Like many Americans, I’m unhappy with the choice of candidates in the 2016 presidential campaign. How and why a strong, educated and powerful democracy came to this point in history will be debated for years. The reality of the situation is where I choose to concentrate on the eve of this long national struggle.
This presidential selection process has been of historical significance for many reasons. Lessons learned may point to better processes in the future. Party politics as usual may be a thing of the recent past — at least, if our political leaders truly have our best interests at heart. A “new normal” could bring things more in line with the majority of Americans’ sense of decency and civility. I pray so.
While there have been strong debates, even protests, over current candidates’ history and verbiage, as well as their supporters’ actions and misdeeds, what’s most curious is the level of unbelievable misstatements, harsh rhetoric and personal attacks. Political hardball is not new in our history. But the level of discord and disdain by both major campaigns has set new watermarks, accented by social media.
Yet I take pride and confidence in what I see and hear amongst rank-and-file voters advocating both sides of the aisle. First, there is incredible grief and horror against dirty politics, tawdry campaigns, below-the-belt advertising and vicious word-slinging by both candidates. While the country is more divided than ever over a host of issues, most of us can hold a civil conversation about matters. If only some candidates could do the same.
Second, I don’t know that I have ever witnessed such an incredible absence of yard signs and bumper stickers in a presidential election season. With all the interest this year’s campaign has generated, I find it odd we don’t have more folks proudly proclaiming their support. Local party leaders assure the Trib that signs and bumper stickers absolutely flew off the table at party booths at the Heart O’ Texas Fair & Rodeo, yet most obviously didn’t affix themselves to car and pickup truck bumpers or sprout in local lawns.
Some may say this absence is because one party didn’t bother campaigning in our state because they knew they had Texas in their pocket. Some say the lack of political signs suggests the other party knew they had no chance in Texas and so they just didn’t campaign heavily in our state.
My theory is different. I believe the lack of signs and bumper stickers is attributable to the fact honest, decent Americans are thoroughly embarrassed by both candidates, dearly wish they had viable alternatives and simply don’t want to offend neighbors and friends or permanently scar themselves by advertising for whom they might be voting. After all, there’s always a chance your neighbor may gauge you lots differently because of the candidate you touted around Halloween.
I also believe this rush to vote early — more than 55,000 of 136,036 voters in McLennan County — is an indication not only of voters’ wish to put this whole scandalous political nightmare behind them as soon as possible but to cleverly keep their vote anonymous and confidential. After all, it’s much easier to avoid political debate after one has voted than before. No amount of political persuasion can change a vote after it has been cast.
Americans, a hardy and courageous lot, have strong emotional feelings about issues, concerns and political perspectives. That’s healthy. In this election, however, they in many cases and perhaps most cases also had strongly negative feelings about both presidential nominees — perhaps more so than in any other election in memory. Those longings for alternative candidates or more official write-in options (13 of the latter are approved as write-ins in Texas) highlight just how many see our nation as voting for the lesser of two evils.
Whatever the election results, they are perhaps the best we can expect in a political year of boorishness, hostility and unrestrained nastiness at political rallies and on social media, much of it unacceptable for our children and grandchildren. But perhaps this will be the point of a new beginning about whom we accept into our leadership positions and how and why we support those in leadership positions. I hope so.
Surely, the seeds of a good and honorable democracy can still be planted in American soil. It is up to us to see that those seeds grow steadily, crowding out the weeds of something in our midst that lacks any semblance of statesmanship.
Longtime civic leader Harry Harelik is executive director of the McLennan Community College Foundation.