Abhorrent, Harrowing, and Reprehensible: Is the State of Political Discourse in the US Beyond Repair
240 years later on, and our Founding Fathers would be overwrought in utter disbelief. The very liberators who ingeniously fought the monarchs of England to free the oppressed thirteen colonies that would go on to constitute the United States of America, would upon witnessing the burgeoning discord in our nation’s politics of late, be at a loss for words. How did we get here? What happened? What does this mean for the future? How will we ever clean up this mess? These are the types of questions that would not only be pondered by our Founding Fathers had they been alive to witness America as it is today, but more importantly, are the same questions being asked by millions of dissatisfied Americans, who stare at today’s political tug-of-war between the right and the left in complete bafflement.
Our current political spectrum no longer consists of rightist or leftist beliefs; nor do voters consider principles or values when election season comes around. Instead, an increasingly larger faction of voters on both sides have begun to adopt near fringe stances on the issues that are the most contentious. In most cases, the right looks for a candidate who denounces both President Obama and his fellow Democrats in every aspect possible, dismisses issues such as climate change and income inequality as nonexistent or not problematic, and reaffirms his/her unequivocal support for protecting the constitutional rights of the people, such as the second amendment and the Confederacy reminiscent right to view the federal government as a hostile outsider that acts against the state’s interests. On the polar opposite end of the spectrum, ultra leftist voters look for outspoken intellectuals; candidates who are educated from the greatest institutions in the world, are articulate, sophisticated, and more often than not, embody urban personas. The most recurrent issues? Climate change, income inequality, the gender pay gap, healthcare and after President Bush’s disastrous military escapade in the Middle East, the War on Terror. As we get closer to electing our 45th Commander-in-Chief, we find that the divide between registered Democratic and Republican voters is drastically wide — almost to the point at which they cannot engage each other, or even tolerate each other. Granted, this has been the case for a number of years now, but the extent to which the hatred between the two parties has consumed American politics is most troubling.
Alarmingly enough, the political spectacles of the past 10 months during the buildup to primary season have proved that political intolerance has become not just a commonality, but a virtue. Environmentalist, historical scholar and 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, once remarked that in his experience, a fundamental vice of the American political process was the “avoidance of saying anything real on real issues." Roosevelt, a Republican — quite resolutely unlike the breed of the modern day GOP— was referring to the superficiality and extreme restraint in the politics of his day. However, the political discourse we find ourselves entangled in today is unequivocally lacking, when it comes to discussion that is even the slightest bit meaningful, or simply put, “real,” when it comes to real issues. Republican candidates for example, have redefined the threshold for what is acceptable when it comes to partisan and inflammatory rhetoric — a feat that has many across the aisle worried. Self-proclaimed real estate mogul Donald J. Trump has perhaps been the most successful candidate in terms of using his heinous rhetoric to bring out the worst in voters. Having already pledged to deport all 11 million immigrants, build a Mexican government financed wall to bar “rapist” Mexicans from entering the US, ban persons of Muslim faith from entering the country and discontinue birthright citizenship — a constitutional right — Mr. Trump has invoked an unprecedented amount of dangerous and narrow-minded fear in the typical right-winger. A report on Mr. Trump’s proposed ban of Muslim persons in the New York Times succinctly encapsulated the crux of what is wrong with our society today by pointing out that no matter how outrageous Mr. Trumps rhetoric was becoming, his loyal supporters unflinchingly carried on refusing to reconsider him. A series of reports published by America’s Voice, The Huffington Post and The Atlantic illustrates just how detrimental Mr. Trump’s repugnant campaign has been. Not only has Trump succeeded in fuelling the bigots of America, he has definitively empowered them; causing a nightmarish and supremacist “Great Awakening” of sorts. All throughout the country, Mr. Trump supporters have taken his hateful rhetoric to the next level: engaging in criminal behavior. The exponential hike in race and hate crimes is not only astonishing, but downright sickening. No matter the political makeup of the region, deplorable acts against minorities have been reported everywhere from Boston to Birmingham, San Francisco to Indianapolis, to even liberal bastions such as Chicago and New York. Minorities of not just hispanic origin, but of Chinese and Sikh heritage as well, have been brutally attacked, including horrifying incidents of drive-by shootings, physical altercations and the continuity of the xenophobic sentiment that candidates such as Trump have so resourcefully tapped into.
But when it comes to dangerous rhetoric, Trump is not the only guilty party; a plethora of other candidates are as well, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Florida Senator Marco Rubio. An evangelical Christian, Mr. Cruz’s campaign’s primary opponent has been the LGBT community, as his supporters have viciously targeted homosexual persons all over the country under the guise of the right to freedom of speech. January of this year saw notorious anti-choice activist Troy Newman, who serves as the head of anti-abortion group Operation Rescue receive a public message of Cruz’s gratitude for his endorsement. While many such organizations exist and advocate for the end of legally permissible abortion, the atrocity of this particular endorsement lies within the fact that Newman’s initiative has been linked to mafia-esque violence — the principal targets of which have been countless abortion clinics and pro-choice activists — for the last 20 years. Speaking on abortion, former candidate Carly Fiorina too, made a misleading statement about what she called a “grotesque” Planned Parenthood advertisement, back in September at the second Republican debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. Having had made it a central issue in her campaign, Fiorina detailed her defamatory smear campaign when asked about her views on abortion, by misleading her supporters and incorrectly claiming that a litany of Planned Parenthood videos featured clips of unborn fetuses being examined by technicians in laboratories saying that while their “hearts were beating, their legs kicking, [they] had to keep them to alive to harvest their brains.” The monstrous antagonism that followed within the pro-life community was overwhelming. Millions of conservatives took to social media and several of Mrs. Fiorina’s co-candidates took the opportunity to denounce the organization and the left. Despite a number of fact-checking analysts deeming Ms. Fiorina’s claims as next to false and having been completely fabricated, the furtherance of the dichotomy between voters had already begun.
The question remains, how exactly will America overcome this divisiveness? The answer isn’t quite clear. For one thing, a divisive political landscape has been key to America’s identity as a nation for quite a while now. More problematic is the fact that America happens to be split quite evenly when it comes to frame of mind. The mainstream media, another major proponent for widening the schism between liberals and conservatives, has only helped to further fragment the nation. Liberal networks such as MSNBC, ABC, CBS and NBC for example, have taken immense pride in primarily targeting urban and more left-leaning viewers. Perhaps the most liberal network in the country, MSNBC has gradually managed to associate itself with only ultra-leftist viewers. Its primetime lineup features programs such as The Rachel Maddow Show, Hardball with Chris Matthews, and The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell — all three of which are editorial styled discussion programs. Through their less than subtle recruitment criteria, the network has managed to further the divide between liberal and conservative viewers. Mrs. Maddow for example, was educated at Stanford University and obtained her doctorate at Oxford University, has been openly homosexual for almost two decades, and on her own program and on many other platforms, has regularly poked fun at the leadership of the Republican party. For her most avid viewers, she is an inspiring hero: a symbol of female excellence that has brought further respect to the liberal community. For their conservative counterparts, however, the country’s most anti-progressive voices, Mrs. Maddow is a disgraceful and snobbish news personality who regularly demeans their most beloved politicians. Mr. Matthews on the other hand, has time and time again used his time slot to engage his left-leaning panelists in dismissive and intellectualized anti-Republican banter. One notable highlight includes his discussion of an interview conducted by FOX News’ Chris Wallace, of former host of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart, back in 2011. Upon accepting the channel’s long overdue invitation to their political headquarters in Washington D.C., or as Wallace referred to it, “the belly of the beast,” Mr. Stewart challenged him to discuss what their respective contributions to society were and in no time at all, began his scathing attack on the channel, by labelling it as a “biased organization relentlessly promoting an ideological agenda under the rubric of being a news organization.” Conservative outrage ensued and despite his critique being largely grounded in reason, the severe backlash that followed polarized the nation beyond what could have ever been anticipated by even the most seasoned of political analysts.
In spite of the intolerance that has developed in our nation, there are indeed heartening reminders that in fact, all is not lost. One such instance, was the glorious appearance Mr. Stewart made on the political debate program, Crossfire, that aired on CNN — and continues to do so today under a different format. Originally featuring liberal and conservative co-hosts Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson respectively, Crossfire had begun to develop an unsavory reputation as a platform for “butting heads” that was “hurting America.” In October 2004, just a couple of weeks before the reelection of President Bush, Mr. Stewart appeared on the program in a rather unorthodox interview; instead of Mr. Carlson and Mr. Begala debating him on a prescribed list of issues, as was the Crossfire tradition, Mr. Stewart used his air time to publicly diminish the program as a detrimental hack of outspoken partisanship. The usually loyal audience watched and cheered in awe as Mr. Stewart left Mr. Begala speechless and left Mr. Carlson exposed in all his inglorious sectarianism. The true measure of progress was seen a couple of months later however, when the then newly appointed president of CNN, Jonathan Klein announced the cancellation of the program. The decision that shocked everyone from Mr. Begala and Mr. Carlson to their viewers, to even Mr. Stewart — the very man who is nowadays considered solely responsible for the program’s cancellation — shook the media landscape and redefined the untouchability a number of such controversial programs had at the time. Commenting on how Crossfire in its previous format didn’t compliment the new direction he wanted to take CNN in, Mr. Klein told an assembled press corps, “CNN is a different animal; we report the news [while] Fox talks about the news.” In an even more devastating blow to the previously routine “head butting debate” that overwhelmed CNN’s primetime schedule, Mr. Klein said he “agreed wholeheartedly with [Mr.] Stewart’s overall premise” and was in no doubt that the ranting partisan political shows on cable at the time were “hurting America.” In yet another example of Mr. Stewart’s lack of reluctance to leave the immunity of his Comedy Central studio and instead open himself up to critique, the buildup to yet another Presidential election — this time in 2012 — saw Mr. Stewart debate one of his own program’s most frequented targets, FOX News’ Bill O’Reilly. The Presidential debate-styled forum entitled ‘The Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium” featured the two gentlemen engage each other in a humorous back-and-forth on issues such as the economy, social security, income redistribution, foreign policy and much more, which ultimately illustrated the perfect civility between two politically and ideologically polarizing individuals. As for the viewers in the audience and at home watching on their televisions? Exit polls revealed that liberals and conservatives alike enjoyed the 90 minute discussion and appreciated both Mr. Stewart and Mr. O’Reilly willingness to face each other in public and extensively debate “matters of real significance and real substance.”
At the end of the day however, no matter how many influential media personalities attempt to break the divide between the two fringe opposites of the political spectrum, our policymakers are where the crux of the issue lies. Sure enough, history indicates that when it comes to Congress and inefficiency, nothing much has changed. Literary mastermind Mark Twain once quipped that “it could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.” A series of Gallup polls reveal that over the past 15 or so years, Congress’ approval rating amongst the public has diminished to an alarmingly low percentage. Granted, the country has struggled to hold Congress in favorable light for more than a century now, asides from a brief surge in popularity immediately following the 9/11 attacks in September 2001 — when 84% of those surveyed said they favorably viewed Congress — our representatives on Capitol Hill have consistently disappointed the very constituents who year in and year out elect them back into office. Today, only 14% of those surveyed view Congress in good light, a shocking 33% less than the amount of Americans who currently favorably view President Obama. What does that tell us? The clear takeaway is that nearly all Americans, no matter whether they are ultra-leftists or extreme right-wingers, pro-life or pro-choice, homo or heterosexual or even from primarily urban or rural backgrounds, lament the immense gridlock that has hijacked the very Congress that is constitutionally obliged to work alongside the President to help advance our nation. Who can blame the rest of the 86% though? Over the past couple of years, both Democrat and Republican majority led sessions of Congress have astonished the country with their detestable lack of interest in reaching across the aisle and compromising. President Bush and his administration witnessed a Democrat controlled Senate and House of Representatives that refused to cooperate and went on to reject virtually every outlandish proposal sent from the White House. Although the circumstances and leadership are both drastically different today, the Republican controlled Senate and House are both guilty of the exact same withholding of power. In today’s political climate however, the country has seen an even further divide between the two parties at Capitol Hill. Just about a year ago for instance, former Speaker of the House, John Boehner, invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deliver a speech against any sort of nuclear deal with the Irani government to a special, joint session of Congress, and in the process, humiliated the Obama administration by foregoing the President’s approval. A speech delivered just a few months later on the floor of the Senate by the senior Senator from Oklahoma, James Inhofe — a fierce opponent of the “theory” of manmade climate change — featured Mr. Inhofe present, as evidence dispelling the scientific theory, a snowball that he obtained from the grounds outside the Capitol just moments earlier, enraging the left and further worsening Congress’ favorability amongst Americans.
The disillusionment of certain factions within Congress has become so disturbingly evident, that today, there no longer seems to be a threshold for tolerating the blatant abuse of power that has plagued Washington for so long. Several critics on both sides of the spectrum for example, have targeted both President Obama and President Bush for overreaching the constitutional limits of their executive power, and have called for multiple counts of impeachment. However, those types of partisan attacks are inevitable. No matter who wins the Oval Office, the other side will continue to launch attacks; that is simply a core flaw of the two-party system and will never be truly ameliorated, short of bringing about a political revolution much larger in size than the already impractical type advocated for by current presidential candidate, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. What can, and undeniably does in fact need to be changed however, is the atrocious inefficiency of Congress. Perhaps a sweeping overhaul of Congress is what would achieve a shift in the status quo we find ourselves to be overwrought in. However, the thing that is certain is that the need for a drastic government led and government advocated solution that tackles the festering intolerance between the two parties. Without a serious acknowledgement of the issue by the new administration come January, there unfortunately seems to be very little scope for any sort of meaningful change.