Is the 2020 presidential election coming too soon or not soon enough? Still in the midst of recovering and adjusting to the realities of Trump, we now find ourselves already in the throes of an active primary season filling with Democratic candidates and murmurings of GOP challengers. Politics is a peculiarly popular American form of entertainment, a big-money machine with no financial limits fed by media attracted to narratives of human ambition.
But voting, an act of citizenship at once so essential to democracy yet easily manipulated into the commission of dishonesty, best relies on sound judgement and accurate information. How are we, as voters, best able to discern the truth about those who’ve chosen to follow the path of political power? When politics is entertainment, can we distinguish between the glitter of egotistical charisma and honest urgings toward service?
That our presidential election cycle is now at minimum two years, and in some respects perpetual, makes the situation especially challenging. Trump has never stopped campaigning; in fact, it’s all he ever does. Whatever governance is taking place is left to his gang of underlings, themselves crooks, scoundrels and enablers. By this time we know that Trump himself gets his briefings and messaging from FOX News, hasn’t got the patience (or perhaps ability) to read, and has the emotional make-up of a two-year-old. But he still captures the daily news cycle, his greatest and perhaps only talent.
This leaves the growing field of Democratic challengers scrambling to compete with each other in vying for public attention. That scramble necessarily requires a media strategy, which today means a combination of broadcast, print and social media. Of the three, social media has risen to the top, the venue where personal “relationships” are bred and cultivated. Combined with live streaming video, social media is a technological culture replacing traditional political culture of party platforms, big-donor fund-raising and back-room deals.
Women are emerging as a decisive force in the Democratic Party, and deservingly so; largely denied access at the highest levels, if women across America vote in their interest, the Republican Party of white men is doomed. Yet, is voting for a woman reason enough to vote? It all depends upon character; as the last presidential election demonstrated, being a woman is not enough when issues of character are raised. The Democratic Party’s torpedoing of Bernie Sanders’ grassroots candidacy provides an example that relying on gender alone is not sufficient; even women can be venal when power-hungry.
Judging character, as noted, is terribly difficult. Although historical consistency, demonstrated performance and public statements provide some guidance, campaign consultants and strategists spend tens-of-millions in re-crafting candidates’ public images to suit the public’s taste and trends. Authenticity is hard to find when its buried under carefully crafted statements and orchestrated media events. Trump’s appeal to a segment of the population is undoubtedly tied to the constant public exposure of his authentically sociopathic personality, the actual qualities of his personality that can’t be faked.
Like many of my friends, I’m torn between either sticking my head in the sand for the next year or paying attention. The struggle for the Democratic nomination will be exhausting, and on top of this Trump and his minions will continue to destabilize the world and create anxiety. Elections in France are a six-week affair; there’s a message in that.