Thursday, March 3, 2016

What Darkness and Ugliness Have Begot

I googled "negative campaigning," with an eye toward determining exactly when this became de rigueur  in the American political process.  I could have sworn that elections were much more civilized in the "good old days" when I was a youngster.  I don't recall being compelled to turn off the radio or television in order to get some blessed respite from the constant sniping during election years, thirty or forty years ago.  We must have been more civilized, back then.   But what my search turned up, and I suppose it really was no surprise, was that negative campaigning has been an American political tactic almost since the birth of the Republic. 
Early on, there was respect bordering on awe for the founders of our independence who eventually took their places as heads of state:  Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe--"founders" all--managed to make it through the election process relatively unscathed by personal attacks.  But by the election of  1824, when the baton of leadership was to be handed to the generation succeeding the founders',  the Pandora's box of negative campaigning was gleefully dragged out and opened;  the cyclone of ugliness and smear burst out.  And it has swirled about our political process ever since.
So why does it seem that things are exponentially nastier and dirtier now than they ever have been?  Perhaps it's because of the copious numbers of outlets from which the ugliness can bombard us, here in the media-saturated 21st-century.  The political process has been turned on its ear by the  preponderance of media voices clamoring for attention.
One would think that all-pervasive media would be a good thing.  That the end product of the ceaseless barrage of information would be a better informed electorate.  Of course, we know that hasn't happened.    In order to multiply as speedily as they have, on-air media have shed the cumbersome trappings of factuality and civic responsibility that had been applied to their forebears.  These thousands of media outlets which have sprung up in the past three decades adhere to no standard of truth, acknowledge no responsibility to educate, uplift, or even accurately inform the people for whose attention they compete.  Early on, it became obvious that shock, shame, innuendo and the naked portrayal of the basest of human emotions were the easiest,  cheapest routes to popularity among the masses.  And so those things have been provided in sickening abundance.  Quite the fertile environment for those exponentially nastier and dirtier political campaigns.'s the thing:  In this 21st-century reality that has indeed been taken over by the Dark Side, negative campaigning is no longer least not in that it can create a firestorm of moral outrage against a candidate.  We no longer possess, as a society,  a code of morality to outrage.  In a world where everything is about instant gratification, gratuitous sex, uncontrolled violence and rewarding of the most obnoxious behavior, what could a public figure possibly be accused of that would offend the one or two remaining molecules of our moral sensibilities?
I would further posit that, given the preponderance of spin, twisted facts and outright lies vomited forth by our trusty media 24/7/365, people have been invited to create their own realities and then only acknowledge information that fits within those realities.   No...perhaps not "invited."  Forced.  With so much noise out there, and with such a huge percentage of it either cleverly presented misinformation, thinly disguised untruth, or exaggerated hype, what else can people do but simply...pick?  "This must be true!  It proves what I have believed all along!"  If  "what I have believed all along" is that black men are thugs, or that poor people are lazy, or that owning a stockpile of machine guns will keep me safe, why shouldn't I absorb only the information that reinforces those opinions, and label anything that doesn't, a lie?
Nowhere is this hypothesis better borne out than among the rabid mob that backs Donald Trump.  Here is this unscrupulous, bombastic, unprincipled obscenely wealthy publicity hound who will do or say anything--A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G.--to get the crowds pumping their fists and foaming at the mouth, and to get the cameras focused in his direction.  A daily torrent of filth, stupidity, adolescent antics and snake-oil pandering pours forth from this incredibly media-savvy imbecile.  People scoop it up in five gallon buckets and pour it down their gullets.
And if they should pause long enough to notice a negative story about their Idol circulating through the media, they merely shrug and say things like, "Trump only says things that everyone is thinking;" or "The press hates Trump so they make up all these lies!"
These folks have chosen their reality, and Donald Trump is it.  And there is nothing anyone can say that is going to shake them from their white-knuckled grasp on this man and what they have decided he stands for--whatever that is.
He is the Dark Lord.  Created of and by the darkness, ugliness and violence that has gripped our country.  And no amount of negative campaigning is going to cancel him out.  Rather, it will only increase his power.
I think we had better come up with a new tactic.


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