WASHINGTON - As America votes, what can be said about this nasty campaign is that it was dangerously disconnected from the problems the victor will face.
The textbook version of American democracy holds that elections, by exposing differences, make governing easier by demonstrating where the weight of public opinion lies.
The result is a "mandate" or at least a sense of direction.
This has rarely been entirely true, but the gap between political theory and reality seems especially pronounced in 2012.
The problems confronting the United States are first and foremost economic.
There's a triple threat to stronger economic growth. The first stems from the legacy of the 2007-09 financial crisis, which induced households and companies to shed debt and, more important, made both more cautious spenders.
The second is an aging population that stunts expansion of the labor force.
And finally, chronic deficits - caused increasingly by a surge of promised benefits - imply future spending cuts and/or tax increases, which might dampen economic growth.
Prosperity and political legitimacy feed each other. When people think they're getting ahead, they feel better about their leaders.
The reverse is also true.
Even before the financial crisis, the U.S. economy was decelerating. From 1991 to 2001, growth averaged 3.2 percent a year; from 2002 to 2011, the pace slipped to 2.3 per cent.
When the economy slows, competition for scarce resources quickens. Wages and fringe benefits compete with profits. Guns compete with butter. All groups resist tax increases.
How democracy copes with weaker economic performance is a central question of our time.
It's not just American. Europe and Japan - that is, most of the rest of the advanced world - also face aging societies, over-committed governments and slowing growth.
For Americans, the global nature of the challenge means that we can't rely on strong demand from Europe and Japan - buyers of 27 percent of U.S. exports in 2011 - for faster growth.
Just the opposite: Their weakness threatens us.
Generally, what should be done is clear. Government needs to adopt pro-growth policies that might cushion - it can't reverse - the economic slowdown.
At the same time, it needs to curb some benefits and find ways to pay for the rest.