2016 is, as you may have noticed, an election year here in the United States. Now for those of our readers who live outside the United States, this means you wait and watch as the political process in the US changes the world financial markets and affects your local economy. Let me just apologize, right up front. I’m sorry that what we do in an internal process affects the whole world. It just works that way, I guess.
But what does an election year mean to the citizens of these United States? I’d like to believe that it means you will spend time in contemplation of the issues that are most important to you and educating yourself on where the candidates stand. I’d like to think we would all take the time to examine previous comments and voting records for our candidates and that we would take seriously our right and privilege to vote for whomever we think best suited for the job. But, deep down, I don’t really think that’s what an election year means to the general public.
It does mean choosing sides. Sometimes it means choosing a side you don’t agree with but that seems better than the other side that you REALLY don’t agree with. (This is the lesser-of-two-evils vote.) It means getting to know a bit more about your neighbors as campaign signs spring up on lawns like red, white, and blue daffodils. It may mean handing out leaflets, writing letters to the editor, or watching debates on TV. It means funny cartoons on Facebook and reading everyone’s opinions on the latest speech.
But it also means commercials. Lots of commercials. TV, radio, the movies, billboards, magazines, you name it. Wherever we look, we are hit by advertising. And in an election year, we are hit with political advertising. Now I understand the necessity of getting a politician’s name and viewpoint into the public eye. Obviously, if you’ve never heard of the person, you won’t elect them. And I understand and accept (albeit reluctantly) that this advertising needs to be broadcast as widely and as frequently as possible. OK, fine.
But there’s one thing I don’t understand and can’t accept.
Political campaigns never seem to be able to focus on the issues or on the candidates. Instead, they spend millions of our dollars (oh, yes, believe me, you are paying for those ads) to heap vitriol and hatred on their opponents. So and so is a fascist/socialist/communist! Thus and such is a liberal/radical/anarchist! Vote for them and you’ll drive the country to the brink of disaster!
Now everyone has a right to say what they want (you remember, that whole freedom-of-speech thing they taught you in High School?) and everyone has the right to believe what they want. That’s what this country was founded on. Freedom. Freedom from oppression, freedom of religion, freedom of speech. You have the same rights that I do. That’s what the United States is (or was intended to be) all about. Freedom.
But when did the United States become about hatred? When did “My opinion is more valid than your opinion” become the norm? When did it become acceptable, even admirable, to make other people feel small? When did we become a nation of bullies?
You hear a lot about bullying in schools, in workplaces, in the military, in police forces, but no one talks about bullying in the government. How can we expect our citizens to treat each other with dignity and respect when the candidates for our governmental offices can’t seem to rise above playground taunting and name-calling?
Yes, freedom is what America was founded on. It defines our country. But it’s not freedom that makes a great nation. Future civilizations may teach that we were a free nation, but I fear they will not think us a great nation. Greatness is not defined by freedom. It is defined by kindness. It is exemplified in helping others with compassion, tolerance and acceptance for those whose differences we may not understand, and disagreeing without resorting to vicious personal attacks.
Go out and vote this year. Vote for the candidates that you believe in. Be knowledgeable about their policies. Educate yourself. And feel free to have an opinion that differs from your neighbor. But don’t fall prey to the juvenile rhetoric that is tossed around so freely in an election year. Be better than that. Listen more than you speak. Try to understand another’s point of view. Be kind. Be part of a great nation.