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Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente.

Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente.

Margaret Wente

Hillary Clinton's Halloween horror show Add to ...

Only one thing is clear about this strange, surreal, seemingly endless U.S. election season. Every time you think it can’t get worse, it gets worse. Just when you thought that Donald Trump had finally driven a stake through his own heart, he has leapt from the grave – thanks to an incorrigible sexter named Anthony Weiner.

If this were the season finale of House of Cards, fans would agree the writers had jumped the shark. (Sorry for the dated boomer reference, kids.)

Mr. Weiner, who once described himself as a “perpetually horny middle-aged man,” is the estranged husband of Huma Abedin. His nom de sext is Carlos Danger. Ms. Abedin is Hillary Clinton’s most loyal and longest-serving aide. Somehow, a whole bunch of Ms. Clinton’s private e-mails wound up on Mr. Weiner’s computer. The FBI, which had already cleared Ms. Clinton over her careless handling of classified information, discovered these e-mails when they were investigating Mr. Weiner for allegedly sexting underage girls. Ms. Abedin says she doesn’t have a clue how they got there.

Globe editorial: FBI director’s poor decision about Clinton e-mails could taint the U.S. election

Related: Clinton’s ethical issues are still her biggest liability, and other things we learned this week

Was it a setup? Or was the FBI director just covering his butt? Conspiracy theories abound. No one knows what’s in the e-mails, which may simply be duplicates of stuff the FBI has seen already. But the timing of the announcement, in the home stretch of the race, is massively unfortunate.

“Stroking gun,” screeched the cover of the New York Post in unalloyed glee. Ms. Clinton must be wondering what she’s done to have yet another middle-aged man wreck her life because he can’t control his libido. She has another problem too. Huma has finally broken up with Carlos Danger, but now Hillary may have to break up with Huma.

The FBI’s Halloween surprise may cost her dearly. Her hefty lead in the polls has narrowed, and she may lose the battle to control the Senate. Meanwhile, everyone has switched sides on what they think of FBI director James Comey. Donald Trump, who only last month was accusing him of a shocking politically motivated whitewash, now proclaims him a national hero. Ms. Clinton, who once praised his forthright rectitude, now says his morals are just this side of Freddy Krueger’s. The voters are probably wishing the ground would open up and swallow them all.

My sympathies are with Ms. Clinton on this one. Her judgment, as her staffers have agreed, can be terrible, and she made her e-mail troubles worse by stonewalling and dissembling. But compared to the damage done by WikiLeaks, Edward Snowden and other assorted thieves and hackers, her misdemeanours are barely worth a mention. As U.S. national security expert Eli Lake wrote, “Calling for the prosecution of Clinton in the name of cybersecurity or the protection of state secrets is a bit like cracking down on jaywalking when a serial killer is on the loose.” The real sleaze surrounding Ms. Clinton’s campaign is the big-money cronyism and sophisticated influence-peddling techniques cultivated by some of her key fundraisers. Their antics make even hardened Democrats want to toss their cookies.

The poisoned atmosphere of U.S. politics won’t end soon. Republicans – even those who aren’t endorsing Mr. Trump – are relishing the thought of tearing President Clinton to shreds. “It’s a target-rich environment,” Republican congressman Jason Chaffetz told The Washington Post. “Even before we get to Day One, we’ve got two years’ worth of material already lined up. She has four years of history at the State Department, and it ain’t good.”

Meantime, the world’s most powerful nation has become a laughingstock – overcome by groping scandals, e-mail leaks, and the antics of a guy named like a slang word who takes selfies of his crotch. America’s allies are appalled, and its enemies can scarcely believe their luck. Demagogues and authoritarians around the globe are crowing about the obvious deficiencies of democracy. Vladimir Putin is squirming with delight. The Chinese must be concluding that we’ve reached the twilight of the Western age. America has been brought to its knees – not by its enemies, but by itself.

I want this to be over. I want it to stop. But I’m afraid that it will never stop. I’m afraid that we’ll wake up on Nov. 9 only to discover that one nightmare may be over, but the next has just begun.

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