I thought I’d become accustomed to the negativity and vulgarity that has characterized the current presidential campaign, but this past Sunday was definitely a new low. The most recent debate was held that evening and I’d say it was unlike anything any of us alive today have ever seen before in a major political campaign. The atmosphere was highly charged right from the start due to the release a few days before the debate of that infamous 11-year-old audio recording that caught Trump bragging (in very graphic terms) that he could do whatever he wanted to women because he’s a star.
There were (once again) calls for Trump to be replaced on the GOP ticket after that recording was released, but Trump responded to the adversity like a cornered animal and came out swinging. He held a press conference just before the debate where he in effect accused Bill Clinton of being a much worse sexual predator than himself and accused Hillary of enabling Bill’s bad behavior by attacking the women who filed suit against him.
The strategy carried over into the debate as Trump waved off a question about the things he said in the audio recording as “locker room banter” and then launched into the first of numerous character assaults on his opponent. Clinton, of course, responded in kind, and she had a wealth of material to rake Trump over the coals with. It was painful thing to witness, like a prize fight in which there were no rules and every single punch was directed below the belt.
It’s as if this campaign is now totally comprised of the things we all hate about modern politics. The mudslinging isn’t just a part of the campaign — it is the campaign. Of course this will all be over soon, but it’s hard to imagine that this election won’t do long-term damage to our political system, our reputation around the world, and to how we all feel about our country and our fellow citizens who disagree with our political beliefs.
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I found it interesting to listen to what the rest of the world had to say about the mud-wrestling match that our current presidential campaign has turned into.
David Smith, the Washington correspondent for the UK newspaper The Guardian, said “Sunday night’s presidential debate was unlike anything seen in the 240 year-old American republic — and not in a good way.” He went on to describe Trump’s performance as “scrambling around in the sewer, flailing, hurling dirt, trying to drag national politics down with him.” I only disagree with the “trying to” part, because he has obviously succeeded, and Hillary is right down there with him hurling her own sewer-stuff back in his direction.
My favorite quote is from the Italian paper La Repubblica, where an editorial said that “American democracy is sick… The mutual delegitimization of the candidates is total.” That really summarizes how I feel — these candidates are both so damaged and the campaign has been so negative and devoid of constructive dialogue that our whole political system seems to be broken.
No matter who wins this election, I can’t imagine that the aftermath will be pleasant. If you think President Obama has been a divisive figure, you ain’t seen nothing yet. How much scorn will be continuously heaped on Hillary if she wins this election? And how much success do you think she’d have “reaching across the aisle” to work with the other party to get things accomplished?
As for what might happen if Trump were to win, well, it’s hard to say. He doesn’t really have a consistent ideology and he’s often not specific about how he might accomplish the vague, grandiose things he promises to do. But I think it’s safe to assume that a significant portion of the country will have a hard time rallying behind a man who has built his campaign on insulting and marginalizing anyone who doesn’t bow down to his greatness.
It’s hard to be optimistic about the next four years regardless of who wins this race to the bottom. I don’t believe either of these candidates has it in them to “make America great again” or demonstrate that we are “stronger together.”
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.