Unprecedentedly ugly elections sad signs of political times
By Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell
We are living in troubled times is a phrase repeated by every generation. However, the tone of this political season makes the phrase even more apropos this go around. In the past, when opposing parties disagreed there was usually a middle group willing to broker differences to find common ground and a mutually acceptable compromise. Unfortunately, this no longer seems true. Today’s message is that if you are in Congress and dare to cross the party line, be prepared for the repercussions. Very likely you will be ostracized and often targeted in the next election cycle. The end result is that whether this intolerant thinking is done by Democrats or Republicans, it has led to a dysfunctional government that hurts our entire nation.
Grid-locking the legislature — and thereby, of late, judicial appointments — has damaged the give and take function of the governmental decision making process, creating an outraged public who have little faith in elected officials. We end up with cases where our elected officials shout each other down, routinely disrespect each other, and even go as far as insulting the President of the United States. This role modeling by our legislators seems to embolden demonstrators who in recent years have in turn greeted lawmakers on the Capitol steps with homophobic, racist, gender baiting, and other slurs. Worse yet, extremists have even threatened violence upon legislators who voted for some bill (most notably the Affordable Care Act) they did not like. Unfortunately, the concept of political tolerance is currently dead.
This combative stance has become a part of all politics from the current presidential race to local contests. Politicians and advocacy groups have reached new lows with attack ads now the expected norm. Daily, the media covers campaigns in such a way as to highlight the negatives, allowing the candidates and their surrogates to bad mouth each other, throwing around incendiary accusations, and slander each other with impunity. This type of reporting divides the nation, encourages negative political rhetoric, and unnecessarily heightens political tensions. This has developed the belief that candidates who were once merely considered ideological opponents are now perceived as embittered, intractable enemies.
As a result of this new reality, even neighborhood political discussions have moved into disputes where erstwhile friends become emotionally involved in passionately arguing their points. No longer is it acceptable to engage in political discourse like our forefathers who forcefully but peacefully hammered out agreement on the principals and wording of our United States Constitution. Instead, people get angry and even hostile when their opinions and views are challenged. In the current climate, it is dicey to even bring up a hot button issue or advocate for a candidate at a barbeque for fear of heated arguments and rhetoric that risks causing offense.
So I guess the big question is: What has brought us to this point where expressing an opposing view is largely unappreciated or thought of as downright offensive? Is it a result of the role models our elected officials are displaying? Is it the highly biased and opinionated presentations of the 24/7 television news cycle and talk radio demigods? Is it the bloggers who present every whispered rumor and conspiracy theory as gospel truth? Is it our local and national advocacy groups with their bottomless funding of unrelenting attack ads that spin half-truths and misinformation until the public no longer knows what to believe? Or perhaps, is it a little bit of us all? Have we, as a people, become jaded and skeptical of all who do not think and believe as we do? What do you think? How do we as a nation move beyond these seemingly intractable differences and incendiary rhetoric to once again accept the concept of civil political discord and a willingness to seek compromise?
Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell is a freelance writer and educator. If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org