What can be said about this election that has not already been said? It is morally exhausting, painstakingly frustrating, and quite honestly I was ready for it to be over about two months ago.
The deplorable comments of Trump have escalated to a point where his offensives have almost become normalized. I wake up to headlines like “Trump says he won’t accept outcome” or “trump pussy grabbing video”, and I sigh because I am so unsurprised. Our standard of rhetoric and general level of respect for our politic has become analogous to that of tabloids and celebrity gossip.
Even during our presidential debates, the nature of media frenzy and polarizing emotions, left little room for actual policy conversation. It was less so a debate of issues and more so a stage performance. I felt like I was already watching the SNL skit rendition. Hillary would insert a few smug quips and Trump would deny and shout. Whenever policies and issues were brought up it didn’t take long before it derailed into sound bits.
It’s not entirely their fault though; they know their putting on a performance, in part because that’s part of the job, but more so than ever I think it’s because we have an audience that desperately feeds off of it. The first presidential debate was viewed by over 84 million people, breaking debate viewership records. Maybe this is a sign that the American people are more politically engaged. Maybe this is a sign that just more people in general own TVs, but I would argue in a time and age when live television is on the decline, there is another reason to tune in. Namely, I think that people were excited to watch the debate because they couldn’t wait to see what headline worthy- attention grabbing entertainment would ensue.
So much so that we’ve turned our politics into a reality TV show. And its not just the debates. Its in every aspect of how we interact and treat our politicians these days. Through twitter, through talk shows, through every form of media you can think of. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing Obama read mean tweets on Jimmy Fallon and Hillary make jokes with Ellen. In many ways media has allowed politics to transition into a space it never could before. They’re able to reach their audience much more directly, more intimately, and “relate to the audience”. And thats ok. But what worries me is that we’ve reached a point where we’ve blurred the lines between their professional roles and entertainment value too far. Consequently, we’ve lost a certain respect and etiquette that comes with this office. We no longer treat them like professionals and in response they don’t act like professionals. Or worse in Hillary’s case, she is scrutinized for being “too professional”. In the same way the Kardashian’s galavant their support, this years election has just been one Kenneth bone meme to the next. But unlike the Kardashians, these people are not celebrity moguls (well one of them isn’t…) they are our PRESIDENTIAL candidates.
Perhaps I’m more old fashioned than my liberal leanings will admit. I worry that being in this kind of hyper media climate people will forget the severity, the legacy, and the significance of what it means to be president of the United States. This election is a mockery to the history and the sacrifice that has built literally and figuratively our white house.
I’m currently taking a social studies pedagogy course. In it we learn the techniques and ins and outs of becoming a high school social studies teacher. When I write my lesson plans I am thinking of three things. 1) How can I organize our history so that it is understandable 2) how do I do this in a fun and engaging way and 3) how can I facilitate their knowledge so that my students can perceive and judge on their own. I sometimes think about what it will be like to teach this years election. How will I teach about the history that shaped our democracy, the sacrifices and the lives that were cost to protect and build this country, while simultaneously our modern politic has deteriorated into nothing more than viewer numbers? How can I teach my students about civil liberties and the significance of citizenship when part of that socialization has been lost of real meaning? How will I be able to teach about our first African American president and our first female candidate while still capturing the angst, the fear, and the frustration that plagues our nation? How do I teach my students the importance of politics and the significance of an elected position when we have a market that treats them with so little respect?
Honestly this is a question separate from our actual candidates. But in the same way that the invention of the television revolutionized politics, this years media centered election has done it again. Only this time we turned it into reality tv.