What happens on Nov. 9? What becomes of us after Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is elected as the 45th president of the United States?

With Election Day five weeks away, the race for president remains competitive. The path to 270 Electoral College votes is nowhere close to being clear, even though professional number-crunchers point to a Clinton advantage heading down the home stretch. Just as when it started, turnout remains the great unknown in deciding the 2016 presidential election.

We’re a country on edge, about to decide an election headlined by the two most unpopular nominees on record. Yet, for all of the negativity and soulless bickering, this contest will produce a winner and a loser and it ends in 38 days.

Once the election is decided, what then? Do we begin healing or does the hate intensify? Does the rancor ebb just a little or do we continue to find new lows? While the level of discourse in this election has been lacking in quality, slash-and-burn campaigning is certainly not new in American politics. It goes back to the very days of the Founders. Mudslinging and politics go together like football and Friday night. What makes this election different is audience participation, much of it capitalizing on discriminate and often deceitful use of social media.

According to a new Monmouth University poll cited in the Washington Examiner last week, 7 percent of Americans have ended a friendship due to this year’s presidential election. That same poll showed that just 4 percent of voters believe this year’s campaign for the White House “has had a positive impact on political discourse and Americans’ everyday interactions with each other, while 70 percent said it has brought out the worst in people.”

Has the election really brought out the worst in us? Can we really blame two bad candidates for what we witness?

This is the first U.S. presidential election conducted under the full impact of social media. Donald Trump’s use of Twitter has put even more emphasis on social media and its impact on politics. We, as voters, have the opportunity to fight, bicker, sound off and otherwise engage in the political process like never before. Our comments, often posted as an individual critique or off-the-cuff remark, quickly form a river of disdain and vitriol that’s anything but constructive. That’s the true low-water mark of this campaign, not the behavior of the candidates themselves.

I’d like to think that at some point our nation’s problems would become the focus of our government as a whole and the focus of the electorate in general. Such pursuits may no longer be possible. The damage caused by this election has been so severe it may never get repaired.

Then again, perhaps our split-second attention spans will work in our favor. Perhaps the complete lack of class and manners that has become so commonplace over the past 18 months will give way to more civilized debate. Maybe this new low we’re experiencing will enable us to readjust.

History has shown that we tend go a little crazy during presidential elections, then return to more normal behavior once they’re decided. But that was before Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other fringe social media platforms existed. Today, a sudden, emotional reaction to a candidate or issue becomes immortal with the push of a button.

Let’s hope the election is decided by a larger margin than 2000, when George W. Bush defeated Al Gore officially by 540,520 votes. By today’s standards, those two guys were statesmen, yet that election almost tore this country apart. It’s hard to imagine us surviving something like that 16 years later, at least with these two knuckleheads calling the shots.

Remind me (not) to tweet that last part.

Steve Boggs is editor of the Trib.

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