans, some serious, credible voices, including Conrad Black and Carl Icahn, say Mr. Trump isn't as bad as the monster he is portrayed as by the media or his opponents. One certainly doesn't want to understate, be callous to, or be naïve about the dangers of xenophobia, nativism, racism, or anti-Muslim bigotry. It bears remarking, too, though, that the Republican Party suspected of these pathologies has among its leading candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who are sons of Cuban immigrants; Dr. Benjamin Carson, who is an African-American; and Donald Trump, whose mother immigrated to America from Scotland. Mr. Trump is married to an immigrant. Jeb Bush's wife is an immigrant, too. Mr. Trump's border wall proposal has gotten a lot of attention; less so, his promise of "a big, fat, beautiful door right in the middle of the wall."
If Mr. Cruz's views or Mr. Trump's seem extreme, look at them as opening offers, positions that inevitably will be negotiated in a more moderate direction after Congress, the bureaucracy, and the press weigh in.
In a nation worried about inherited privilege and about the upward mobility of the American dream slipping away, Mr. Rubio, who is the son of a hotel bartender; Mr. Cruz, whose father left Cuba with $100 sewn into his underwear, and Ben Carson, who spent part of his childhood on food stamps, have been outpolling Jeb Bush, who went to prep school at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. and who is the son of a president of the United States. Mr. Bush may find that discouraging. For the rest of us, the campaign so far provides plenty of encouraging reasons for hope about America and its future.