Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail…in 2016
“The whole framework of the presidency is getting out of hand. It’s come to the point where you almost can’t run unless you can cause people to salivate and whip on each other with big sticks. You almost have to be a rock star to get the kind of fever you need to survive in American politics.” — Hunter S. Thompson
For anyone unfamiliar with the late gonzo journalist and author, this quote isn’t even from the 21st century; it’s in reference to the presidential campaign of 1972. How is it that a 44-year-old quote should be so relevant today, if not more poignant now than ever before?
The election of 1972 marked only the fourth cycle of televised presidential debates in American history. The very first televised presidential debate took place in 1960, in which Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy faced off in front of a home audience of 70 million.
At the time, Nixon was considered one of the most influential Vice Presidents in American history. He scoffed at the idea that his substance could possibly be overshadowed by his appearance on-screen, yet, he was indeed judged, and incredibly so, for appearing nervous and sweating profusely. Come the close of the debate, he had painted himself a seemingly shifty individual, while JFK (who was very aware of his angles and delivery to camera) appeared polished and likable.
As yet another testament to the difference appearance made in this instance, many of those who listened to the debate over radio felt that Nixon had won, while those who tuned into the televised version believed JFK to be the reigning champion. At the end of the day, visuals trumped all, and John F. Kennedy became the 35th president of the United States of America.
Cut to 2016- almost 60 years post the first televised presidential debate, over 50 years since the report of JFK’s assassination, and over 40 years since the Watergate scandal (followed by Nixon’s resignation). These events forever changed how we, as Americans, view and digest politicians in the news.
In the 21st century, presidential elections have become what can only be described as the second wave of modern-day reality television. We collectively scrounge for any clip we can get our hands on of our candidates from the past 30 odd years in hopes of finding never-before-seen footage like bloodthirsty TMZ fanatics. We look for any possible way to demonize or praise, rightfully or wrongfully, those running for public office.
Adding to the fire, this election period we’ve been faced with something unprecedented. One of the leading roles in our reality show’s cast is being played by a woman, and that woman is not the wife or daughter of one of our candidates; she IS the candidate.
Now, back to the Kennedy era for a moment. What historical imagery is most likely to be burned into the back of the average American citizen’s mind, especially that of the millennial’s, in reference to a time that was both revolutionary and somber all at once? I would argue that first and second place undoubtedly go to the iconic wardrobe of Jackie Kennedy Onassis followed by Marilyn Monroe, the maybe one-time mistress of JFK, singing “Happy Birthday Mr. President” in a sparkly dress.
Many of us do not remember that Jackie Kennedy Onassis at one point had a successful journalism career and lived out her last 20 years as a book editor, nor that she was a huge supporter of the arts and humanities. We do not remember Marilyn Monroe as a child of the foster care system who truly embodied the American dream in rising up from a disadvantaged youth to ultimately found her own film production company (all while vehemently fighting for fair pay).
Back to the current. For the first time in history, there is a woman on stage competing with a man in the presidential election. And this woman is not just any woman- she has time and time again jumped through every single flaming hoop placed in front of her to remind us that she is so much more than a tasteful pantsuit or expensive haircut. She’s essentially been unapologetically shouting from a rooftop since 1965 that she is to be taken seriously. As a result, for the first time in American history, our nation is being forced to start acknowledging a woman for not just her appearance and demeanor, but for the sum of her parts. This is scary for some.
Now, I am by no means making the sweeping statement that Jackie O or Marilyn were not brilliant women who fought for equality in their own ways. The point I am trying to make here is that we have come to an era in American history where we will no longer be able to remember a prominent woman by appearance and scandal only. We have two options for president in 2016, and we must take both of their proposed presidential platforms seriously, regardless of their gender.
One of our candidates has never been elected to public office and has zero military experience, which would make them arguably the least experienced president of all time if elected. Like a 22-year-old recent college graduate that has no business being offered a C-Level position at a multibillion dollar organization, this individual has no business taking on the most important role in the United States of America.
On the opposing end, we have a former lawyer, former first lady, former senator, and former Secretary of State. Without a doubt, these qualities stacked together would make this individual an incredibly qualified candidate for president, if not the most qualified individual for the presidency we have ever encountered.
Now, to the 2016 presidential debates. One of the above described candidates is a whip-smart and seasoned debater. They are able to think on their feet and provide thoughtful answers backed by real-life experience. This individual also carefully controls their on-camera reactions. The opposing candidate, on the other hand, consistently seems ill-prepared and does not always answer the moderator’s questions in full. In addition, they constantly sniffle like a coke addict and speak out of turn.
One of the above candidates typically wears well-tailored clothing with not a hair on their head out of place. They wear just enough makeup to appear fresh-faced, but not so much as to appear unnatural. They dye their hair.
The opposing candidate’s skin tone appears unnaturally orange, as if a spray tan was applied. Their hair is thinning and is fashioned as a combover and can seem a bit unkempt at times. They almost always appear in public in an ill-fitting suit that appears to be of the ready-to-wear variety.
Notice that I make no mention of gender, age, tiny hands, or any level of physical fitness above. I am merely factually stating how each individual presents themselves in the superficial sense, meaning the presentational items that they arguably have control over. Just as John F. Kennedy’s on-screen appearance and debate skills helped propel him to victory above Richard Nixon in 1960, we cannot deny that these determinants hold some water.
It pretty much goes without saying that if you do not consider presenting gender or age, the individual described as choosing to wear well-tailored clothing objectively comes across as more polished than the one who chooses ill-fitting suits, and the individual that is a more seasoned debater with more real-life experience would also objectively appear to an audience as more qualified than the individual who speaks out of turn and dodges questions.
Now, consider this for a moment:
The individual who objectively appears more polished on-camera is the same individual that comes across as a more seasoned debater. The individual who appears less polished is also the individual who is objectively less able to clearly articulate their viewpoints.
Despite the stark differences between these two candidates, and the objective strengths one has above the other in varying categories as described throughout this essay, there are still some individuals that are not sold that Hillary Clinton would make a better president than Donald Trump.
What in the world is the disconnect here? How is it that in addition to Donald Trump’s lack of experience and poor debating skills, some are still not alarmed by his countless misogynistic rants, racial slurs, and overall thoughtless statements directly available for download per the public’s latest scrounge for never-before-seen footage?
If you are still sold on Trump for any number of reasons, I ultimately ask you the following questions:
Are you really willing to give up your personal safety just because the other candidate happens to be a woman or is not Republican?
Are you willing to give Donald Trump control over nuclear weapons and the largest army in the world, because you are still Bernie or Bust or because you are holding onto upset over a handful of past choices that Hillary Clinton or her husband made (who, may I remind you, is her other half and not an alien living inside her à la Men in Black controlling her every move)?
Are you willing to give up your right to choose to allow a self-serving bigot to control our tax dollars and the overall public interest?
Hillary is not perfect. There is no such thing as the perfect candidate, because we are imperfect as humans. But let us not forget that this woman has dedicated practically her entire time on this earth to serving the public and the greater good. She knows what she’s doing, and has jumped through all the flaming hoops and sexist remarks the public has thrown at her over the past 50 years in order to survive in American politics. The same cannot be said for Donald Trump.
No other past presidential candidate in American history, male or female, can hold a candle to Hillary Clinton’s accomplishments. If you are not voting for the most qualified candidate this November, what are you voting for? Are you voting to make a point? Are you holding onto a bias that you may or may not even be aware of?
Be honest with yourself. This election truly matters for all of us.