The end is near

arguing beagles

It just so happens that I like happy endings. I like stories where good triumphs over evil, when the down-on-his-luck guy finally catches a break, and when star-crossed lovers beat the odds and live happily ever after. Okay, maybe that last one is too much of a stretch, ‘cause the one place you won’t find this guy is plopped down on the couch all wrapped up in some romantic comedy. But I do like to see when conflicts can be resolved and everyone is pleased by how everything turned out. In books and movies, that can happen. In the real world, it’s not that easy.

If there’s one thing I know about myself, it’s this: I’m not an optimist. That doesn’t mean that I’m always looking for something bad to happen. But after you’ve spent a few years dealing with all the highs and lows that life can send your way, you tend to get a feeling for how the story is going to end. And this year, my friends, we’re caught up in a real page-turner.

This presidential election was destined to be like none before it. There was no doubt who was going to be the main contender among the Democrats. From the moment that Hillary Clinton lost to Barack Obama in 2008, it’s safe to say we all knew she was going to run again. And it was also clear that she would not have to face many competitors. This is due in part to the view from within the party that Clinton’s previous run gave her the advantage of already having built a national campaign, and that experience coupled with a solid network of endorsers and operatives meant that she would hit the ground running while any rivals would be starting from scratch. And so, despite a rather impressive challenge from Bernie Sanders, Sec. Clinton succeeded in becoming the first female presidential nominee of a major US political party.

For the Republicans, their nominee took a much different path. Sure, Donald Trump had plenty of name recognition, but he never bothered to form any real organization. Instead, Trump relied on a loosely concocted strategy of winning a popularity contest rather than gaining votes based on the usual method of establishing a meaningful stance on policy issues. True, Mr. Trump entered the race as one of a large crowd, but it’s not like most of his competition was all that formidable. Some were poorly funded. Others never seemed to be putting in much effort. (I’m looking at you, Jeb.)

And so, here we are. The next president, the person who will hold the most important elected office in the world, will either be a woman with a very large unfavorability ranking… or a man with, coincidentally, a very large unfavorability ranking. No matter who wins, our nation’s next leader will be greatly disliked from day one. That’s unfortunate, but it could also be a great opportunity. Imagine if our next president takes the oath of office and immediately sets out to gain the trust of all Americans, even (and, for that matter, especially) those who voted for the other candidate. We could be in for a new era of healing and cooperation. But I just don’t see that happening, not for a good while. Like I said earlier, I’m not an optimist.

Never before in my lifetime has there been so much bitterness connected to a national election. We’ve allowed anger to overtake common sense. Family members can’t talk to each other without name-calling. Friends are distancing themselves from each other, all because of whose name they plan to select on the ballot.

Is this what we’ve become? A society that’s willing to throw out all the conventions of kindness and civility? And if it’s this bad now, how much worse will it be after the election?

We need to turn off talk radio and cable TV, and learn how to sit down and discuss our differences like reasonable adults. No name calling, no finger pointing, no threats. I’m not going to tell you that we all need to hold hands and say only nice things to each other. That’s not reality. But we need to get out of this rut we’re in.

The great cartoonist Walt Kelly once worked for Disney, helping to create such masterpieces as “Dumbo”, “Pinocchio”, and “Fantasia”… but he’s best known for his comic strip, “Pogo”. Kelly often used his drawings to comment on social issues, particularly politics, and in doing so condemned extremism on both sides. The most famous quote from his strip, “We have met the enemy and he is us,” can honestly be used to describe our current political climate.

I won’t say we’ve hit rock bottom, because that would suggest that things can’t get worse. Based on what I’ve seen over the past year, it probably will.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald September 1, 2016.)

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