As I write this column, it is election day.
While most election days leave me excited to find out the result, excited to vote and happy to live in such a free nation, this election will leave me with excitement it is over and depression on where we are headed as a people — regardless of who wins. It also leaves me with a deep dislike for the major political parties.
I firmly believe the political parties have fostered an atmosphere of hatred for those of differing political opinions and an incivility in public life. We can no more argue politics with friends, family or even strangers using rational, well-thought-out civil arguments, that leave us agreeing to disagree but still respecting one another as fellow countrymen. Instead, political arguments have been boiled down to shouting insults and political opinions that come from bumper-stickers.
And the democratic and republican political machines are loving it. It means a stronger base for them, more engaged electorate and more donations to their war chests.
I first noticed the change soon after the 2008 presidential election. I received a telephone call from a reader wanting to tell me about how he attended a local politician’s town hall meeting and drowned out the politician with shouts. The caller was proud of this action. I was not and told him so. I thought it was childish. The caller was flabbergasted at my reaction and proceeded to call me all sorts of names (I get called a lot of names by various political sides every day, so this really didn’t bother me).
What bothered me was that this caller thought this was proper, civilized, behavior. And this was a story that would repeat itself over and over from then to this election, and from both sides of the political spectrum. Even close friends and family get in to the mix, saying things that would have been unthinkable in previous years.
Formerly rational people are now calling fellow citizens names such as “traitors,” “idiots” and even “terrorists” just for believing in a different political philosophy. Forget about discussing complicated political issues with people anymore. If you can’t sum up the solution to a problem facing this country in a line that can be placed on a bumper-sticker, T-shirt or campaign sign, then people will not listen.
As for the candidates. Never have I seen so much hate spewed forth for another person as these people have for their opponents and supporters of their opponents have for them.
People are no longer saying, “I am voting for candidate A because I agree with their tax policy and plans for foreign affairs.” More often I am hearing people saying, “I would never vote for candidate B because he is a liar and a traitor. A true patriot would never vote for such a scum as him.”
Take for example what happened with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie recently. His state was nailed by a major hurricane. The president, who is of a different political party than him, came to his state to offer his support and Christie praised this action. He actually said nice things about the president, who he differs with politically.
This caused a bit of a furor for some on the far right. How dare he say something nice about the president for trying to help the governor and his state out in a disaster? I wish I were making it up, but this is modern American political discourse.
At this point, I would admire any politician who stood up to a supporter that said something like this and responded with, “You know what? My opponent is not a bad person, they are a good person. They are a true American. They mean well and I am sure they would work hard, but my policy beliefs are just different than theirs. Here is what I want to do if elected (insert specific details here).”
But I doubt that is going to happen. Most likely, the candidates will just smile, not say anything and let the anger of their supporters for their opponent grow.
This election is leaving me with more dislike for politics and parties than ever before and a heavy heart when I think of the future of this country.
We, as a nation, need to take a long look in the mirror and ask ourselves, “Is this the proper way to behave? Are we being a good example for the rest of the world and our children?”
Perhaps, this behavior of late will serve as a wake up call to us as a civilization. Perhaps we will learn from this and decide, as a nation, we do not want to sink to these sorts of depths again.
Perhaps. I hope.
Jeremy McBain is the executive editor of the Petoskey News-Review.