On the eve of the unknown, we can already tally and assess the casualty toll created from this Presidential election. Hidden beneath everything we read, watch and listen to, is something so dramatic that we may never regain the same footing in our lifetime.
In today’s rush to defining the moment, we lean for the extreme. We take perverse comfort in thinking this is the worst of everything: the worst set of candidates, the harshest rhetoric, and the most polarizing moment in time. And perhaps it’s all true.
But the unstable footing, like a piano on quicksand, has ripped away how we process information and how we respond to it. When politicians like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump amass a list of egregious, glaring and scandalous errors, it dulls our senses inexplicably at the very moment when rage is rising from our souls. Mass media does it by the 24/7 cycle of repeating “news”, innuendo, and spin to fill its time between commercials that fuel its ratings, revenue, and our collective despair. Print used to be immune from the dirty little secret of attracting audiences but with readership plummeting, newsroom layoffs not bottoming out, and the wild west of digital decimating every newspaper, even the relied upon standard bearers are conspirators to this cycle of gloom.
The dulling of our senses to sort fact from fiction has also led to the loss of outrage. Donald Trump’s video didn’t force him out of the race as so many thought it would. Instead he double downed, jumped on his Trojan horse and staged a midnight ride with a counter punching video reminding voters that as bad as he is, Bill Clinton and Hillary’s spousal support, are far worse.
For Clinton, the timing and tension of the first Wikileaks upended her momentum at the start of the Democratic National Convention. Those revelations took down the party chair and further alienated the Progressive wing that already felt the establishment stacked the decks against Bernie Sanders. What’s worse, the contents of the leaks provided a foothold for Trump to stay relevant and lead the news during the convention, a week that should have been Clinton’s greatest moment and a time when opposing candidates traditionally go dark.
It wasn’t too long ago that the phrase “wedge issues” was how we viewed the cultural war in the country. Today we have subordinated issues, from abortion, immigration and same-sex marriage, to the “wedge candidates.” In college, one of my favorite courses was called “Personality, Power, and Politics” and dealt with the personality styles that drove historic leaders to do good and bad. Today our presidential candidates’ personalities are the driving force in what we think of them and they’re really bad.
This all leads us to being a nation of scaredy-cats, afraid to watch cable news in the dark but drawn to it like political rubberneckers who can’t take their eyes off the wreck on the highway. When the snow was covering Iowa, when there were so many Republican candidates you thought the GOP was multiplying like bunny rabbits, when a Vermont outlier slowed down an eight year long coronation, voters were presented with more dramatic differences in style than we’ve ever seen in politics. It was during those nesting nights of winter that the nation’s minds were calcifying for whom they loved and whom they hated. Today, with the constant feeding of a public so disillusioned by the candidate’s never-ending flaws (honestly, can someone shut the valve?), Democratic and Republican and Independent voters are scared stiff what the election of the other side will do to America.
The majority of Americans will never see Tuesday’s winner as a “statesman” or “stateswoman.” We can only hope they somehow manage to garner the respect and trust needed to lead. If they do find middle ground and compromise, they will have lost their most fervent supporters who they relied on to get elected. This election proves there really isn’t middle ground in America. Where have you gone John Chafee, Lowell Weicker and Paul Wellstone, “a nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”