I have stopped paying attention to the current presidential election cycle in the United States. You can say “aw, you’re what’s wrong with this country,” but the truth is that I think there’s so much wrong with this whole process that it’s best if I just step aside and let history take its course.
I grew up in a very political household. My great-aunts were flag-waving, foot-stomping, phone call-making members of the pro-Statehood party in Puerto Rico. That environment was fervent, involved, loyal to a fault, and yet…it never lacked civility. Sure, they would think you were an idiot if you didn’t agree with their views, but they didn’t think that tit-for-tat should be taken beyond a few opening salvos that stopped the moment it got too heated.
This is not to say that blood pressure didn’t rise, or that they didn’t have choice words when it came to yelling at the TV or the newspaper. They would get angry. Seriously angry. They would be sprung to action by what they thought required their immediate rattling of cages filled with dormant voters who were not invested enough in the process. They never, however, resorted to vileness, and they never relinquished their innate respect for others.
I was raised by three elderly, conservative, religious, traditional women in what many consider to be a rather backwards Hispanic society. The funny thing about that is that it was those same women who encouraged me to read, question, doubt, research, ask, discuss, challenge. Yes, even them. While their political views were very specific, they would try to persuade them about their soundness rather than force me to agree with them. This from women born within the first two decades of 20th century.
What would they have made of the circular arguments, mendacity, subterfuge, vitriol, disenchantment we face these days? I have often asked myself this as I read the news (from every media outlet possible, people, because I REALLY read,) and see what passes for dialogue these days. Discourse is lost. And this goes for both sides. Once you say something that people disagree with, all is lost and it’s over. Insults are, sad to say, frequently are the response you will get.
We seem to have lost the ability to disagree civilly. We seem to have lost the ability to listen. We seem to have lost the ability to give our opinion without trying to denigrate each other.
It is bad enough that I read the news online. If you read any comments under any news item, you will see the world descending into the worst sort of anger: anonymous, unfiltered anger. We relinquished cable TV so we wouldn’t be compelled to listen to the news (24/7…relentlessly…minutely detailed…,) and yet we cannot turn away from world and national events. Being uninformed and remaining quiet is almost as bad as being misinformed and yapping away uncontrollably. We remain committed to being informed, but we can no longer be invested in the way politics have become, more than ever before, entertainment.
I understand feeling strongly about one’s beliefs. I understand passionately defending one’s opinion. I understand feeling distaste for one or another candidate’s views and actions, but I don’t understand why anger and hatred seem to be the primary forces at work here. People can no longer say “well, I don’t trust him/her because it seems to me, from what I’ve read/witnessed/researched/heard that his/her views on this/that/the other subject are not the soundest.” Any opinion you give will get you a mighty tongue-lashing from just about anyone.
I really don’t know what direction we’re choosing for the next four years. I really don’t know how much of the decision will be made based on hate for one candidate rather than love for another. I don’t know if we’re going with the “lesser of two evils” approach, or the him/her rather than her/him approach. All I know is that, for the first time in all my fifty-plus years, I see our society behaving with a lot less civility and consideration for others.
Look, I really am not smarter than anyone else. I do read a lot. I do try to look at every situation from different angles. With J as a member of my family, I have to accept that there are many shades of gray in every direction…this is not a line…it’s more of an orb… I am concerned at how strict some people’s interpretation of things can be; I am concerned that most people in America have NEVER read any of the documents on which our nation was founded. People don’t understand that history is a process, and that many things have changed over time as a result of events that created concerns, fears, shifts in perspective, etc. I’m not just saying that because I’m an elitist. I’m saying it because I have a degree in History, and am an avid reader. I didn’t learn about Alexander Hamilton NOW. Yeah, nerd that I am, I’ve read The Federalist Papers. (Although you have to admit Hamilton is a pretty freakin’ kick-ass way of getting young people to realize that our Founding Fathers were, at one point, kids just like us, and that our history is not as dead a thing as people like to think… Thank you, Lin-Manuel Miranda…)
What gives me pause about this election cycle is that we are accepting cardboard cutouts in place of actual people. We are repeating without researching. We are believing without confirming. We are agreeing without knowing what it is we’re agreeing to, and that is pretty freakin’ scary.
Truth is the daughter of time, not of authority. Francis Bacon said that. He had a point. At the end of this whole election period, whatever happens, the government we get will not be like the picture that has been painted for us in the heat of campaigning. The real world doesn’t work that way. Life is a lot more complex, and -newsflash!- we will be going through it together whether we agree or disagree. I may not agree with others, but I will do my best to not be part of the screaming and foot-stomping.
My great-aunts would agree: it’s not worth having a stroke, and it’s not going to help us in the end. Wednesday, November 9th, we all have to get up and keep going, and the dynamics that come into play when you wake up next to a stranger after an ill-advised sexual encounter shouldn’t be what we aim for. We’re all in it together. Whether we like it, or not.