WASHINGTON, May 15 (UPI) -- Is American a serious country? That question is, sadly, becoming too pertinent. And that question is matched by a phrase coined by New York radio host Bob Marrone during our weekly interview describing American politics as a "cavalcade of clowns."
The reference,of course, was to the presidential nominating process. That former TV host and New York real estate boss Donald Trump would fight it out with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for the Republican side was as incredible as Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders giving odds-on favorite Hillary Clinton quite a challenge that is not yet over. Most foreign observers are trapped somewhere between incredulity and horror over the spectacle that has become American politics.
More has been said about Trump than his candidacy or his absence of knowledge and understanding of foreign and domestic policy deserves. Dorothy Parker's cynical warning of "there is no there, there" applies. As some have written, defining Trump's policies is akin to nailing quicksilver to the wall. But to many Americans, fearful and filled with anxiety about their collective future, reforming and changing the system is more important than any specificity or consistency in policies and promises.
That substantial numbers of Americans have arrived at the conclusion in which the need for change is the most important priority is further proof of a society that is dysfunctional at best and broken at worst. Sanders is also riding this wave of popular discontent. And while Clinton has hundreds of pages of policy prescriptions and 10-point plans of action on most subjects, her approach is incremental, cautious and probably marginal.
If this cavalcade of clowns was not sufficient to convince foreign observers of the demise of American politics, the brouhaha over access to restrooms and locker rooms by transgender persons must make this country look absurd. The North Carolina state legislature passed a law restricting access to these facilities based on gender at time of birth. The Department of Justice sued. And then Justice directed public schools to allow transgender people the choice of using these facilities.
No one knows the exact number of transgender people in America. But estimates suggest 500,000-700,000 people fall into this category. It is all well and good to ensure equality under the law. However, with a population of 320 million souls, should a tiny slice of America receive such attention, especially when Rome is literally burning?
The middle class is declining. Wages are decreasing. College debt is overwhelming. Job prospects are depressing. And a majority of many Americans believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction along with the unhappy prognosis that future generations will not live as well as their parents. As bad, the international situation seems to grow bleaker and bleaker.
Iraq, Libya and Syria are in chaos. Taliban are increasingly menacing the Afghan government. The president of Brazil has been impeached, and the prime minister of Pakistan caught in the Panama Papers scandal with his family accused of illegally sheltering money in off-shore accounts. British Prime Minister David Cameron has bet his future on the June 23 referendum to determine the UK's membership in the EU. If Britons say no and approve BREXIT, the government will fall and both European Union and the future of NATO will be thrown into grave doubt.
The two strongest leaders in Europe are Turkey's President Recep Tyyip Erdogan and Russia's Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile in Asia, China continues to militarize tiny islets in the China seas as its economy tries to adjust to profound forces of debt and a transition to a consumer-based market. And Kim Jong Un continues to flex North Korea's rhetorical muscles over its small but worrisome nuclear capability.
Under these circumstances, what are the candidates for president promising for America's future? Clinton has by far the only real resume to the degree experience should count. Yet, her judgment must be suspect regarding her decision to intervene in Libya and remove Moammar Gadhafi without considering what should come next. And in many ways, Clinton is very much a product of the 1990s, an era that may not have much relevance today.
As for Trump, he is a dangerous joke, more clown than competent statesman and leader. He displays absolute cluelessness on too many subjects. And so the cavalcade continues. And America and Americans will be the losers.
Harlan Ullman is UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist and serves as senior adviser for Supreme Allied Commander Europe, the Atlantic Council and Business Executives for National Security and chairs two private companies. His last book is "A Handful of Bullets: How the Murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Still Menaces the Peace." His next book, due out next year, is "Anatomy of Failure: Why America Loses Wars It Starts."