Ever do a reboot? I do this when my computer stalls, or when the picture on my TV freezes. I unplug it, plug it back in and let it go through its start-up routine. Soon we’re back to normal.
If only we could do that for the United States of America. Some say it just isn’t working, and you can’t get parts for it. If it were a computer, it would baffle the Geek Squad. Are we still under warranty?
What to fix first? I’d start with presidential campaigns. When did they become a noisy, never-ending marathon? Back when our nation ran a little quieter, we didn’t constantly dwell on politics between presidential elections. Now, not one day goes by without rehashing the 2020 election, or speculating about the next one.
Our current president had barely moved into the Oval Office when the cable opinion networks and social media sites lit the fuse: Can the 2020 results be overturned? Will he run again in 2024, with a new running mate? Will the former president attempt a comeback?
In my youth, every president dealt with criticism from newspapers, jokes from TV comedians, and opposition from inside and outside his own party. But one thing was clear: he had been elected to a four-year term, and during that time, most of us pulled together and tried to keep America strong.
When faced with a crisis (the Persian Gulf war, the 9/11 terror attacks, or a major recession), Americans quickly locked arms to show the world that we would survive and prevail. Any political repercussions would have to wait until the next election. We would eventually vote out an incumbent in 1992, and we would choose a new president from the opposing party in 2000, 2008, and 2016. The Founding Fathers smiled. Their grand experiment seemed to be working.
But increasingly the atmosphere has become toxic. There is a daily drumbeat designed to incite anger. There is no longer time for a presidential administration to plan, to govern, and to do the job it was elected to do. Every president, from either party, is Public Enemy Number One, much to the amusement of our enemies.
Political talk shows have been on TV since the 1950s. The old-time hosts reflected the civility of that era., and focused on the facts. Much like the courtly senators they covered, they rarely raised their voice.
Compare that with the off-the-rails discourse of today. The cable overlords have learned that “sensational” draws more viewers than “factual,” so they encourage their prime time opinion stars to make outlandish statements, and they instruct their producers to craft wildly misleading headlines. Both sides are guilty of this. Even a casual viewer with one hand on the remote can land on inflammatory rhetoric. Too often the viewer takes the bait, and absorbs the misinformation.
There is of course a blame game, and nobody wins. Democrats say Trump supporters started attacking Biden on Day One, and have never let up. Republicans say Trump’s detractors gave him nothing but grief for four years. The Democrats counter that Trump and his followers had attacked Obama during both of his terms. A Republican state representative defended the recent congressional district gerrymandering by saying, “I don’t like it, but it’s payback. The other party did it to us for 40 years, and now it’s our turn.” When I asked if two wrongs make a right, he replied, “Not really, but that doesn’t apply to politics.”
And so it goes, like a tiresome 2nd grade playground fight. “You started it!” No, YOU started it. Oh yeah? “Yeah!” Eventually everyone is covered in mud. The Founding Fathers begin to have their doubts as their creation begins to crumble from within.
In what seems like a distant memory, Southern voters once sent independent-thinking senators from both parties to Washington (examples: Tennessee’s Howard Baker, Alabama’s Howell Heflin, and Georgia’s Johnny Isakson). They would “cross the aisle” when they believed it to be in the best interest of the nation. They would compromise, negotiate, and even stand up to a president from their own party. In 2022, those who dare to buck the party line endure name-calling, threats. and certain defeat at the polls. The ballot might as well state it in bold print. You’re either on Team Left or Team Right.
Why must our elected representatives bother to show up for House and Senate votes? We already know who’s voting red, and who’s voting blue. Most major issues are decided well in advance, strictly along party lines. Observers predict the results with pinpoint accuracy.
All the while, the cracks get deeper, the noise gets louder, and the political divide grows wider.
That’s why some of us are trying to figure out how to reboot. The Founding Fathers didn’t see this coming.
David Carroll is a Chattanooga TV news anchor. You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405, or at RadioTV2020@yahoo.com