I went to a Donald Trump rally last week and it was everything I expected it to be. It had a very large and energetic crowd, “Make America Great Again” Hats, and a surprisingly engaging and entertaining speaker. The one thing it was missing, which I also expected, was substance. That, however, got me thinking. The lack of substance in his speech wasn’t a Donald Trump problem. It was a presidential campaign problem in general. The only information that has gotten through the filter of the media during this election cycle has been generic rhetoric and mudslinging, which has alarmingly become enough for the vast majority to cast their vote.
Each campaign can be summed up by one sentence. That statement happens to be the aforementioned, “Make America Great Again”, on the Trump side. On the Hillary side, simply reminding voters that “I am not Donald Trump.” seems to be enough. Those two statements happen to be the qualifying factors this year to either attract or repel voters. Never mind the details of either candidate’s policy. Never mind their policies in general. This election has become a political version of Keeping Up With The Kardashians and we are eating it up.
If you want to find out the plan each candidate has for our country, you have to do the legwork, which fewer and fewer people are willing to do. The news can no longer be trusted to provide the facts of the matter without a significant amount spin in either direction (which is a whole other topic within itself). The facts end up on the cutting room floor and the clips we get are the most inflammatory statements of the day. Our opinions on which lever to pull are based on those soundbytes, which can easily have been taken out of context.
They have led to a strong divide, which you can experience first-hand on social media. The likes, shares, and hashtags can be a drain on your intelligence or they can be very telling if you know where to look. Take, for example, two trending hashtags that have become a mantra of either side; #NeverTrump and #NeverHillary. Those are not mere indications of who the user is voting for, but a statement saying that no matter what the candidates say or do, their vote will not change. Trump’s comment during the primaries, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” is laughable at its surface, but not that far from reality when you have a base that is unwilling to change their minds for any reason. The same mindset would have surely been on display with tweets of #neverround or #NeverMagellan, had Twitter been around in the 1500’s when the flat Earth theory was being challenged.
Is it crazy to expect the potential leader of our country to lay out their point-by-point plan for our country, debate it, and have us cast our votes accordingly? I don’t think that’s too crazy, but maybe that’s the problem. It’s boring and boring doesn’t sell. Crazy sells. Divisiveness sells. Voters don’t tune in to the news to check in on the latest policy details. They tune in to see who attacked who and how the other candidate responded. If viewers wanted policy details, it would show in the ratings and it doesn’t. “If it bleeds, it leads.” is a phrase thrown around every newsroom in America, for a reason. The most interesting story gets the most coverage, not necessarily the most pressing or the one with the more researched and fact-checked content.
It’s frustrating to sit back and watch what this campaign has degraded into. Unfortunately we have no one to blame but ourselves. We applaud the generic and empty rhetoric of “putting America back to work,” but don’t question how. We like, share, and comment on all the articles about the inflammatory remarks. We are sending a message to the candidates that this is the type of content and substance that we want, yet this year, more than ever, people complain about the state that politics are in. Only four years ago, the candidates stood for something. Whether you agreed with it or not, you knew what either Obama or Romney supported and opposed. This year, not so much. I just hope the ratings bonanza, the spike in social media engagements, and boisterous applause over generic statements hasn’t already sent the message that this is what America now stands for, and set the stage for future elections.
by: Charles Santini