It is quickly becoming apparent to me that this election war is not going to be fought on the battlefields of policy, the trenches of qualifications, nor the foxholes of experience, but in the murky fields of sleaze and scandal. I and a handful of others stand at Gettysburg, Shiloh, and Fort Sumter, muskets loaded, awaiting the arrival of our counterparts, but they are off wallowing in the pig sties of filth, slop, and lies. What gives?
I admit that I am quick to bash Trump on a variety of issues, such as his lies, his lack of government experience, and his racist ideology, if one can call it an ideology. However, I have mostly left alone his personal past, believing instead that our choice of a leader should be predicated on knowledge and understanding of the job at hand, the qualifications of the candidate, and on the direction the nation is going and needs to go. But I am beginning to feel very much alone on this train. The rest of the nation, it seems, would rather focus on Trump’s relationship with women and Clinton’s husband’s affairs. I would rather know what the candidates see as our role in the Middle East than what they see as their role in the bedroom. I would prefer to know their level of commitment toward environmental issues than the size of their … hands.
Perhaps, looking back, this circus that we are calling an election season has been coming to town for a long time now. In 1796, Alexander Hamilton, writing under the pen name “Phocion,” attacked Thomas Jefferson on the pages in Gazette of the United States, a federalist paper in Philadelphia, claiming that Jefferson was having an affair with one of his slaves (which, of course, turned out to be true). In the same election, Adams supporters also claimed that Jefferson’s election would result in a civil war, that he would free the slaves, and that he was an atheist. GASP!!! In response, Jefferson referred to Adams as “old, querulous, bald, blind, crippled, toothless Adams.” Tsk, tsk … such maturity.
In the 1828 election between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, the mudslinging went to extremes. One of Adams’s supporters, a Philadelphia printer named John Binns, produced a variety of handbills, known as the Coffin Handbills. One of the handbills accused Jackson of being a cannibal, saying that after massacring over 500 Indians one evening, “the bloodthirsty Jackson began again to show his cannibal propensities, by ordering his Bowman to dress a dozen of these Indian bodies for his breakfast, which he devoured without leaving even a fragment.” Another of Adams’ supporters, Charles Hammond, claimed that “General Jackson’s mother was a common prostitute brought to this country by British soldiers. She afterwards married a mulatto man, with whom she had several children, of which General Jackson is one!!!” Jackson’s followers, meanwhile, accused Adams of providing an American girl for the “services” of the Russian czar when Adams was ambassador to Russia. They branded Adams “Pimp to the Coalition”.
1844 Democrats backing James K. Polk claim that Henry Clay had sex with whores and, furthermore, broke all 10 of the commandments; in lieu of evidence, they declared simply that the details are “too disgusting to appear in public print.” Today, I am certain, the details would appear in at least some publications. In the 1912 contest between Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft, Roosevelt referred to Taft as a “fathead” and “puzzlewit”. Puzzlewit … I rather like that one! And then, who can forget the Obama campaign accusing Mitt Romney of tying the family dog to the roof of a car? And then there was the ‘birther’ issue that was trumped up by … well, you know.
Okay, so all the wallowing amongst the pigs is nothing new to election campaigns, but is it productive? If there is any benefit to this style of campaigning, I certainly cannot see what it is. In 2012, CNN referred to the mudslinging campaigns of both Romney and Obama as similar to the familiar acronym ‘MAD’ … mutually assured destruction. I think that pretty much sums it up. There is more harm than good to come from these types of campaigns. Who is to blame? Certainly the candidates themselves, as they must approve all advertisements for their campaign, and more to the point, they are the very ones slinging the slop. But there is plenty of blame to go around, and the media is deserving of their fair share. I include both mainstream media, particularly Fox News and CNN, but also social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I am very close to abandoning my Facebook account for this very reason. And lastly, We The People must bear our share, the lion’s portion, I believe, of the blame. The public is all too quick to jump on the bandwagon at the slightest hint of a scandal while at the same time appearing bored by talk of foreign policy, economics, environment, and other serious issues that we need to be discussing. There is a saying in the media, “If it bleeds, it leads”. It is our fascination with scandal and sensationalism that leads the media to focus on the irrelevant. And it is the media’s focus that drives the candidates in their quest for more airtime, more free advertising.
The U.S. election process seems to be becoming more of a spectator sport or a reality program than a serious venue for the exchange of ideas to help us choose the most qualified of two candidates. My take? If you want drama and excitement, or you want to see people having sex or comparing body parts, yelling, ranting and raving, watch television. My advice? To the candidates, I say speak softly, intelligently, and refuse to lower yourselves to the level of a pig. To the voters, I implore you to demand serious answers to serious questions and refuse to be swayed by the pure crap that has become ‘Election 2016.’