Since the formation of the Union, American election campaigns have always been contentious. Mud slinging, vitriol, personal attacks, hyperbole, lies and ugliness are nothing new to politics. But the 2016 Presidential campaign will doubtless be remembered by historians as one of our nation’s greatest political embarrassments. It has truly become a race to the bottom.
How did we arrive at this place? How did television go from images of Lucy and Ricky sleeping in separate beds to the regular, and some would say gratuitous use, of graphic sound bites which refer to male and female genitalia. How did we get to a place when we read and hear more about a candidate’s marriage infidelity, boastful remarks about his sexual prowess, his sexual assault of women, his bullying, racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, and homophobic rants than we do about his specific political philosophy and policy proposals?
How did we get to the point where not one major American newspaper will endorse one of the two major party nominees and go so far as to break with their own tradition by endorsing a candidate with a political philosophy that runs counter to the editorial bent of the publication?
How did we get to the point where thirty days before the election, more than a dozen sitting U.S. Senators and numerous members of the House have rescinded their previous support for their party’s nominee for President or never endorsed the nominee at all? How did we get to the point where the Speaker of the House of Representatives declares that he will not defend or campaign with his party’s nominee for President?
How did we get to the point where parents and teachers who once encouraged children to watch Presidential debates and campaign news coverage as a part of their civics education now keep their children away from the news which is full of content that includes graphic and explicit language suitable only for adults?
How did we get to the point where a candidate sexually objectifies women including his own daughter? Where he demeans individuals based on their gender, religion. ethnic heritage, immigration status, sexual identity and preference, or disability ?
How did we get to the point where a major party candidate for President demonstrates a life-long pattern of legally and morally questionable business practices and who defies all requests for full and complete transparency of his tax returns?
How did we get to the point where a major political party passed over more than a dozen more qualified and ethically and morally fit candidates in favor of a nominee that may be held responsible for the destruction of what has often been called the party of Lincoln?
What have we become? What has become of us as a nation? How did we get to this point? And most importantly what is to become of us in the future?
When will we be able to return to a time when, to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, candidates will be judged by the content of their policies and not by the deficits in their character?
It is often easier to diagnosis the problem than it is to prescribe the remedy. We have always been a hopeful nation full of optimism and aspiration. And while we may have many reasons to believe that the future is bright we should be very concerned about the dark storm clouds that may be blocking the sun from our political process. And now more than ever we need all the sunshine we can get because sunshine can be the best disinfectant for a process that has sadly been defiled.
Presidential historians, political pundits, academicians, and other analysts will study the many factors that brought us to this point. Whatever they and others identify as the causative factors, what will be most important will be our ability as a nation to learn from our mistakes and commit to never repeat them again. Our Democracy cannot afford to have its central pillar eroded by our most recent experience. We need to marshal all of our goodwill, our national brilliance and energy to ensure that what has become of us will not be what we have become for the future.