As this hellishly long election process grinds painfully to its conclusion I, for one, am both disgusted and exhausted by the process! Not only has it already been underway for more than a year but the overall atmosphere of the campaign continues to mine new levels of repugnance and revulsion. Civility is nowhere to be found nor is a substantive discussion of truly pertinent topics like the economy, terrorism, immigration and entitlement reform. Instead, the candidates of both parties would rather sling mud and bait each other with abhorrent personal attacks; in addition said attacks are now targeting family members! Just what has happened to the concept of gathering to discuss issues employing decorum and respect? Apparently this approach has been discarded in favor of rancor and vitriol.
Without question there’s plenty of blame to go around starting with the candidates themselves. Somewhere along this process the need to be truthful in one’s dealings fell by the wayside; indeed, the need to be truthful at all seems a lost concept. Apparently it is much more important to make a large impression with one’s ego and bravado than be truthful. And the lame-stream media fuels this fire by affording the most coverage to the most outrageous actions and comments. In a culture where few have an attention span longer than 30 seconds and most want information spoon fed to them along with how and what they should think the media willingly panders to such guilelessness as it generates ratings.
But neither of the aforementioned are honestly the root cause of this heinous situation; no, sadly the main reason we’re seeing such coarse and childish behavior is ‘we the people’ want it. Over the past sixty years there’s been a steady decline in morals and values within the American culture all in the name of ‘social progress’. Progressives point to this with pride as examples of the advancement of the American people while all the while continuing to willing chip away at so many of the virtues which allowed this country to both grow and prosper. They view conservatives as Luddites clinging to past behaviors rather than embracing new social miens. Yet without continued social development and growth our culture will definitely become stagnant and eventually fail. Conservatives all too often view progressives (aka ‘liberals’) as crazed, morally bankrupt maniac’s hell bent on destroying anything ‘good’. Those of a more conservative bent will not at least consider, let alone embrace, the idea that as we evolve we must continue to adapt and that implies change.
So our culture has reached a point at which we are fundamentally polarized to extremes. Neither faction appears willing to just try to undertake a civilized dialog with the other regarding even the most basic of concepts like immigration. This, by itself, is a recipe for deadlock and thus we find ourselves embroiled in our current situation. Far too many people have embraced the ultimate lunacy of ‘political correctness’ which is a guaranteed killer of honest, open communication at a time when we truly need clear, concise conversation. But there’s more as well; it seems that with the advent of electronic communication in the form of email, tweeting and similar we lost the notion of civilized communication. It’s almost as if because we do not have to face someone we feel we are free to say anything regardless of how disgusting or vile. Just visit virtually any chat room or forum and you can see endless examples of a total lack of common courtesies and civility. Apparently many folks have taken the old adage ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me’ to a new and despicable low.
Given all this I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise we have candidates willing to stoop to crass, bathroom humor and insults the likes of which most of us left behind on the grade school playground. In a very real sense we are getting exactly what we asked for or at least what the majority of Americans appear to desire. But does this do anything constructive for our political process let alone our culture? In a sense it really does seem to be one of the polar opposites that defines today’s America; we have this willingness to forgo all aspects of civility and politeness in favor of crass, boorish behavior juxtaposed against the prim and proper miasma of political correctness. And this is but one example of how polarized American culture has become. At this point I have to ask; “Is this the kind of ‘social progress’ we desire as a nation?”.
My sense is most folks would prefer not to continue down this path but are either unsure how to redirect our ‘advancement’ or are too overwhelmed by what it takes to maintain a satisfactory lifestyle to care. But regardless, we are experiencing the unfolding of this situation so we shouldn’t be surprised when our political race turns into an all-out free for all with the candidate most willing to plumb the lowest depths of acrimony and rancor most likely to get the most media attention and, hence, come out a victor. Yet there is a relatively simple ‘fix’ for this situation; if ‘we the people’ refused to sit enchanted in front of our media source of choice vapidly soaking up such behavior the media outlets would soon stop running the imagery on an almost 24/7 basis. If we all chose, instead, to read about the campaign from the outlet of our choice as versed with being spoon fed the mindless video superimposed with some equally mindless talking head providing foolish and irrelevant commentary we could affect an eventual change for the better. But for most people this would mean unplugging from the continual information bombardment of our technological time and instead investing in reading and making up our own minds.
With respect to the larger issue of a dramatically polarized population the answers are not so forthcoming. Obviously we need compromise but this cannot happen until we are amenable to conversing in a civilized and cultured manner. And we must put aside past issues and grievances! History can and will be an important part of any such discussions but a desire to dwell on perceived past wrongs and/or injustices will only poison the well of good intentions. But perhaps most importantly we must communicate in an open and honest fashion and this means dropping any use of political correctness. It is far too important to resolve this issue rather than allow such efforts to be torpedoed by concern for a few people’s overly sensitive perceptions. We have the power and means to begin bridging this polarization but we really need the will!
I am not sure what causes this polarization of opinions, but I suspect there is a connection between technology, lack of attention span, and the way we form opinions. The availability of data (not necessarily information) around the clock from all over the world is overwhelming. There is no time to digest, to contemplate and have a meaningful discussion. I do not know how to change that, except to tune out.
I also wonder about the candidates running for election this year. Is this the best crop of potential leaders? Do they represent the best interests of their respective parties, let alone “us, the people”? At least to a degree, they must. That means, we get what we deserve. Maybe we need to change first, as you suggest. That may be a hard thing to do.
I suspect we, as a culture, will need to begin to incorporate some basic concepts like finding joy in civilized discourse and a willingness to listen before forming opinions in our upbringing. This could be done when raising children as they are more malleable and open to learning. As to the crop of politicians; sadly, money talks and let’s face it, it takes serious money to run for any high political office. None of the current players would be where they are without the very deep pockets of many large corporations, super PACs and individual donors. Along with term limits I’d love to see a cap put on monetary spending by position. Allow a total of maybe two million dollars for presidential candidates; this is the amount that can be spent on advertising, promotion, rallies – the entire process. Give Senate candidates maybe one and a half million and House candidates maybe one million. This would drastically reduce the amount of time we’d have to listen to the campaigning as well as remove some of the influence that ‘big money’ has in our election process. But ultimately I still feel term limits are the answer…
It won’t get better until it gets much, much, much worse, unfortunately.