Some scattered thoughts about tomorrow’s election, for those other exasperated readers out there:
The most disheartening remarks have come from those pundits and talk-show hosts—who spend nearly every waking hour on things political—coming to the same conclusion as me, a political novice at best: hold your nose and vote for the sake of the Supreme Court.
If there is another reason to doubt the wisdom of the media on both sides, and to distrust most of what they say and do, it’s this. That they can come to no better conclusion is reason enough to wonder what they’ve been doing all this time, other than entertaining us to sleep.
The death of ideas seems to be the theme this year. If past elections focused hardly at all on actual issues, this year’s election is still traveling to the bottom and has a way to go. 2016 is the meme election, the anecdotal election, the gaffe election, the Dumb-Thing-Said election. If Trump has proven anything, it’s that even even the silliest or most offensive or even actually dangerous campaign comments mean nothing. And even with Trump’s pussy remark in mind, I think this is as it should be. As history shows, it’s entirely possible for a misogynist to govern a country, and govern it well, just as it’s entirely possible for a criminal, or a serial-adulterer to govern a country, and govern it well. To imagine that politicians from time immemorial haven’t said or acted worse in private is just ridiculous, and more importantly it also has nothing to do with actual issues.
In an age where CSPAN and the internet can both recall things politicians said twenty years ago, and which were said in different cultural moments and for different calculated reasons, we should realize (as many Republicans apparently have) that no amount of moral shortcomings or unfortunate statements lessens one’s ability to stand for, speak for, or potentially implement, one’s basic core philosophy and values.
But these gaffes and soundbites are easier to embrace than talking about that core philosophy, and so the actually serious discussion we all need to have on race, gender, religion, class, poverty, refugees, and so much else—this discussion is unlikely to ever happen except inside our own heads, or on blogs like this with very little audience, and instead will continue to be relegated to extremists on both sides.
Because assuming Trump is as bad as the worst predictions, or assuming that Hillary is—how is it that the election can be so close? I remember the 2012 election, before Republicans chose Romney, and how they seamlessly went (sometimes in the same sentence) between saying that Obama is so horrible, anyone can go up against him and Candidate A and B are really the only ones who can beat him. How can both assertions be true, either back in 2012, or right now? If either of the caricatures of the two candidates are true, whether the dumb misogynist and horrible businessman who seems to make everything up as he goes along, or the robotic criminal grandmother who is near death and can barely speak; and if the apocalyptic scenarios from either side are even possible; why are they still so close?
How can what is so obvious to so many people appear to be idiocy to so many others? Is half of the country actually just stupid, or are these candidates actually just mediocre? Is it just possible that no recent candidates have ever been as good or bad as they’ve been portrayed? What does this extreme perception and wide gulf between assertion and opinion, and their reflection in actual polls, say about how we communicate, how we are given the news and how we process it?
How desperately do we want someone to love, and someone to hate? How desperately do we want someone to follow, someone to worship? How desperately do we actually want our choice to mean something titanic and life-changing? How desperately do we want to do anything at all that has real meaning? This I think is the real underlying issue, but as in this very post as everywhere else, it’s buried in the middle of static and noise.
It might seem odd to put MSNBC, Alex Jones, Fox News and Bill Maher in the same sentence, but when you boil all of them down they are basically entertainers. If Alex Jones toned down his crazy he would probably have good points to make—but then, he probably wouldn’t have the audience he has, which for him would be counterproductive. MSNBC and Fox News both cater to no one but the same: those who agree, and hate-watchers. If the “Mainstream” media is biased and blind and condescending, is the other side really not on par with them? Really?
As I’ve said elsewhere, “While it is assumed that so many TV channels, web pages and podcasts will allow everyone to be seen and heard without discrimination or bias, in reality only those who effectively draw the sharpest distinctions between peoples and groups, and only those who can pretend to speak from some absolute authority, are even noticed.” Our choice when it comes to news isn’t, by and large, between one side and another, but between entertainment news and a lack of real news.
Bill Maher seems to represent the kind of release valve people on the left need; yet after an hour of mocking conservatives he actually asked in a recent episode of Real Time what people on the left need to do to reach out to those who disagree with them; he actually had Bernie Sanders on and neither of them mentioned how likely it was that Hillary’s campaign and the DNC took the primary election from him, even if only to deny it. How can anyone who doesn’t agree with Maher not see such displays as beyond biased? How can Hillary think that dragging out celebrities for her rallies isn’t just a cliché? How can the New York Times not see that a sneering Look-at-Freaks article about a Georgia militia plays into the worst perceptions of media on the left?
And yet, how can those on the right possibly make claims about voter fraud and election rigging, about manipulating race or class fears just for votes, and how can they possibly denounce the Wikileaks emails from Hillary’s staff when they know their side is likely making the same derisive comments in private, and using the same tactics? It’s all echo-chamber entertainment for your own followers. None of them have our actual interest in mind.
One of the reasons I was certain up until now that I wouldn’t vote was that I found both candidates horrendous; but that only feeds into the memes and anecdotes. In a world where image and personality matters, where everything but substance matters, the only real reason to vote this year is for a completely impersonal one: anyone who isn’t a rabid Trump or Clinton supporter is either voting against the other candidate, or voting for a placeholder who generally agrees with their values.
We all desperately want someone to bow down to, a real leader to actually represents us and who might make a difference in a world through sheer power of intellect and ambition and charisma, but our cultural and media moment seems to have destroyed any chance of this actually happening; but to be fair, history is filled with very few such people. (That so many supporters take Trump to be some revolutionary candidate shows how far down we’ve come; but I suppose the fact that so few Hillary supporters see her in this light is somewhat hopeful—I’m kind of glad that yard-signs for her are so overwhelmingly outnumbered by Trump ones, where I live: a kind of new silent majority.)
The era of voting for a candidate because He Seems Like Me, is over. Or it should be, but probably won’t be. Because they aren’t us. Their lives are as different from ours as we can possibly imagine. There can be no identification with them, and perhaps this is why gaffes and anecdotes get so much attention: there aren’t real ideas to latch onto, let alone real human beings. As was said to me by someone much wiser, elections are our chance to get our hands dirty, and this year is about as dirty as it gets.