An Election Intervention
National elections used to be a celebration of all that is good in America. When I was young, election day was a civic state holiday – something to be revered and looked forward to. This year, it’s a morbid finish line of doomed relief, like doctor-assisted suicide. Just get it over with and put us out of our misery.
Even in the bitter disappointment of watching Al Gore concede after the SCOTUS decision ending the 2000 recount, I remember being proud of how he handled it and of our electoral process. This year, there seems to be very little to celebrate.
Sure, there will be some pockets of pride when either the first female president or the ultimate change agent make their victory speech. But that will do little to heal the giant rift of resentment left from the most senselessly brutal battle since Gettysburg.
The cynicism and deep divisions of this election may do more harm to our national psyche than Watergate and Bush v. Gore combined. It’s now precedent for presidential aspirants to call each other schoolyard names, engage in morally reprehensible talk and behavior, mock the infirm, incite violence and fraud, lie indiscriminately, and to call for the jailing of your political opponent. And for foreign powers to actively attempt to sabotage the outcome at the urging of the candidates.
We used to vote for the best man. Now we vote for “the lesser of two evils.” (A phrase I’d like to banish from our lexicon.) We don’t endorse the most qualified person, we endorse with an eye toward strategically filling Supreme Court vacancies and repealing social reforms.
We used to vote for third party candidates to bring reform to the system. Now we use third party candidates as a sneeze guard on democracy.
Major party candidates used to encourage high voter turnout. Now they run campaigns designed to actively depress it. Negative campaigning used to be a strategic tool. Now it’s a political platform.
Campaign rallies used to be tools of political engagement. Now they are angry lynch mobs. All that’s missing are the torches, pitchforks and ropes.
Candidate yard signs used to be a sign of enthusiastic support for your candidate. Now they’re a middle finger to your neighbors.
Debates used to be a way to learn about the candidates and evaluate their relative strengths. Now they’re a macabre spectacle, like a fiery NASCAR crash. You can’t help but watch, then cringe at what you see.
Political journalism used to be a form of public education. Now it’s a form of public crucifixion.
Voting used to be an honorable civic choice. Now it’s a painful Sophie’s Choice.
Americans used to mock the integrity of foreign elections. Now they mock ours.
Just 8 short years ago, we watched a president-elect’s victory speech with tears of pride in our eyes. This year we will tear up, too – but for half the country, they’ll be tears of sorrow and anger.
Inauguration Day used to be a day of optimism and hope. Now it’s the opening day of lame-duck hunting season.
Our democratic election process used to be what’s best about us. Now it’s what’s worse.
We used to need our presidential elections to remind us of the greatness of American democracy. Now we don’t need an election. We need an intervention.