WASHINGTON -- It's hard to remember a time in recent U.S. history when we've faced as many dire economic and political challenges as we do today.
America's political system is in turmoil, with Republicans deeply divided over their presumed presidential nominee amid a looming plot by a band of convention delegates to replace Donald Trump with someone else.
It's even more difficult to remember a time when both parties chose nominees who drew such high unfavorable ratings from likely voters.
This broad-based political upheaval comes at a time when the Commerce Department announced Tuesday that the U.S. economy's growth rate slowed to a mediocre 1.1 percent in the first three months of this year. And the second quarter isn't looking so hot, either.
America is in a steep economic downturn in the midst of one of the most tumultuous presidential elections in our history, after seven years of anemic growth under Barack Obama's impotent fiscal policies.
The Obama economy's "subdued pace overall suggests it remains vulnerable to a new round of global economic turmoil," The Wall Street Journal reported this week.
Great Britain's decision to leave the European Union has ignited a firestorm of economic uncertainty throughout Europe and elsewhere, amid growing fear that other EU member nations will follow suit.
U.S. stock markets plunged in the wake of the "Brexit" vote, sharply curtailing worker investment accounts and deepening insecurity and uncertainty throughout the U.S. economy. Investors hate uncertainty, and that will likely mean that business investment and expansion will be weaker than it already has been throughout Obama's presidency.
Ordinarily, a weakening economy during two terms of unpopular Democratic rule would give the GOP a major advantage to win back the White House with a strong candidate.
But according to all the election polls, Trump is not only running behind Hillary Clinton, he also heads into the general election with his campaign in disarray -- underfunded, understaffed, and drawing fire from Republican leaders in Congress and around the country.
Clinton held a five-point advantage over him in an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll out this week -- with 46 percent of registered voters supporting her, versus 41 percent for Trump.
Trump leads among white voters by 49 percent to 37 percent; among men by 48 percent to 38 percent; and with independents, 40 percent to 30 percent.
Clinton leads among women, 52 percent to 35 percent; African-Americans, 87 percent to 5 percent; Latinos, 69 percent to 22 percent; and younger voters, age 18 to 34, 53 percent to 30 percent.
Trump's polling numbers have fallen sharply over the past month, mostly due to a public backlash in response to controversial remarks he has made on the campaign trail or in media interviews. So much so that he has attempted to soften his positions on a number of issues, suggesting that he hadn't thought through the ramifications of his proposals and off-the-cuff remarks.
He has, for example, rapidly halted his virulent attack on the judge overseeing two fraud lawsuits against Trump University, saying he couldn't get a fair hearing because the judge was of "Mexican" descent. Critics denounced his remarks as racist.
On his proposed ban on all Muslims coming into the country, he now says there will be exceptions, adding that "... this is just a suggestion until we find out what's going on." Oh, really.
On deporting all 11 million illegal migrants, he reportedly told The New York Times in an off-the-record remark that he was "flexible."
On whether "Dreamers" -- school-age children bought into this country when they were very young by their illegal parents -- will remain here, he says now that "it depends."
If this sounds like a sideshow shell game -- using loose, bombastic promises, then backing away from them under pressure when forced to explain the details -- well, that's exactly what it is.
In 1952, when Dwight Eisenhower told voters, "I will go to Korea" to end the war there, that's exactly what he meant and precisely what he did. No "it depends," or "I'm flexible," or "this is just a suggestion."
In 1960, when John F. Kennedy campaigned on getting our economy moving again, he called for an across-the-board cut in income tax rates. When left-wing Democrats attacked his plan, saying it would help only the rich, he replied, "A rising tide lifts all boats." When they said it would blow a huge hole in the deficit, Kennedy said that stronger economic growth would lead to more tax revenue. By the end of that decade, we had a budget surplus.
We want our presidential candidates to say what they mean, and mean what they say, not to make preposterous promises they know will never be fulfilled.
But that's what slippery New York politicians like Trump do because they believe they can get away with it, and sometimes they can -- until the truth catches up with them.
Say, did you hear the one about how he's going to build a wall more than 20 feet high along our 2,000-mile border, much of it impenetrable to human traffic, costing billions of dollars, and make the Mexicans pay for it?