My, my, my. Look at this mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.
The presidential election is still a hundred days away, and it already seems like the campaign has been going on since the Rolling Stones were merely pebbles.
Just last week, one candidate claimed his opponent “doesn’t know he is alive.” He added, “He is incompetent.”
The other candidate responded that his opponent “has waved the white flag and walked away from the country.”
I can’t imagine Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson exchanging such insults, or Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. Unfortunately, this is the general tone of America 2020.
Of course, this isn’t the first time a presidential campaign has wallowed in the mud. In 1884, Democratic candidate Grover Cleveland was mired in a paternity scandal. His Republican opponents capitalized on it. They didn’t have TV to run negative ads, and there was no Twitter to smear one another, so they wrote a song about it, which spread across the nation. “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?” was the refrain. Cleveland won the election anyway, prompting his supporters to respond, “Gone to the White House, ha ha ha!”
But you know what happened after the election? Americans forgot about it, and they resumed working toward a common goal. Most of them, anyway.
Is that still possible today? Does anyone really believe that no matter who wins in November, the other side is just going to smile, and start holding hands?
Can you imagine Fox News hosts taking a few moments to mourn a Republican loss, and then looking into the camera saying, “Well, our guy lost. Now let’s get behind this other fellow, and heal our nation.”
On the other hand, is it realistic to expect CNN hosts to quickly dismiss a Democratic loss, and then say, “Good game, folks. Now let’s work together to unite everyone, and put all this nastiness behind us.”
We all know this isn’t going to happen. We are now a professional wrestling nation. Many years ago, some bright promoter figured out how to make wrestling profitable. Athleticism, power and skill were admirable qualities, but didn’t entice the masses.
What if, he said, we have a good guy and a bad guy? We will create animosity, we will pit good versus evil, and each competition will have a story line. In many towns with a decent-sized auditorium, professional wrestling kept the building open for decades. The “upper crust” would complain, “We want opera and culture!” The venue managers would respond, “Sure, we’ll give you a little of that. But if we’re going to keep the lights on, we need a wrestling ring and angry people willing to buy tickets and popcorn.”
So, here we are. The slanted news networks and social media sites are providing the wrestling matches, and Americans are buying the popcorn. No controversy, no antagonism? No ratings.
It all comes down to this. When is the last time you voted FOR a presidential candidate? Read that carefully. I didn’t say the last time you voted in a presidential election. I mean the last time you voted FOR a person. Surveys reveal that we have become really good at voting AGAINST people. Many Americans voted against Bush, against Obama, against a Clinton or two, and against Trump. Would we have voted for a potato against some of these candidates? For many, the answer is yes.
In a nation of 328 million, we struggle to find two people we really trust with the nuclear football. We can somehow weed out the weak links in “Dancing with the Stars” and “American Idol,” but we often end up with two presidential hopefuls that are underwhelming.
When is the last time two people represented our major political parties on the presidential ballot, and you said, “Oh my gosh. They are BOTH so qualified and excellent! They each have so many good qualities. Can they be co-presidents? How are we supposed to choose between them?” It’s been a while, if ever.
With all the talk about each of our two current candidates, and their mental fitness to serve, it’s easy to draw a conclusion. You know that rhetorical question, “Who in their right mind would even WANT the job?” While watching the debates that winnowed down the crowded field of wanna-be presidents, I found myself answering that question. The answer was, “Apparently, not very many.”
Can you blame a competent, qualified person for sitting it out? Are we setting up our 2020 winner for failure? Will we unite to battle our current crises (as we used to do in the past) or will be continue to tear each other down?
Turn off the echo chamber “news” channels. Love your neighbors. We have to start somewhere.
David Carroll is a Chattanooga news anchor. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.