WASHINGTON -- Americans are living in an age where too many of us no longer seriously question the promises and proposals of our presidential candidates.
The process whereby we choose our new leaders is a grueling, two-year political gantlet where we judge their honesty, competence and ideas to fix what's wrong with our country. And for nearly 230 years, we haven't done too badly in choosing our presidents. But something has gone terribly wrong in this election cycle.
We've had great presidents, good ones, bad ones and merely mediocre ones. But thanks to a system of checks and balances wisely established by our Founding Fathers, we've chosen well more often than not.
We govern ourselves through a democratic process by choosing our leaders from a bevy of candidates, listening to their proposals, questioning their agendas, and, through the news media, run them through a system of primaries that tests their knowledge, ideas, temperament and honesty.
One of the most valuable characteristics of American voters has been their healthy dose of skepticism that they bring to the election process. But that seems to have withered in a large part of the electorate, and it's not clear why.
In the most recent past, experience usually mattered most. Among the last 12 presidents, five were former vice presidents and four were governors. Two were U.S. senators, John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama. Neither had any executive experience.
Only one of the 12 was an outsider with no experience in political office. But Dwight Eisenhower was the supreme allied commander of World War II who held the alliance together and won the war against Germany and Japan. That's an impressive record accomplishment to have on one's political resume.
But now a large number of Americans no longer believe experience matters in the presidency, according to all the latest polls.
The two front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination are Donald Trump, who builds skyscrapers and casinos, and used to host a reality TV show, and a former pediatric neurosurgeon, Ben Carson, who makes his living giving speeches and writing an opinion column for newspapers.
A group of freshmen senators are well below them in the national polls, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Neither has compiled any record of accomplishment in his first term; they have devoted most of their time to campaigning around the country.
Rubio has drawn scrutiny over financial troubles and mismanagement of his credit cards. He's articulate, but clearly needs experience.
Cruz has largely become known for being one of the nastiest and most unpopular senators in the GOP caucus, who broke the rules of decorum by calling Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky "a liar" on the Senate floor.
Further down on the polling list are the governors -- Jeb Bush of Florida, John Kasich of Ohio and Chris Christie of New Jersey, all of whom can point to a long list of major conservative accomplishments -- cutting taxes, balancing budgets and strengthening their economies.
All three are popular in their party and in their states, but have been unable draw the broader recognition they deserve. Why?
Clearly they have been unable to compete with Trump's bombastic, insult-driven campaign style: accusing most of the nation's undocumented Hispanics of being murderers, thieves, drug peddlers and rapists, and often exaggerating or making things up along the way.
Columnist George Will tells a story about a Trump claim that he is a buddy of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin and knows the former communist KGB agent really well.
"I got to know (Putin) very well because we were both on '60 Minutes,' we were stablemates, and we did very well that night," Trump said in one of his appearances in the TV debates.
In fact, Will says, "They were not in the same greenroom; they were not on the same continent. Trump was in a '60 Minutes' segment, taped in Manhattan; Putin was in another segment, taped eight time zones away in Moscow. Yet somehow Trump 'got to know him very well.'"
In an interview earlier this year, Trump spoke warmly of changing to a universal, single-payer health care system as is common in socialist Europe.
His proposal on taxes: imposing a one-time, 14.25 percent tax on people worth more than $10 million; slapping a 20 percent tax on imports that would lead to a trade war; and allowing government to seize property under eminent domain laws. On the latter, he said, "I happen to agree with it 100 percent."
"Trump would not be a pro-growth president," the conservative Club for Growth said earlier this month.
The New York Times ran a story this week that said "Ben Carson's remarks on foreign policy have repeatedly raised questions about his grasp of the subject," especially his claim that "China had intervened militarily in Syria."
In a TV interview, Carson could not "name the countries he would call on to form a coalition to fight the Islamic State." A top adviser said he needed weekly briefings on foreign policy so "we can make him smart."
In defense of his lapse in knowledge, Carson said he would know more about it next year than he does this year.
This election, more than any other, demands that GOP voters carefully choose who their presidential nominee will be next year. For the last two terms, America has suffered as a result of rank inexperience. Let's not make that mistake again.