I hesitate to join the moaning and groaning over the Presidential campaign. However, the trends concern me deeply. Like Pope Francis, I won’t name names as I critique the tone and content of some of the Presidential candidates’ statements and the news coverage.
I wonder what it would be like if the media covered the issues more than the horserace. What if they presented clips of each of the candidates expressing their plans for health care, immigration, and Syria, perhaps a new issue each day? Instead of day after night of “This candidate is pulling ahead,” and “They’re neck and neck in the polls,” we could hear actual policy statements. Instead of feeling like we’re jumping on a bandwagon, or voting for someone who “has a chance,” we could base our decisions on issues without having to mine for position papers on websites.
It disheartens me that candidates have joined the focus on the competition instead of the issues. It used to be that you could count on stump speeches to include actual positions. Lately, I’m hearing more sound bites of “I’m better than he is.” Not only is this useless for people making up their minds about candidates, it undermines the democratic process by making the race about personality and popularity.
Then, there is the terrible pattern of name-calling and misrepresentation of other candidates and their positions. These practices debase not only the candidates who are attacked, but also the people launching the attacks. It’s perfectly OK to explain what you think is unworkable in a candidate’s platform. These issues and positions can be debated with integrity. Stepping over the line into personal attacks, much less outright lies, simply isn’t called for and should not be part of the process.
These trends upset me because democracy could be so much better. It feels like the American people are responding to messages with knee-jerk reactions, precipitated more by fear than logic. People’s fears are real – the middle class is hollowing out, racism continues to thrive, technology and globalization have complicated our lives. The problem is – how do we respond? What will be helpful in the long term? We need to turn away from emotional reactivity to acknowledge complexities and subtleties and work together, across divisions of party, race, gender, and religion to find realistic solutions.
Some politicians and policy wonks are quietly doing this demanding work. I want to find all ways possible to support that effort. They will yield compromises, but that is the nature of good politics. Much better than the big politics that currently bombards us.
In the meantime, the caucuses are next week, and we have to do our best. Good luck out there.
In faith and freedom,