Let me formally apologize to you, the first-time voter. This isn’t how it is supposed to be. This isn’t how it’s ever been. Once upon a time, the presidential debates and political campaigning, and the vetting of qualified candidates was exciting, a little dirty sometimes, but always enlightening. Americans cared about who would be their leader. They cared about what he – before it was always a he – stood for, what his values and morals and background was. It mattered if he filed for bankruptcy or divorced or smoked pot or dodged the draft. We upheld ideals such as education, experience, character, and class. We understood that this person would represent us to the world and in our electing him, we endorsed him. He was our voice. He was our leader.

When I watched the Republican debate last month, I got out the popcorn, ready for the freak show. Never before have so many candidates lined up before us, vying for our attentions and affections. It was an embarrassing display for the Republicans that there are so many clowns performing. But the venom and sniping and snide remarks were too much. How can any self-respecting Republican be OK with Donald Trump running for anything that involves oh, I don’t know, national security and integrity? Mark Rubio may have had the best response ever on the topic of immigration in this nation but it was largely unheard and/or ignored because everyone else was so busy watching the freak show that actual good ideas were lost.

But after Tuesday’s Democratic debate, what self-respecting Democrat feels good about its choice for president? Hilary Clinton’s trust factor is so dismal she almost made Bernie Sanders look lively. And who was Lincoln Chaffey? Is that a real person or was he hired from a Vegas Show just to fill up the stage? Virginia’s senator Jim Webb is to the Democrats what Jeb Bush is to the Republicans – that is, they look good but only in comparison. Do we really want ANOTHER Bush? Oh, wait a minute. Do we really want another Clinton? What of Joe Biden? He doesn’t even really want to be president but others are pushing him toward the campaign trail. Do we want ambivalence for his platform? His bumper stickers read: Vote for Biden. Meh. Why not?

This is a large, strong nation where we have great ingenuity and pride. We are resourceful, compassionate, yet determined. We are educated. We are world leaders. And … this is all we got? Really?

Where the hell is everyone?

Carson, Clinton, Trump, Bush, Sanders and all the other highly forgettable candidates can’t be it!

Yet here we are.

To the first-time voter, you must know that this is not normal. This is all wrong. This is a disappointment. This is all our fault.

Yeah. It’s OUR fault. You. Me. The nation’s fault and no one can say we didn’t see this coming. When we allowed the talentless Kardashians to literally cash in on our stupidity in exchange for their shameless media blitz, we lowered our standards in almost every way. When we repeatedly turn a blind eye to celebrities earning 22 times a normal person’s working salary, we forever skew reality in the minds of our young people. Every time the NFL pretends not to know about domestic violence and allows its athletes to return to sport after numerous drug violations, we tell our youth that breaking laws and committing crimes is OK if you can catch a ball. Deep down, we all know that Bill Cosby is a serial rapist but no one wants to call America’s favorite dad what he really is – a sick bastard who needs jail time. We have “food” so full of chemicals it really isn’t food, but our government said it is because they just got a boatload of money under the table from Kraft, Nabisco, Kellogg’s and Pepsi-Cola so … OK! Bon appetite! What’s a little childhood obesity, attention deficit disorder and diabetes if we can give our U.S. senators what they really want, right? They should work as little as possible, take in as many bribes as they can for the lifelong gig of politician so that they never have to see how typical Americans really live. But most Americans are now too stupid to see this as we’ve developed an educational system in which actual teaching is gone and we have focused our children to master just one single test. They don’t know how to read cursive anymore, have no concept of how to actually study from a book, and our incoming college freshman are struggling more now than ever before due to the tremendous lack of preparation by our public schools — but they do HAVE school spirit! Yah! Give me S! Give me a J! Give me a U! Give me a P! What’s it spell?

No one knows. Meh. It doesn’t matter. Who writes anymore?

How have we gotten so off track. If our presidential candidates are so sorely lacking, if we think it more amusing than horrifying to have a reality star pose as our leader, if we’re so unmotivated that we’re content to elect family members of former presidents, we have much bigger problems than we want to admit. Everything is made in China but are we going to have to import presidential candidates as well?

We no longer care about quality of food, of upholding role models to certain standards or our children’s education. We are completely ambivalent about air quality, practices of industry, and where we buy our goods. We all agree that it sucks when our economy is down but we don’t care enough to employ Americans if we have to pay a dollar more, and reading is too much effort when you can stand around taking selfies all day. Who needs to know about world events when you can post what you ate for breakfast on social media?

It seems as though Americans have given up on everything. But I know this is not true. Every time there are renewed debates about gun control, abortion, animal rights, or off-shore drilling, I am elated. The passion is there. We DO care! But we must stop laughing about this presidential election. We must demand better candidates because we deserve better.

As we gear up for a full year of political campaigning, I want our dear first-time voters to know that this premiere has been like no other. Don’t buy a ticket to this circus. Ask for more. Want more. Be selective. Be informed. Fight for your own candidates but help us restore this nation back what it once was. You don’t just live here, you’re not just a visitor passing through. Once you cast that ballot, you own this place, too!

Now residing in “the nicest city in Texas,” Alexandra Allred is the author of numerous books, including White Trash, Damaged Goods and the Allie Lindell series. Visit her website, www.alexandratheauthor, or Twitter @alexandraallred but always check out her column the WDL as she ponders all things Waxahachie and beyond its borders.