I wonder if you have noticed in this presidential election that most of what we hear about is his affairs and character, her emails and character, and what we most have to fear about the other. The truth is that all of this is unsettling and it makes me wonder what it says of us and our processes that after millions of dollars, primaries in most of our states, and lots of candidates and campaigning, this is the best we can come up with. But what has also disturbed me is that it has been very hard to get to substantive conversations about many important questions. At times one or the other candidate has tried, only to see the conversation be deflected back to emails and sex and outrageous statements.
Meanwhile our attention has been diverted from things like:
- The genocide occurring in Aleppo–one of our third party candidates didn’t even know what Aleppo was!
- Our burgeoning national debt, approaching $20 trillion, or over $61,000 per citizen. Mom and pop have been spending big time on the credit card and the kids will be paying the bill.
- Our opiate epidemic that may well affect over 2 million people in this country and that contributes to much of the crime and gun violence in our cities. Various substance abuse problems also contribute to unemployment or under-employment of many who might otherwise contribute to our workforce and economy.
- Deepening fault lines across race, ethnicity and gender. So much of our politics seems to pander only to particular groups in our country rather than serving all those who are or hope to be “citizens.” Our politics accentuate these divisions rather than uniting us in common aspirations across them.
- The impacts of rising temperatures, cataclysmic weather events, and rising sea levels both on this country and others, particularly on the poor of the world in coastal regions and drought regions. We can debate whether humans have caused this or long term trends. But there are monumental changes occurring right now that mean this is not “business as usual.”
And these are just a few examples…
It also strikes me that there are a variety of local and regional issues that deserve greater attention. My city’s voters are being asked to approve a nearly $1 billion package of bond issues for various infrastructure and civic improvements. We’ve heard quite little about how these monies will be used, and how equitably they will be distributed through our community and how those decisions will be made. We are voting on local, appellate, and state supreme court judges. Most of us don’t appreciate the importance of their work until you sit on a jury. We vote on state and federal representatives. At a state level, these people exercise oversight over various state services, our universities and public education at every level, and state resources, among other things.
Emails and scandals are easy and ready diversions from these issues that take time and thought but profoundly shape our lives. It would seem that a responsible media would stop the feeding frenzy and focus on these questions. It seems that responsible candidates would declare a moratorium on “trash talk” and at least for the last weeks of the campaign, address matters of substance. And it seems that responsible citizenship requires that we not settle for the low level of discourse and substance we’ve seen but call for substantive discussions of the things that are really shaping our nation and world.
And maybe if we did this, we wouldn’t be saying, “is this the best we can come up with?”