The presidential election is, mercifully, just a few days away. Perhaps then we’ll find some peace from the gale- force winds that are howling everywhere in America, darkening the skies and bringing a coarse, sandy grit into our living rooms.

With each passing campaign cycle, the frenzy of nasty and divisive bloodletting only gets worse. Billions of dollars are now being spent to convince us of the inhumanity of any candidate running for office. All of them, the ads suggest, are liars, cheats and crackpots solely motived by greed, and in league with evil conspiracies.

We endure these assaults as best we can. But over time, the drumbeat of derision is producing a cancerous effect on the nation. Our cynicism is rising, while our faith in each other is plummeting. This election, in particular, has revealed just how deep the divisions in America have become, making it all but impossible not to fear for the future of this great republic.

We’re falling into the habit of believing the worst in people rather than the best. Polling shows that we have never had a lower opinion of government, the press, science and even the pulpit. We’ve become so cynical that many now distrust knowledge itself and deride education as elitist. And with that distrust of each other, ancient hostilities over race, ethnicity, region, religion and gender are reawakening.

Too many Americans can no longer imagine anyone in public office who is actually trying to do the right thing for the right reasons. “All politicians are corrupt,” they say, without looking close enough to distinguish the good from the bad.

Negative attacks are nothing new, some will say, pointing to nasty things said 100 or 200 years ago. But they are confusing spitballs with guided missiles. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams engaged in some rough stuff, as have many others since. But the machinery of campaigns, in their time, was the equivalent of a front-loaded musket, black powder and an iron ball. Today’s campaigns, by comparison, have the destructive power of tactical nuclear weapons.

In the 1780s, a few newspapers hurled insults at candidates, and anonymous columnists could insinuate dirty deeds and aims. Those attacks were usually distributed by riders traveling over uneven and muddy cart paths. Exchanges of insults could take a week or more to arrive.

Today’s campaigns, by comparison, can deliver a torrent of sludge into your home, workplace and eardrums in a matter of minutes.

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce recently convened five current and former Maine senators to talk about the state of the country and campaigns. No other state in the country, it seems, could have assembled such an array of talent and had that kind of thoughtful and civil conversation about our future. Good for Maine for elevating such people, from all parties and from none, who have character, vision and greater affection for their country than their party.

But those distinguished leaders cannot make the change we need. Only the citizens of this country can do that. And the first step is to remember this campaign when it’s over – and remember the divisions it has exposed in America, which will not soon be healed.

There is much that needs to be done, but fixing our campaigns is among the first. We need to rethink campaigns in America, how we balance individual free speech and collective survival, and the role of money in politics. The system is beyond tinkering. It requires bold action that responds to the world we live in, not the ones that existed before.

Here’s what we should strive to do:

• Remove the obscene amounts of money in our politics and thereby shorten campaigns.

• Reverse decades of gerrymandering in the country, controlled by political parties who have conspired to create a nation of safe red and blue districts.

• Reinvent the process by which we select the finalists for major offices, either through open primaries, open runoff elections or ranked-choice voting.

• Learn to reward candidates who run positive campaigns and punish those who don’t.

• Focus on a candidate’s ability to build consensus and take action rather than on how well he or she campaigns.

One small but positive step we can take is to support Question 5, the ranked-choice initiative, on Tuesday’s ballot. It isn’t a perfect solution to all of our problems, but it’s an important step in the right direction that will reduce negative campaigning and screen out candidates who win with little more than fiercely partisan minorities.

Alan Caron is the owner of Caron Communications and the author of “Maine’s Next Economy” and “Reinventing Maine Government.” He can be contacted at:

[email protected]