Is it really politics or is it a reality show?
That’s the question I keep asking myself every time I watch news of the U.S. Republican nomination campaign.
It was bad enough during our own federal election. There was security standing guard to keep people out while the prime minister spoke. There was fear mongering on everything from kids smoking weed to women in hiqabs taking over our country. There was bickering over debates and refusals to participate.
There was everything we didn’t want in a democratic election. But somehow we survived.
I’m not so sure about south of the border.
Watching from afar often skewers the view but somehow there’s no denying the juvenile and inflammatory demeanour of candidates vying to hold the highest office in the land.
There was a time when the old saying was “Anyone can grow up to be the president.”
Now “growing up” isn’t even a pre-requisite.
In fact, the quickest way to get voters’ attention isn’t to come up with some groundbreaking policy that everyone can support. Instead it’s to come up with the best sound bite insult that demeans your opponent, a segment of the population and, if you’re a real good politician, the media all in one fell swoop.
Setting the tone, of course, is the presumptive front-runner Donald Trump.
First of all for all of Trump’s rhetoric, and there’s lots, he has some valid points.
Companies that move out of the country and closed plants in the U.S. should face steep taxes when they try to turn around and sell the products back to U.S. consumers. Illegal immigration is an issue and needs to be addressed. The U.S. doesn’t need to intervene in every corner of the world until its own citizens are taken care of.
Those points are valid for any politician to make. And that’s what has generated most of his grassroots support.
However, Trump doesn’t deliver it with a style that any of us recognize as civil. Instead, like an annoying salesman, he has to go over the top.
And while going over the top with ideas on how to fix things isn’t necessarily a bad thing, his over-the-top vitriol when it comes to his opponents is what is really grabbing the headlines.
That not only hurts him (and I believe it will eventually) but it also damages the whole process of democracy.
Gone are the days of civil discussion on issues. Going toe-to-toe on points that matter to the daily lives of people. Debates that allow both sides to present a fair argument are over. Those types of discussions allow voters to make informed decisions on the direction of their country.
However, now it’s who can shout the loudest. Who can make the type of comment everyone will be talking about tomorrow.
The media has definitely played a supporting role in all this. I think it’s simply because, at first, they couldn’t believe what they were hearing. But the public ate it up and the media kept feeding it to them and the cycle began to grow exponentially.
Now, not a day goes by without some kind of bizarre or insulting comment from a candidate. And if there isn’t one, then the media replays one from a few days before.
That steady diet has allowed to the U.S. voters to simply absorb it without batting an eye. I liken it to the violence in TV shows followed by the newscast that shows a mass shooting. As far as most people are concerned there’s not much difference.
So when you turn from the drama and insults in a reality show to the Republican race, there isn’t much difference expect the participants in the reality show are younger and better looking.
Perhaps Americans have been desensitized to the point that it doesn’t matter anymore. Perhaps calling someone a loser or a jerk or a liar is pretty much the standard now.
You’ll have as much success trying to be the voice of reason at a Jerry Springer Show as you would at a Republican debate.
But I have to ask myself, “When did this all go off the rails?”
Was it done slowly by the dirty tricks during Richard Nixon’s term? The double-speak from Bill Clinton during his affairs while in office? Maybe it was the strategy to plant stories during the George Bush campaign to discredit opponents. Or was it Sarah Palin’s over-the-top babble in the last election cycle?
Or is it all of the above?
The slow erosion of civil discourse among politicians has been sliding into the mud for years. And Canada has not been immune. Not by a long shot.
So my big concern is when does the current U.S. style become part of the campaign strategy in Canada?
You might be quick to say “Never.”
But then again when you have a character from the TV show “The Apprentice” nearing the top job in the U.S. and a character from the TV show “Dragon’s Den” eyeing a similar run in Canada, it could be sooner than you think.
Guy Bertrand is the managing editor of the Trail Times.