I guess we should have seen this coming; our national existence morphing into a product of our technology and social media.
This is not meant to be funny. If you actually think about it, it is the opposite, like perhaps a first step in the collapse of a nation as a global superpower. Years from now, will this be regarded as the beginning of the end?
Our national politics has become a reality TV series of its own that tops any stunts the producers of “Survivor” can deliver.
Consider the current Republic Party presidential nomination, known worldwide as hashtagGOPClownCar, and its fascination. Like watching a 17-moose herd on roller skates, you just cannot look away.
It may be known someday as the greatest reality show that was ever conceived. The script starts with a combustible mix of mostly life-long politicians, gives them piles of money, folds in a multibillionaire, and finally adds the promise of one becoming the leader of the free world.
This nomination quest is unique for two reasons. Obviously, the first is the record number of contestants.
One major newspaper has also noted that this is the first time in recent history that the GOP has no anointed candidate. For reasons known but to party leaders, during the last years of the Obama presidency, they chose not to support an heir-apparent, setting the stage for a slew of has-beens and wannabes, all of whom seem to believe that they have a shot at the nomination.
The overriding factor has been the presence of Donald Trump. The real estate tycoon jumped into the race in mid-June and began to enliven cable networks and Twitter by denouncing Mexicans as rapists and criticizing Sen. John McCain for letting himself be captured as a POW.
In the old days, both statements would have been fatal to any candidate, but not in the current leadership void for 2016. Trump’s quotes immediately endeared him to many in his party and quickly vaulted him to front-runner. As he spewed more questionable quotes, the result has been a media supernova, and has gained him more coverage than all others combined.
From the media’s point of view, Trump, and his GOP competitors with their attempts at one-upmanship, have revitalized this primary season for an audience already bored with the unbearably long process and the seemingly inevitable Bush vs. Clinton general election.
It has also created a situation where candidates must resort to bizarre tactics to try to attract press attention. Rand Paul takes a chainsaw to the tax code, Lindsay Graham smashes his phone and Rick Perry issues challenges based on feats of strength. When the first debate was limited to 10 participants, a huge incentive was created to entice candidates to say outlandish things in search of a bump in the polls.
Things like Mike Huckabee’s statement that President Obama’s deal with Iran “would take the Israelis and basically march them to the door of the oven.”
This quote sped around the globe at the speed of light, and Huckabee was denounced by many in his party including Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, who is already known as an unscrupulous hate merchant.
True to his quest, Gov. Huckabee absorbed the negative press energy, forged ahead, and was soon climbing in the polls assuring himself a spot in the debate. Most recently, he has identified the 5th and 14th US Constitutional amendments as solutions to immediately end abortion.
Did he stumble into the truth that drives the support for the Trump campaign? In a media-driven race (show), is inciting genuine horror or inspiring false hope worth a lot of votes in certain circles, no matter how you go about it?
Recently, news leaked that a Trump political adviser had once referred to Al Sharpton’s daughter, on Facebook, with a racial slur. It quickly overshadowed all other campaign news. Within a day, the polls had Trump surging like never before. Later, when Trump gave the adviser an “Apprentice-style” firing, his triumph was complete.
Like the Donald’s Mexican remarks, Scott Walker’s comparison of American union workers to head-chopping Islamic terrorists seemed too much for Republicans (or anyone else) to swallow. Although soundly criticized by the press and media, Walker gained ground.
Ironically, this was supposed to be the year when the GOP opened the tent to Hispanics and possibly softened a bit on gays and other “unappreciated” groups.
But as soon as the race started, the voters flocked to the candidate whose main stated policy is to build a “Game of Thrones”- style wall to keep the rape-minded ethnics off our lawns. Inclusion will obviously have to wait a bit longer.
Presidential politics used to be a very simple and predictable con. The money-men would team up with party hacks and throw their weight behind whichever candidate they believed to be most adept at snowing the population into buying another reheated version of the same policies they had always bought before.
While the pundits always complained that there wasn’t enough debate over issues; in reality, issues were everything compared to today. While donors gave millions for favors behind closed doors, there was still always policy. Skilled pitchmen, who could deliver on back-room promises to crush labor and hand out contracts while still acting like a man of the people, were prized commodities.
That’s now all in the past.
The Trump miracle has neutered the backroom version of an issues-driven campaign. He has no secret donors and is his largest financial backer. Trump’s success (and that of Democrat Bernie Sanders) also indicates a frustration of the American public with the way politicians have been talking at us. Presidents have become masters of evasion and Orwellian double-speak, and most politicians strive to appeal to the masses by offending as little as possible and committing to absolutely nothing.
Many Americans feel Trump to be exactly the sort of leader this country needs — someone who shoots from the hip and asks questions later, if ever. He offers simple solutions for those who view the world simply. He is also the first major-party, self-funded candidate, and makes a convincing argument that he cannot be “bought.”
Possibly, in a perverse way, Trump has restored a more pure democracy to the nomination process. Consider that he has taken the Beltway king-makers out of the game and turned the presidency into a pure popularity contest that is conducted entirely in the media, both social and traditional.
It was bound to happen.
So now, everything we do is a consumer choice, from picking out shoes to a presidential nominee.
The greatest irony may be that when Americans finally wrested control of the political process from the backroom oligarchs, the very first place that we spent our newfound freedom and power was on the campaign of the world's most unapologetic candidate.
Perhaps it is logical, at this point in time, that the most different-from-the-past candidate would be the front-runner.
Or, maybe it speaks volumes about our collective character.
Our craving for entertainment now seems to greatly outweigh our concern for the future. Have we become like Romans, cheering for colorful gladiators in the Coliseum while the barbarians climb our walls?
Is this but the first step in America ceasing to be a nation and turning into a giant reality television show?
Jim Surber is the Darke County engineer. He is a graduate of The Ohio State University and a columnist for The Highland County Press.